Today there are more than 4 million Puerto Ricans living in the United States, making them one of the largest distinct ethnic groups in the U.S. and the second largest subgroup of Hispanics. While the Puerto Rican population in America is largely concentrated in New York City and Florida, Hampton Roads is home to one of the most substantial populations of Puerto Ricans in the south. This is to be expected as our community’s strong ties to the military brings in people from all over their world and Puerto Ricans have served proudly in the U.S. armed forces since at least World War I.
The Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Collection gives us an important reminder that not all of our Puerto Rican neighbors are recent arrivals. Indeed many have been in Hampton Roads for generations. For example, in a series of seventeen photographs the U.S. Army Signal Corps documented servicemen returning to the mainland after being stationed in Puerto Rico. When the S.S. Fairfax docked in Newport News, March 29, 1945, it was also carrying their Puerto Rican wives and children.
The photos show the women and children waving from the ship as it docks, navigating the process of passing through customs (Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since the island officially became a U.S. territory in 1900), and finally waiting in the Port U.S.O. before being taken to the Hotel Warwick in downtown Newport News.
Passengers on the deck of the S.S. Fairfax as the Ship docks at Newport News
Master Sergeant Thuman Miller and family are interviewed by a customs agent.
A friendly British sailor helps a mother down the gangplank.
T/5 Frank Humphreys and family wait on a HRPE pier before heading to the U.S.O.
U.S.O. hostess offers weary travelers a tray of cookies
A mother and child exit a bus at the Warkwick Hotel, downtown Newport News