Editor's note: This story was produced in conjunction with the Latino Communities Reporting Lab.
MERIDEN — After working at a bar and delivering milk in Puerto Rico during the 1950s, 24-year-old Virginio Beltran wanted something more so he packed his bags and moved to the United States looking for a better job.
Beltran flew into the airport in Newark, New Jersey and was stranded for 12 hours before he received help finding a ride from a security officer. His sister lived in Meriden and he ended up there shortly after arriving. His brother-in-law was able to find him a job in manufacturing and he eventually landed a position with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. He retired in 1992.
Beltran was among tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans who came to the United States in the 1950s and the decades after. But the migration actually started earlier.
“There was a lot of migration to agricultural sites,” said Charles Venator, a political science professor at the University of Connecticut. “They set the stage for the post-war migration. Right after the Jones Act of 1917, which granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship, there was a boost in the migration of Puerto Ricans to the U.S. Puerto Ricans started becoming citizens through naturalization, they start to settle a lot easier as well. They would migrate for different reasons, to settle with family members or through contract labor.”
He said “Post-WWII, there was a push from the Puerto Rican government to send unemployed Puerto Ricans to the United States to work between 1947 and 1950 ... Oftentimes, when they would recruit people and send them to work in agriculture.”
When Beltran settled in Meriden, he thought it was a great place to live. He enjoyed walks around a city full of people and a vibrant downtown. Beltran also spent his time fishing and playing dominos at the Latin American club.
Beltran, the father of seven children, said some of his favorite memories involve camping with his family during the summer.
After Beltran retired, he spent winters in Puerto Rico and the rest of the year in Meriden.
After retiring Beltran enjoyed giving friends and family rides from Meriden to JFK Airport in New York. He recalls doing hundreds of airport trips as well as driving people to Florida. He also enjoyed listening to the police scanner and going to the scene of emergency calls to see firsthand what was happening.
Beltran celebrated his 90th birthday in May. To mark the occasion, his daughter organized a motorcade drive-by.
His daughter, Anabel Beltran, loves hearing stories from her father and is happy he has so many great memories from his earlier years. She learned from her father many lessons like showing respect, to enjoy life and to live in the moment.
“Whenever my father tells his stories, our family in Puerto Rico starts crying,” she said.