The first wave of Hispanic immigration to Washington Heights was the Puerto Rican
immigration (or, more correctly, migration) to the area, which continued until the 1970s. 1959-1962 saw an influx of Cubans fleeing the communist revolution under Castro. Dominicans began to arrive in large numbers in the mid 1960s and have risen to being the majority Hispanic group in Washington Heights. After the 1980s, Ecuadorians, Mexicans, and other Hispanic groups began to arrive in large numbers (Francoeur).
Hispanics hold the majority of ethnic groups in Washington Heights.
Modern Washington Heights is known for its high Dominican population. A rough estimate sets the 2005 percentage of Dominicans as about 73% of the Hispanics in Washington Heights (Fernandez).
Even the gentrification of Washington Heights does not automatically mean the arrival of a new white majority. Manny Fernandez points out that one “can find not only Dominican merchants, but also Dominican doctors and Dominican lawyers.”
SPANISH LANGUAGE AND HISPANIC CULTURE IN ‘THE HEIGHTS’:
Washington Heights has become a Hispanic microcosm, to the point that one can easily
survive there without speaking English fluently. Almost all signs are in Spanish and the majority of the restaurants serve Hispanic food and are run by native Spanish-speakers.
On our trip to Washington Heights, we spoke to a Hispanic woman involved in the Saint Rose of Lima Church, whose first name we understood to be ‘Vanessia.’ The confusion over even her name was due to the language barrier that we experienced in her conversation. What we did find out, with her limited English and our limited Spanish, was that she had been living here for forty-five years. It seemed surprising that this was not a long enough residence to pick up the language fluently. However, the language in Washington Heights is not necessarily English. Within the church and the surrounding area, we were the ones who didn’t understand the local language. Because of this difference, the only way for Vanessia to competently pick up the English language was to take English classes. She tells us that she has not had the time and money to do this while putting her two sons through school. Her sacrifice for her
sons has paid off as they both are fluent in English and one is a doctor.
Still, it took ambition and struggle for Venessia’s sons to get where they are. The Hispanic enclaves in Washington Heights are a beneficial in that they bring a sense of community and allow for an easier transition to New York City life. Still, they also seem to inhibit the retention of English language and American culture, which will likely be essential in most New York City neighborhoods outside of ‘The Heights.’
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Fernandez, Manny. “New Winds at an Island Outpost.” The New York Times 4 March
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