New York City has a vibrant and diverse Mexican American community. Mexicans have been immigrating to New York City for over a century, and Mexican neighborhoods can be found throughout the five boroughs. Some of the most prominent Mexican communities are located in neighborhoods like East Harlem in Manhattan, Sunset Park in Brooklyn, Corona in Queens, and Port Richmond in Staten Island.
Brief history of Mexican migration to NYC
The first wave of Mexican immigrants came to New York City in the early 20th century, settling in Manhattan neighborhoods like East Harlem. This early group was mostly made up of men who came to work in industry, construction, and service jobs. Significant Mexican migration continued through the 1920s. The population grew again in the 1940s with the Bracero Program that brought Mexican agricultural workers to the US. Migration from Mexico accelerated in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, New York City is home to close to 300,000 Mexicans and Mexican Americans.
Largest Mexican populations in NYC
According to recent census data, these five neighborhoods have the highest Mexican and Mexican American populations in New York City:
East Harlem, Manhattan
East Harlem, also known as Spanish Harlem or El Barrio, has been the heart of Mexican and Mexican American culture in New York since the early 1900s. Today, Mexicans make up around 27% of the neighborhood’s population. Located north of 96th Street, East Harlem is where you can find some of the oldest Mexican businesses and cultural organizations in the city.
Sunset Park, Brooklyn
With over 30,000 Mexican residents, Sunset Park has the largest concentration of Mexicans in any single neighborhood. The community mushroomed in the 1980s and 1990s, turning Fifth Avenue into Brooklyn’s “Little Mexico” with its scores of Mexican restaurants, food stands, and shops. Mexicans comprise around 20% of the neighborhood’s population.
Corona is home to New York City’s second largest Mexican population with over 27,000 residents of Mexican descent. This diverse neighborhood has been drawing immigrants from Latin America since the late 1970s. Walk down Roosevelt Avenue and you’ll hear Spanish being spoken alongside many other languages. Over 40% of residents in Corona were born in Mexico.
Port Richmond, Staten Island
While Staten Island does not have as big of a Mexican population as the other boroughs, Port Richmond hosts one of the island’s main Mexican enclaves. Mexicans started moving to Port Richmond in the 1990s and opened businesses along Forest Avenue. Port Richmond has nearly 5,000 residents of Mexican origin.
Jackson Heights, Queens
Jackson Heights and the adjacent neighborhoods of North Corona and Elmhurst together form one of the largest Latino communities in New York City. There are over 20,000 residents of Mexican descent spread across these three neighborhoods. Jackson Heights is an incredibly diverse neighborhood where in just a couple of blocks you can eat Mexican, Colombian, Indian, Thai, and Tibetan food.
History of Mexican communities in NYC neighborhoods
Let’s take a deeper look into the history of Mexicans in some of these major neighborhoods. Understanding the historical context shows that Mexican immigration and influence throughout the boroughs has been building for over a century.
As mentioned earlier, East Harlem is the historical heart of Mexican culture and community in New York. In the early 1900s, Mexicans lived alongside Italians, Jews, Puerto Ricans and African Americans in the tenement buildings of Spanish Harlem. During this time period, the neighborhood became an enclave of Mexican culture. Immigrants brought elements of Mexican village life and created a space to celebrate their customs. For example, the first Mexican Day Parade outside of Mexico was held in East Harlem in 1940.
Starting in the 1980s, young Mexican families migrated to Sunset Park lured by cheap housing and job opportunities. The population boom resulted in Fifth Avenue transforming into a thriving Mexican business district by the 1990s. Tiendas, restaurants, barber shops and remittance centers opened up to serve the burgeoning community. Mexican businesses catering to the immigrant population continue to define Fifth Avenue today.
Corona had arrivals from Mexico and Central America moving in from the late 1970s. However, the 1980s and 90s brought tens of thousands of new immigrants to the neighborhood, the majority coming from Mexico’s southern states like Puebla, Oaxaca and Guerrero. Roosevelt Avenue became the central artery of this new community. Here, Mexican immigrants could buy foods from home, attend Spanish mass at several churches, and visit doctors’ offices that felt familiar.
In the 1990s, Mexicans migrated across the Verrazano Bridge from Sunset Park to make new homes in Port Richmond. Drawn by the affordable housing, Mexican immigrants found jobs in local factories and service industries. Since the 2000s, the community has become more established with Mexican businesses, churches and civic organizations developing along Forest Avenue.
