Skip to Content

Puerto Ricans and other Bushwick Hispanics. A HINGE report

The last great wave of Hispanics in Bushwick may be the kids, who make-up over 70% of the school age population.

By Print Preview

After the great conflagration of crime, riot, and fire destroyed almost half of Bushwick in the 1970s, a massive wave of Puerto Rican settlers came to the rescue by settling with their civilization of storefront churches, Catholic fellowships, magical practices, and a courage that had fled the neighborhood for a time. The new residents and religious groups came from Williamsburg, the Bronx, and Puerto Rico. The first Puerto Rican Pentecostal gathering in Brooklyn started in Greenpoint, then spread to central Williamsburg, and finally into Bushwick. Commonly, the settlers were part of networks that linked back to specific villages and towns in Puerto Rico. Churches were like extensions of the original homeland.

The flag of Puerto Rico originated in New York City.

Immigrants from the Dominican Republic and Ecuador also started to increase their numbers in Bushwick, starting in the 1970s.

In the 1980s, Mexican immigrants from the south Mexico region of Mixteca started to arrive in significant numbers. With blessings from the Lady of Guadalupe, they made Bushwick the tortilla manufacturing center of the East Coast. Today, they are one of the fastest growing Hispanic groups in the neighborhood.

The arrival of new Puerto Rican and Dominican Republic settlers started to slow down in the 1980s. Now, many are moving out of Bushwick. However, because of a high birth rate, the net number of Bushwick Hispanics has only dropped a little bit in the last few years. Mexican, Central, and South American immigrants were increasing their numbers rapidly until around 2015.

Overall, Hispanics in New York City are increasing their numbers and, in 2016, making up 29% of the city’s population, according to a 2016 U.S. Census estimate. However, the yearly increase of Hispanics is slowing in Brooklyn.


The last great wave of Hispanics in Bushwick may be the kids, who make-up over 70% of the school age population. Their faith journeys will be one of the more important features of religion in the coming years.

Millennial evangelical churches like Christ Tabernacle, C3, and Swerve and Catholic lay fellowships yield an optimistic vision about Hispanic faiths. The number of non-religious Hispanic youth in New York City is much lower than the national average for the Nones. However, in our interviews, many church leaders lament how ineffective they are in reaching out to their youth. One reason is a disjuncture between church and school.

Hispanic youth repeatedly told us that they don’t see a relation between church and their education. Sixteen-year old church-goer Diego observed, “School is school, church is church. What do they have to do with each other?” It doesn’t mean that he rejects church—he regularly attends. But his reasoning may mean that his presence of faith in his life will decrease as he increasingly sees a future path along the school route independent of his faith.

Hispanic pastors seldom preach on the importance of education and science to God. They endorse education for pragmatic purposes of getting a job, but don’t align faith-values with educational values.

Gentrification gives a subliminal message to Hispanic youth who are in the churches: we are successful, you are not. Ambitious youth are torn between the insult of being shoved out of the neighborhood and the attraction to a life of prosperous egoism.

After the rezoning at the Williamsburg waterfront in 2006, young Whites came to Bushwick for cheaper housing. But the rents started to climb, and now are climbing rapidly. The 2008 housing crisis, caused by illegal and unethical lending by the big New York banks, threw many Bushwick homebuyers into the notorious bankruptcy zone, a band of trouble that cuts across West to East through Brooklyn. Builders today are also using pressure and enticements to take over buildings so that they can build upscale and hike prices.

Violating the federal Fair Housing Act, many gentrifying landlords are trying to get rid of families with children in Bushwick. They complain that they cause too much wear and tear on the building and don’t fit the new Bushwick culture. Local resident Diana Zarumeno told the watchdog online magazine City Limits in 2015, that “If you have children, then so, the apartment is already rented.”

The gentrifying forces are encouraging Hispanic and African American churches to join the trend by selling their air rights for condos. Right at this very moment, a condo high rise is being built over an Hispanic Baptist church on Maria Hernandez Park. Even so, many members are forced to move away. Some churches are selling out and moving away from the neighborhood. Even the head of the local ministerial alliance no longer has his church in Bushwick. Housing advocate Yolanda Coca told City Limits that the untrammeled and often illegal developments are tearing apart church communities. “Your church, it’s a very important piece of your life. My church is my second home – half of my life is here. And people have been losing all that.”

Park evangelists during the summer are decreasing in number. Domino games on the street are getting scarcer, grocery stores are mimic Whole Foods with higher prices and toney taste treats. When will the last evangelist, domino game, or store front close up shop?

Will the new millennial churches and Catholic fellowships be able to reknit the neighborhood with thick community groups? Will Hispanic professionals and artists add the Bushwick flavors of Puerto Rican, Dominican, and other Latin American to their religious life? Or will authentic Latino faith styles get swallowed up by generic hipsterdom?

Actress Rosie Perez is from Bushwick and her great, great grandfather was a minister.

Help Puerto Rico!


Journey has assembled the most complete list anywhere on the web of faith-based relief groups helping Puerto Rico.


Signup for Journey newsletter!

Privacy by SafeUnsubscribe

Sign up for Journey newsletter!

Privacy by SafeUnsubscribe

Upcoming Features