Though the working class and emerging middle class both had strong motivation to migrate, they did not move to the United States in equal numbers. The majority of working-class immigrants headed for Central America. They worked on the construction of the Panama Canal and the huge banana plantations being developed by the United Fruit Company in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and elsewhere in the region. They also migrated in large numbers to Cuba to work on the sugar plantations, and to a lesser extent to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, where sugar production was expanding rapidly. In all of these destinations they were subjected to rank discrimination and ill treatment.
Conditions were especially bad on the Panama Canal, where the hardships of Jim Crow policies were augmented by malaria, yellow fever, ghastly accidents, and a high death rate. Workers endured the privations of exile because wages were higher. They sent money home to their loved ones, made frequent visits, and bought land on their native islands. In the end, however, most settled in the lands of migration.
Working-class Puerto Ricans migrated primarily for economic reasons, such as chronic unemployment and persistent poverty. Initially, their main destinations were other Caribbean and Latin American countries, such as the Dominican Republic, Panama, and Venezuela. Between 1898 and 1930, thousands also moved to Hawaii, Cuba, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, particularly St. Croix.
The dispersal of Caribbean people was facilitated by a remarkable network of transportation. Since the seventeenth century Bridgetown, Barbados, had served as the first port of call for British ships crossing the Atlantic. By the beginning of the twentieth century, shipping networks extended from Bridgetown to all parts of the world. It was therefore not just the intolerable conditions on Barbados or the opportunity for work abroad that resulted in the extraordinary migrant stream from the island. An indispensable element was its working class's unique access to relatively cheap transportation to a variety of different points across the globe.
Jamaica also benefited from an extensive shipping network. At the end of the nineteenth century, this was augmented by the development of the banana trade between the United States and what would become the United Fruit Company. Its banana ships always made room for passengers. Boston was their first port of call; later New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, and other ports were added. This facilitated greater and cheaper access for immigrants from the island to the U.S.