El Fanguito was a slum located in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was the worst of several huge slums in the Puerto Rican capital, and was one of the poorest areas in the entire Western hemisphere. El Fanguito, meaning, “The Mudhole,” was the very symbol of human misery, exploitation and despair.

This collection of photographs exposes the living conditions of Puerto Ricans living in “The Mudhole”, AKA El Fanguito.

See Those Huts in the Distance?

That is El Fanguito, the Mudhole slum of Puerto Rico. This slum, and other local slums of San Juan, were home to approximately 75,000 to 100,000 people, approximately half the population of San Juan at the time.

“El Fanguito”, The Mudhole

This shack city was built over the marshes beside the Martin Pena Channel, and originally consisted of a few hundred squatters houses, but soon grow to include thousands. The reason for the slums being called “The Mudhole” should be clear, but in case it’s not, let’s take a closer look at how the people of El Fanguito lived.

Father and Daughter Who Live in The Mudhole

This father and daughter live in one of the huts above the mud. El Fanguito was sprawled out over mosquito-infested, marshtide flats. The squatters houses were built with any material available to them, and the shacks were incredibly overcrowded.

Over the Mud and Off to Work He Goes

Notice the planks he’s walking on? The mud rises to waist height twice per day, so the Puerto Ricans living here had two choices, walk on makeshift planks, or walk through the mud.

Children Playing In El Fanguito

Luckily for the children the makeshift obstacle course gives them something to play on. Unluckily for them, the houses have no toilet facilities, and there is no garbage collection. Many areas were completely dark at night as there were no street lights, and many of the people were too poor to buy kerosene lamps or candles.

Children of El Fanguito

Children sitting on the improvised “bridges” that have been constructed throughout the area as the only means of walking without wading through the mud, which is very often waist high. The children in the slum were mostly naked, with no toys and no place to play. The children often waded in the filthy water to play and grew up mostly uneducated and illiterate.

The People of El Fanguito

A boy near his home in El Fanguito, the slum area of San Juan Puerto Rico, in December 1941. Hunger and malnutrition were rampant in El Fanguito, but one thing that struck observers was the people had a tendency to share the little food they had with others who were in even worse conditions.

Boy and His Father from El Fanguito

A boy and his father in the El Fanguito slums of San Juan. If you look near the boys feet you can see two dolls, and his baby brother sitting just inside the door.

Boy in the Mud of “El Fanguito”

This picture clearly illustrates why they needed the walkways. The boy is using a shovel to pull himself out of the mud.

Boy Shoveling Mud in “El Fanguito”

The El Fanguito slums got their name from the copious amounts of mud surrounding the village. This picture gives you a clear view at just how much mud there was.

Typical Home in El Fanguito

This is the typical home in El Fanguito. The homes were built on stilts to keep the house dry when the waters would rise and make the homes only accessible by boardwalks.

Women and Children of San Juan’s Slum

Oftentimes many generations of families would live in one wooden hut. Here you can see two young children, and a makeshift gate at the door of the hut to ensure the children do not fall out.

House For Sale in El Fanguito

If you zoom in on the picture you can see a sign on the building that says “Sevende Estacasa”, which means “This House is For Sale”. Compared to many of the other houses in the slums, this one looks rather luxurious.

Children of the Mud

You can see one of the girls standing on the makeshift walkway that residents of El Fanguito would use when the waters rose, turning the mud into a soft gooey mess.

Even Dogs Use the Walkways

The people of the El Fanguito slums clearly had better balance than most. Even this dog knows how to use the walkways. If they slipped off the platform they would have a messy spill into the mud below.

Home for Sale

A disabled man and children stand in front of this house that reads “Se Vende”, meaning “For Sale”.

The Long Walk Home

The walkway this family had to use to walk home consisted of one board. If you slipped, you’re going for a swim in the muddy waters below.

A Puerto Rican Woman and Child

A Puerto Rican woman holding her newborn child.

The El Fanguito Neighborhood

The shacks were in rows, with some open space left for garbage and filth to accumulate. The tide rose twice daily, bringing the garbage with it, and then deposited it back in the same place.

If you’re Puerto Rican, it’s possible that your grandparents, great grandparents, or your direct ancestors lived in the neighborhood known as “El Fanguito.” Share this on Facebook if you found it interesting!