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Bronx Latinos: No Longer a Minority

(Photo: Ulises Gonzalez)

By Kristina Michelle Collado

Bronx Journal Staff Writer

Originally published Fall 2007

For years, Latinos have been called America’s fastest growing minority. But in the Bronx, you can’t say that anymore. Here, they are a slowly growing majority.

Latinos are the largest chunk of the Bronx population, although not by a big margin. They make up 51.2 percent of the people living in the borough, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released last year.

And they are not gaining ground very fast, either. The Bronx’s Latino population – at 712,866 – only increased by 0.3 percent between 2005 and 2006, according to an analysis of Census figures by political scientist Angelo Falcón. He found that the Hispanic community also grew by 3.5 percent in Staten Island, and by 0.6 percent in Queens. But it went down by 1.2 percent in Manhattan and 0.5 percent in Brooklyn, he said.

“Overall, the Latino community in New York City continues to grow in both total numbers [and] as a share of the total population, but not as dramatically as in other parts of the country,” said Falcón, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, a New York-based nonprofit and nonpartisan policy center.

Between 2000 and 2006, only Staten Island saw Latino population growth (32.7 percent) that was comparable to the national rate, reported Falcón, who also noted that Bronx Latinos went up by 7.3 percent during that period.

In 2006, there were 2,324,272 Latinos in New York City, representing 27.8 percent of the city’s total population – an increase from 27.3 in 2000, according to the Census Bureau.

The Bronx is the only borough where Latinos are a majority, a status they first achieved in 2003, when the Census Bureau found that Latinos were 50.1 percent of the borough’s population. In 2006, Latinos were 26.4 percent of the population in Queens, 25.7 percent in Manhattan, 19.9 percent in Brooklyn, and 15.1 percent in Staten Island.

“These new Census figures indicate that the Bronx will continue to be the borough with the strongest Latino influence in terms of numbers and being the only borough where Latinos are the majority,” said Falcón, who is also an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Immigrants coming from other countries move to the Bronx for a better life. And yet others have been forced to come here due to higher rents in the other boroughs.

“I lived in Washington Heights for many years, but I couldn’t afford the rent of a two bedroom apartment,” said Leida Rodriguez, 40, a Dominican who was forced to move to the Bronx with her three kids in search of more affordable housing. “It was ridiculous,” Rodriguez added. “Now, I live on Undercliff [Avenue] in a one bedroom apartment that I was able to convert into three bedrooms for half the rent I was paying in Manhattan.”

Nevertheless, the influx of Latinos into the borough often causes culture shock. Sometimes it takes non-Latinos some time to adjust.

“When I first moved here, I didn’t think that I could deal with it,” said Julia Dylan, 24, a Fordham University student, referring to her first encounter with the Latino population. “I love my apartment and it’s more affordable than the dorms and way more comfortable, but I couldn’t sleep at night for the first few months,” added Dylan, who is originally from Ohio.

She explained that she had bags under her eyes and would try to sneak back home to sleep in between classes because her neighbors’ music was so loud at night.

Her apprehension was confirmed by a Latina, who was shopping next to Dylan at a Bronx bodega.

“It’s true,” said Amarilis Herrera, laughing agreeably to Dylan’s comment. “I can’t imagine going to sleep at night without dancing in my bed,” she said. “I have some cheerful neighbors. I can go to bed listening to their salsa, merengue, bachata or mariachi.”

Dylan said she has gotten used to Hispanic culture. Because of her environment, she said she has changed some of her own shopping habits. She jokes about how she no longer uses Mr. Clean as she did in Ohio. Now she uses fruity Mistolin. “It’s way more affordable and it’s always well stocked,” she said.

But there are times when the large Latino population can be the cause of friction among racial and ethnic groups.

“If they want the chance to vote, then they should stay in their own damn country,” said Theodore Mitchell, a 59-year-old African-American painter. “They want rights. They want to be considered equal. But they’re not equal to me,” Mitchell added, “I plan to move from New York and go to North Carolina to get away from these people.”

Outside of a Kingsbridge Road bodega, two men, one Hispanic and one African-American began arguing about the population growth of Latinos in the Bronx.

“They said that this is the land where dreams are supposed to come true,” said Wilfredo Gomez. “So I want mine to come true. I’m an American.”

Tyrone Bailey, the man across from Gomez, became upset, threw his hands into the air and shouted, “American? Are you serious? You emigrated from your country to mine. You can’t even pronounce the word, ‘American.’ All you people do is come here, make babies and never leave. It’s disgusting.”

