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Associated Press Newswires
From Poverty To Progress, Photographs Document Puerto Rico's Transformation As U.S. Commonwealth
July 23, 2002
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - In its 50 years as a U.S. commonwealth, Puerto Rico has been transformed from an island driven mainly by agriculture to an industrialized society of supermarkets, highways and high-rises.
The photographer Jack Delano produced perhaps the broadest collection of images documenting poverty in Puerto Rico before the island became a U.S. commonwealth on July 25, 1952. He later settled in Puerto Rico and photographed the dramatic economic changes until his death in 1997.
Inspired by Delano's work, photographer Ricardo Figueroa now focuses on modern life in Puerto Rico with an eye to Delano's example. The former Associated Press photographer says the purpose is to "see how far along we've come" while also capturing the poverty that remains.
"It's to document what challenges us and to find in ourselves the tools we need to overcome it," Figueroa says.
The island has become one of the wealthiest spots in Latin America, although poverty remains more severe than in the poorest mainland U.S. states.
Delano's work in Puerto Rico began in 1941. Born in Ukraine and raised in Philadelphia, he came to the island on assignment for the U.S. Farm Security Administration, photographing workers harvesting sugar cane, pineapples and coffee.
"In both the impoverished countryside and the urban slums, living conditions were horrendous," Delano wrote years later.
Despite that hardship, he said, he was struck by Puerto Ricans' "dignity, hospitality, gentleness, patience, indomitable spirit and unquenchable sense of humor."
After World War II, Puerto Rico started "Operation Bootstrap," working with U.S. corporate tax breaks to reorient its economy from farming to industry.
A collection of Delano's photographs is included in his 1990 book, "Puerto Rico Mio: Four Decades of Change."