“De aquí me sacan muerto,” said Victor Cruz who has lived in Barrio Vietnam, an unincorporated hamlet in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico for over half a century. He has withstood multiple floods, hurricanes and eviction attempts.

His is the story of the majority of the Puerto Rican population. Mostly rural subsistence farming families were thrusted into urban life by a forced post-war industrialization that saw a massive transition from subsistence farming to life in city and town centers working for American manufacturing industry that enjoyed local tax incentives. Faced with a lack of adequate housing, this newly industrialized worker built slums often on invaded, landfilled mangroves or flood prone areas.

These communities are crucial in understanding the post-war landscape of the Puerto Rican worker and its colonial subjection. This period of industrialization is often heralded as a Puerto Rican “New Deal”, lifting Puerto Ricans out of poverty when in fact it was tip of the spear in an ideological war against radicalization in the region during the apex of the cold war. Faced with regional leftist movement like the Cuban Revolution and local pro-independence movements the US saw an opportunity to turn the island into an example for the rest of Latin America of the greatness of capitalism and a post-fordist ways of life.

The result was the decimation of sustainable practices and the local economy on the island. The percentage of goods consumed on the island went from roughly 80% local production in the 1940’s to about 15% by 1972 when the last sugar cane refinery closed on the island. Coincidentally this year marks the collapse of the manufacturing industries on the island leaving these rural workers stuck in urban areas as their jobs went to cheaper labor overseas.

This marginalization was further deepened as the cold war tensions chilled both in the region and globally. Communities like Vietnam were targeted as blight, and caught in the crosshairs of eviction. The government in conjunction with developers saw the land they occupied and made habitable over the years as desirable, especially water front communities like Vietnam.

Community organization has been the crucial to combat often forceful evictions and large corporate interest. While many more modern communities, often with large undocumented populations, are now empty lots or new developments, places like Vietnam and el Caño Martin Peña who have strong community organizations have resisted. It is this community organization that has combated the legal attacks on property ownership in these neighborhoods where most residents do not have clear property titles despite living on the land for the majority of the last century.

But not all the residents of these communities have been able to resist an eerily familiar government promise of relocation. Victor Cruz’s home is next to two waterfront lots where his neighbors lived for decades. During a particularly intense period of eviction attempts to clear Vietnam for waterfront luxury development, residents were offered a property titles for a brand new home a couple of miles inland near Vietnam. Both his neighbors took the offer in the housing and apartment complexes that are now plagued by mold due to poor construction.

He told me that they come almost everyday to see the sunrise on the Bay of San Juan where they once lived before going to work.