In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Jones Act, which granted American citizenship to the people of Puerto Rico. The territory had come under U.S. jurisdiction after the Spanish-American War of 1898. Between 1898 and 1917 any Puerto Rican who lived on the U.S. mainland was considered a “resident alien.”

As Puerto Rican citizens, however, the people on the island could not serve in the U.S. military. By making them American citizens, the Jones Act enabled some 20,000 Puerto Ricans to serve in active duty during World War I.

During the 1920s, thousands of Puerto Ricans took advantage of their new American citizenship and came “stateside.” It was a time of economic boom and large cities welcomed the influx of cheap labor.

In 1927, Manny Diaz moved with his family from Puerto Rico to New York. The family had hardly settled in when suddenly the country was in the throes of The Great Depression.

As part of our partnership series Story Corp Historias, here is Manny Diaz’s story.

Right-click here to download an .mp3 of this segment.

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