Wave of immigration from Mexico grows in the Northeast

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:51

    NEWBURGH — Sunday morning in this Hudson Valley city: More than 1,000 parishioners, most from Mexico, pack Spanish-language Masses at St. Patrick's Catholic Church. Afterward, many families flock to El Azteca for its authentic tacos. If somebody needs a ride home, there are at least a dozen local taxi companies catering to newcomers born in the Mexican states of Puebla and Jalisco. New residents from Mexico have, in the last four years, opened dozens of businesses that have begun to reinvigorate the ailing downtown district; they are the region's fastest growing community. It's the same story elsewhere in the Northeast. Like the other parts of the country before it, the region is finally starting to see the impact of Mexican migration. New communities of Mexicans have arrived to fill farm, construction and domestic jobs, government data show. Population growth in states such as Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Connecticut would be considerably slower if not for the newcomers, who are steadily bringing about the region's biggest demographic shift in generations. And while the change has brought new vitality to some places, it's also created tension. Rodolfo O. de la Garza, a sociologist at Columbia University, says it's natural that Mexico is — and will be — the main source of Hispanic migration to the United States. "Mexico is right there and Mexico is so big," he said. "They're not going to become the dominant group in the Northeast, but they're going to be increasing important numerically." Sixty miles north of New York City, Newburgh has historically had a small Puerto Rican community. But these days Mexicans drawn to farm work in area apple orchards, dairy farms and factories far outnumber Puerto Ricans, demographers say. In 2000, the city's 4,500 Mexicans represented half of all its Latinos; today, Mexicans are two-thirds of that group, demographers estimate. "I've seen (Mexicans) grow from a very small quiet-type community to a very large population, and it continues to grow," said Richard Rivera, president of Latinos Unidos, a local advocacy group. Nationally, most Mexican-born residents have long been concentrated in California and Texas, said Jeffrey S. Passel, a demographer with the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington D.C. "If you go back 15 or 20 years, there weren't very many Mexicans outside of core settlement areas of the Southwestern states and the Chicago area," he said. In the early 1990s, he said, California's ailing economy and rising anti-immigrant sentiments pushed some Mexican immigrants into new places with abundant jobs such as North Carolina, Georgia and New York City. As new immigrants kept arriving — peaking at more than 600,000 a year around 1999 or 2000 — many joined friends or family resettled in the new areas. Tens of thousands went straight from the Mexican state of Michoacan to meatpacking jobs in Tar Heel, N.C., and from Puebla to work in restaurants and private homes in Manhattan. Another factor fueling the influx was the nation's widespread real-estate boom, which drove steady growth in construction jobs. Last year, nearly one in five foreign-born Hispanics was a construction worker, and only 38 percent of the nation's Mexican immigrants lived in California, Pew data show. That's down from 58 percent in 1990. Roberto Calderin moved to Orange County, which includes Newburgh, in 1996 and has seen the changes. "I went to a restaurant, an Italian restaurant, the other day, and I started horsing around with one of the busboys. I said, ‘How many Mexicanos you got back there cooking?' He said, ‘They're all Mexicans."' Small but rapidly expanding Mexican communities also are now in East Boston, Burlington, Vt., Central Falls, R.I., and Providence, said Martha Montero-Seiburth, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. In Maine, where most immigrants pick apples or blueberries or work on dairy farms, Census estimates counted 4,419 Mexicans in 2003, up 48 percent from 2000. Some have felt a backlash. In Farmingville, on Long Island, residents have repeatedly complained about Central American day laborers, and there have been several attacks on Latinos in recent years. In a move that some residents cheered but immigration advocates condemned, local officials recently closed down three homes crowded with migrant renters. Mexico's consul general for the New York region said the town reflects national immigration tensions. Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said the Mexican government should re-examine why so many of its residents are leaving. Meanwhile, in New York's Finger Lakes region, "there are tensions between Mexican immigrants and the Puerto Ricans," said Alejandra Molina, a professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva. "You go to (the Spanish-language) Mass and the Puerto Ricans will sit on one side and the Mexican families will sit on the other side." Longtime residents are generally welcoming in Newburgh, a city of about 28,000, but there remain challenges: a shortage of affordable housing, inadequate health care and nearly nonexistent public transportation. It is not unusual, said Carmen Vazqueztell, director of bilingual education in Newburgh schools, to see Mexican immigrants walking or riding bicycles along country roads at night. Some see the lack of services as business opportunities to sell Oaxacan groceries, soccer supplies and airfare to Mexico City. "You drive up and down Broadway and say, ‘Wow, look at this new business, and this one and this one and this one,"' Vazqueztell said. "They've really made a mark in this community." On the Net: Pew Hispanic Center: http://www.pewhispanic.org