Mexican immigrants in New York City believe that Mexicans and Mexico are “the Chosen Ones” to bring the message of Christ to the city. The roots of this conviction lay in the belief that the Virgin Mary, the Virgin of Guadalupe, appeared to a poor indigenous man named Juan Diego. By this appearance the Virgin Mary showed the elitist Spaniard conquerors that the ordinary people of Mexico were their equal before God and even had a special spiritual destiny. Today, many Mexican immigrants in New York City call themselves by the nickname “guadalupanos.”
This messianic story is especially deeply rooted in the traditional ways of thinking among the Mixteca, who make up the majority of the Mexicans and Mexican Americans in the city. Mixteca is a dry, empty place a few hundred miles south of Mexico City encompassing parts of the Mexican states of Puebla, Oaxaca and Guerrerro. Mixteca usually speak Spanish though there is a concentration in Staten Island that speak only the dialect Mixteca.
The Mexican Mixteca story is one of the results of a study of church and ministry incorporation of new immigrants in twenty cities entitled: Glorious Pilgrimage: Immigrants and Faith-Based Organizations. The study was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Over the next couple of months, we will excerpt some sneak previews of some of the NYC results.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York has based their outreach to the Mixteca partly on this messianic sense that especially the Mixteca, but also Mexicans in general and the nation of Mexico are specially loved by God and have a great destiny. The belief in their role as a redeemer people helps them put up with the insults, indignities and dangers of being illegal immigrants. They are humble to be sure, but also see themselves as equal to anyone in the eyes of God.
The Mexican redeemer consciousness is similar to Americans’ sense that the United States was founded as the city on a hill shining the light of Christ and freedom to the world. Both the Mexican and American redeemer narratives originate in the ministry and teachings of Christ and the expectation articulated vividly in the Book of Revelation, that Christ will return to rescue His people and display the way of salvation form troubles and disaster. Is it any wonder that a majority of Mexicans in New York City believe that Jesus Christ will return in our lifetime? This expectation is a significant meeting ground for American born Christians and Mexican, particularly Mixteca, immigrants.
Origins of Mexican immigrants to NYC
Juan, the shift manager of New York Bagels on 36th Avenue in Dutchkill, Queens, came from Puebla 11 years ago because of his uncle, who lives in the Bronx. His cousins who now live in Staten Island and northern New Jersey came here because their father was here. In his Mexican New York (2005) Robert C. Smith explains some of the features of the current Mexcian American immigration. The reason their father is here can be traced back sixty-seven years.
When Fermin and Pedro Simon hitched a ride in Mexico City with a vacationing Italian-American New Yorker in 1942, they had no idea that they were creating the Mexican immigrant community of New York. They had just heard that the Norte Americanos needed workers for the shipbuilding war effort.
The Simons were from Mixteca, and in chain of migration going back to the Simons, most Mexican immigrants in the city are from Mixteca, particularly southern Puebla, from where the Simons came. The Mixteca Baja includes the southernmost part of the state of Puebla, the northern most part of the state of Oaxaca and the easternmost part of the state of Guererro.
The current wave of Mixtecos started pouring into the city in the 1980s when Mexico experienced a depression. In the mid-1990s, this region provided 64% of the Mexican immigrants to New York, of which 47% came from the state of Puebla alone. Recently, Mixteca migrants from Ciudad Nezahualioyotl on the outskirts of Mexico City have started coming to New York City.
Many Mixtecos plan on returning to Mexico as soon as they have earned enough money. However, as more gain legal residence, they stay and bring more Mixtecos legally to NYC.
Most often, Mixtecos and other Mexicans come as villagers and maintain their village relations in the city. Indeed, almost half of some communities are living as villages in New York, complete with phone conference calls for village councils. This situation encourages them to return to Mexico and their continued adherence to conservative Catholicism.
An example of this process is the Mexican immigrants from the villages of Ticuani in Puebla. Their population is about equally split between Puebla and Brooklyn, today. With inexpensive telecommunications and airfares, they live simultaneously in both communities. The live in a virtual village in which all important communal business is debated during weekly conference calls between elders in Brooklyn and Mexico. Their vacations are planned to coincide with their village festivals to help them to maintain their Ticuani identity, as do intense team volleyball rivalries with other immigrant associations.
The Ticuani Solidarity Committee in New York City has financed extensive modernization of their pueblo, which has included building two new schools and renovating the Catholic Church and municipal buildings.
The Number of Mexicans and Mexican Americans in New York City
There about 350,000 Mexicans and Mexican Americans in New York City, and quickly moving upward to 5% of our 8 million population. This is a several hundred increase from the 1990s. As I look over the luncheon invoices from our census takers, I notice that they are eating at more Mexican places than ever before. The reports are that the food is pleasant to the eye, fresh, based on rich original recipes and served with real friendliness. We have even interviewed a few new Mexican restaurant owners who also are leaders in their churches.
Our estimate of the number of Mexicans and Mexican Americans lays about midway between the figures of 268,000 and 511,00 which others have estimated. The 2007 American Community Survey of the U.S. Census counted 179,000 foreign born Mexicans and Mexican Americans in New York City and about 89,000 native born Mexican Americans. The CUNY Latino Data Project generously uses estimates of the illegal/undocumented Mexicans given by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to come up with their conclusion that there were 451,000 Mexican origin people living in New York City in 2005. Projecting a 4% growth rate per year, the CUNY estimate would be about 511,000 now.
However, we believe that the CUNY center made some assumptions that inflated their estimate. They assume that Mexican illegals make up the same percentage (57%) of illegals in NYC as they do in the rest of the country. However, NYC has higher numbers of illegal/undocumented Dominicans, Chinese, South Americans and Africans than anywhere else in the country. Mexicans are a much smaller proportion of the population than they are in Texas and California. Consequently, VRI, as well as most scholars, prefer the estimate of 350,000 Mexicans and Mexican Americans residing in New York City.
Destination of Mexican immigrants
New York does not yet have a Mexican barrio. Mexicans have tended to settle into Hispanic neighborhoods, but keep a profile low because they are illegals or have illegal roommates. Also, they are young and unsettled, unless their families are with them.
However, significant concentrations of Mexican immigrants are present in the South Bronx, Washington Heights and East Harlem in Manhattan, Jackson Heights in Queens and Sunset Park in Brooklyn. Furthermore, Mexicans have displaced Puerto Ricans as the most numerous group in East Harlem.