Jackson Heights/North Corona
Jackson Heights, North Corona and Elmhurst have been major immigrant gateway communities since the 1950s starting with arrivals from Eastern Europe, Italy and Greece. In the late 20th century, Latino immigrants from Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and other nations established roots in these adjacent neighborhoods. Over the decades, Roosevelt Avenue has become a central gathering place for Mexicans and many other immigrant groups.
Demographic and socioeconomic profiles
Now let’s take a look at some key demographic statistics to better understand the Mexican population in NYC.
– The Mexican population in New York City has grown significantly in recent decades. In 1990 there were around 75,500 Mexicans living in New York. By 2000 that number grew to about 186,872, and the latest census data from 2019 shows over 317,000 Mexican residents.
– Mexican immigrants account for around 4.5% of the total NYC population. Between 2000-2019, over 107,000 Mexicans obtained legal permanent resident status in New York.
– Over 40% of Mexicans in NYC are not U.S. citizens. The vast majority of Mexican immigrants in the city have arrived since 1980.
– After English and Spanish, Mexican indigenous languages like Mixtec, Nahuatl and Zapotec are among the most common languages spoken in NYC homes. 35% of Mexicans in New York have limited English proficiency.
– Mexicans commonly work in the service, construction, restaurant and food service industries. Almost 25% of Mexicans in NYC work in the service sector and 20% work in construction and transportation.
– Mexican median household income is around $36,000 per year compared to $64,000 citywide. The poverty rate for Mexicans is 29% compared to 20% for all NYC residents.
Age and Family Structure
– The Mexican population in New York is relatively young. Over 30% of Mexicans are under the age of 25 compared to just 14% citywide. The average Mexican family size is 4.1 members.
– Over 65% of Mexican households are families compared to 41% of all NYC households. 51% of Mexican families include children under 18.
Cultural attractions and events
Now that we’ve looked at the history and data, let’s explore some of the vibrant Mexican and Mexican American cultural spaces, events and organizations found throughout New York’s boroughs.
From taco stands to sit-down establishments, New York is full of amazing Mexican restaurants representing cuisine from all over Mexico. Here are some of the top eateries loved by locals:
– Los Tacos No. 1 (Chelsea Market, Manhattan)
– La Morada (South Bronx)
– Taqueria Coatzingo (Jackson Heights, Queens)
– Birria-Landia (Ridgewood, Queens)
– Juanito’s Empanadas (Port Richmond, Staten Island)
On any given evening, the smell of Mexican street food like tamales, elotes, and churros wafts through the air of NYC neighborhoods. Must-visit street vendors include:
– Tamale stand at the 116th St subway stop in East Harlem
– Maria’s stall selling esquites and atole in Sunset Park, Brooklyn
– Tamales Guadalajara pushcart on Roosevelt Ave in Jackson Heights
Shops and Markets
From massive supermarkets to hole-in-the-wall bodegas, Mexican specialty stores provide specialty ingredients, spices, produce, baked goods and imported items citywide. Top spots include:
– La Placita Mexican Mini Market (East Harlem, Manhattan)
– Zona Prima Grocery (Port Richmond, Staten Island)
– Mi Pueblito Food Market (Jackson Heights, Queens)
– Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center (East Harlem, Manhattan)
– Make the Road NY Community Center (Jackson Heights, Queens)
– Staten Island Community Job Center (Port Richmond, Staten Island)
Events and Festivals
– Mexican Day Parade (Early May in East Harlem)
– Sunset Park Mexican Independence Festival (September in Brooklyn)
– Staten Island Cinco de Mayo Festival (May in Port Richmond)
Mexican and Mexican American culture is an integral part of the fabric of New York City. As this article has shown, Mexicans live, work and celebrate in neighborhoods across the five boroughs. From Manhattan to Staten Island, the community has put down deep roots over multiple generations while continuing to welcome new immigrants. Key neighborhoods with strong Mexican heritage like East Harlem and Sunset Park have become tourist attractions in their own right. New Yorkers visit these enclaves to eat authentic food, hear Spanish and indigenous languages, listen to mariachi music and experience Mexican art and culture. Understanding the broad impact of Mexican immigrants across the city highlights the diverse mosaic of NYC’s urban landscape.