The Santiago Family Restaurant has been in Westfield, Massachusetts for just over 10 years now. October 15, 2009 marked the anniversary of a decade in business. Ismael Santiago and his wife, Carmen, opened the restaurant after buying the space from a friend and still run it to this day with the rest of their family. Ismael moved from Puerto Rico to the Pioneer Valley in 1977.
Although the Pioneer Valley might seem an odd place to immigrate, the migration of Puerto Ricans to the Valley—mostly Hartford, Springfield, and Holyoke—began as early as the first World War. Their immigration was made possible by the United States, in order to allow them the “privilege” of being drafted for the war, suddenly declaring all Puerto Ricans temporary citizens. Those who weren’t drafted were driven to emigrate by the grim conditions of poverty and starvation in Puerto Rico. They were drawn to the US, and in particular the Valley, by the need for cheap labor in the tobacco farms and mill towns of Massachusetts. As a result of this migration at the beginning of the 20th century, the oldest Puerto Rican communities in the United States are in Holyoke and Springfield. The Santiagos, Victor Rios, and many others simply followed in the footsteps of thousands of Puerto Ricans decades before them.