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The “Mixed Veggies” of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, religion in ethnic flavors Part 3: Mexicans and Turkish Muslims

The religious center of the Mexicans in Sunset Park is the huge Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street.

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Young Mixteca

Sunset Park is also now a center for Mexican immigrants. Fifth Avenue is full of Mexican shops, restaurants and employment agencies. The religious center of the Mexicans in Sunset Park is the huge Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street. The church also has a large congregation of Chinese and a smaller congregation of Vietnamese. Previously, the congregation was Irish. Chuck Conners of The Rifleman television show grew up in this church.

According to the U.S. Census, more than 170,000 Mexicans live in the city, up from 6700 in 1980. However, a common estimate taking into account unregistered immigrants is that the actual number is in excess of 350,000.

The majority of Mexican immigrants in New York are not from the same place as the Mexicans who immigrant into Texas and California. A majority of the Mexicans are from Mixteca, a dry, empty place a few hundred miles south of Mexico City encompassing parts of the Mexican states of Puebla, Oaxaca and Guerrero.

The chain of migration started when Fermin and Pedro Simon hitched a ride in Mexico City with a vacationing Italian-American New Yorker in 1942. They had heard that the Norte Americanos needed workers for the shipbuilding war effort. These two brothers helped to start a  chain of migration

The current wave of Mixteca 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.  In 2007 the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census reported that Brooklyn was the number one destination of Mexicans (29%) in the city with highest concentrations in Sunset Park and Williamsburg/Bedford Stuyvesant.  28% live in Queens, 23% in Bronx and 14% in Manhattan.

Most often, Mixteca and other Mexicans come as villagers and maintain their village relations while in the city. Indeed, almost half of some communities are living as villages here, complete with phone conference calls for village councils. This situation encourages them to in a continued adherence to conservative Catholicism. In Sunset Park the Mixteca live in a virtual village in which all important communal business in their home village 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 identity, as do intense soccer rivalries with other Mixteca here in New York City. However, once a Mixteca immigrant brings his wife or fiancé here, he has decided to become an American.

Young Mixteca are showing up and creating ministries at Puerto Rican and Dominican evangelical churches like Iglesia Pentecostal El Camino.

Another highly American-orientated group are the Turks of Sunset Park.

In 1995 we interviewed the leaders at Fatih Camii Mosque. The mosque is often called "the Turkish mosque" by other Muslims but also has many attenders from Moslem majority countries on the Mediterranean. Since then, several more Islamic institutions have been organized. We visited the Beit El-Maqdis Islamic Center which was founded in 1999 and is named after "The Temple Mount" in Jerusalem. Today, the mosque has an Egyptian iman and about 1000-1200 attenders at Friday services, mostly immigrants from Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine.

We have discovered a lot more about the spiritual paths of Mexicans, Muslims and those in other groups in Sunset Park but we will have to recount those stories in the future.

If you take a class on taxi cab driving in New York City, you'll be taught the basics of the streets of the city: what are the main routes; what by-ways to use during rush hour; and how to get back to the taxi garage in the evening. But they will never tell you about how to find the pathways that God, angels, demons and spirits travel in places like Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New York City. For that tidbit you need A Journey through NYC religions.

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