Of course, not all non- Latinos think that way. “I think that Latinos bring a diverse flavor to the Bronx,” said Irene Lindenbaum, a 43-year-old elementary school teacher. “They have different values and beliefs that not everyone else may have. It’s wrong for one group of people to bash another based on biased beliefs.”

Some Latinos take a conciliatory approach. “Latinos are a majority and the sooner people realize it and stop fighting us and stop trying to minimize us down to nothing, the sooner we can all equally get along,” said 29-year-old Raymond Velasquez.

Yet other Latinos don’t see having a majority as a positive sign. “I think it is very bad that we are the majority because it shows a lack of education in terms of family planning,” said Ana Escobar, looking noticeably bothered by the statistics. “Hispanics are having too many children.”

For some Latinos, high population numbers raise the hope of political empowerment. “For me it is very important that Latinos can vote, so we can decide who we want making decisions for us,” said Marino Hilario, a clerk at a bodega on Walton Avenue. “If we don’t vote we do not have any other choice than take whatever they want to give us. Having Latinos in public office will make a big change.”

But will Latinos vote for their own, or for non-Latino candidates who may be more willing to deal with Hispanic issues?

“Of course, our people are going to vote for candidates of our own kind,” said Marisel Flores, while visibly annoyed that she would be asked such a question. “We are going to have a piece of the pie because [nationally] we will be the majority in the near future and in time we will have a Latino President.”

Falcón said that since many Latinos are not American citizens, they are far from being a majority of the borough’s voters. He said 38.4 percent of the Bronx’s registered voters are Latinos and about 30 percent of the borough’s Latinos actually go out to vote. Since many Bronx Latinos are undocumented immigrants, Falcón said it might take a long time for the borough’s Hispanic electorate to realize their true potential.

Nevertheless, Latinos are already fairly well represented in Bronx politics. Of 32 elected officials in the borough, 15 (or 46.9 percent) are Latinos. The Bronx has a Latino borough president and a Latino U.S. Congressman. Out of eight Bronx members of the New York City Council, four are Latinos. Of six Bronx members of the State Senate, three are Latinos. Of 11 members in the Bronx delegation in the State Assembly, six are Latinos.

In comparison with Latino elected officials in the four other boroughs, Bronx Latinos are also doing well. The 15 Bronx Latino elected officials are more than half of the 27 Hispanics in elected posts throughout the city.

“Latino political leadership in the Bronx, where the borough president and the chair of the Bronx Democratic Committee are both Latino, will continue to gain strength and extend its influence on a citywide basis if they thoughtfully use their strong Latino population base in the borough to leverage their influence,” Falcón explained.

Since the Census Bureau fails to count many undocumented immigrants, the Bronx Latino population is believed to be much higher.

“There is a larger Latino population in the Bronx than the one that is shown statistically,” said State Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, referring to undocumented immigrants who remain hidden and are not counted by the Census. He said that although Latinos are already well-represented in Bronx politics, it is “quite possible” that there will be even more Latinos elected to public office.

But while the Latino population is not fully counted and their political empowerment is not fully realized, nothing seems to be stopping their economic growth.

Latino influences are seen all over the Bronx. In restaurants, hair salons, repair shops and bodegas the growth of Latino businesses is evident.

“Latinos are very good for the Bronx because many of them begin new businesses which help our economy,” said Angel Audiffered, a spokesman for City Councilman Joel Rivera.

“People like to do business and shop in places where they feel comfortable, where people speak their same language, and have the same ethnic background, and customs,” Benedetto said. “Latinos tend to stay together and grow as a community.”

Bodega owner Frank DeJesus agrees. “It makes running this store so much easier,” he said. “I’m from the Dominican Republic and so are a lot of my customers. So when I buy [merchandise] for my store I think about what I would want to see when I go to a store.”

Amarilis Herrera, a customer, agreed with DeJesus, “You can find anything a Latino household would need on any corner,” she said. “I never need to go far when my kitchen needs another can of guandules, even the cleaning supplies I use are right here.”

Having more Latino businesses in the borough also translates into more jobs for Latinos.

“There are more jobs available for Latinos than ever before,” said Julio González. “In my job, about 30 years ago, the majority of the workers were Jewish, yet in the last 20 years more Latino workers have been hired and we are now the majority.”

González is even more optimistic about the future. “Things are going to change in the next 20 years,” he said. “We are going to revolutionize the United States.”

Reporters Cristina Bosque, Aida Díaz, Ruth García, Sharlene García, Toccara Heath, Sharon Hiraldo, and Yahaira Tavarez also worked on this story

One Response to Bronx Latinos: No Longer a Minority

  1. trecia dey September 30, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    Revolutionize the United States, ouch that sounds like a hostile take over.

    Reply

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