History of Latino Immigration to Williamsburg:
According to the 2010 census, Williamsburg is 49% Hispanic (mainly Puerto Rican with rapidly increasing numbers of Dominicans and Ecuadorians). In the 1960s, thousands of Puerto Ricans came to Williamsburg due to the abundance of factory jobs. Throughout the 1980s, the Hispanic community continued to grow with the arrival of Dominicans, Ecuadorians, and other Latin Americans. In 1961, Williamsburg had 93,000 manufacturing jobs, but by the 1990s, this number had decreased to less than 12,000. This enormous decrease in manufacturing left thousands of Latinos unemployed. As a result, Latinos found themselves crowded into rotting tenements. Friction between the Latino and Hasidic communities rapidly increased over government money and housing. This explains why there is a distinct border between the Latino and Hasidic enclaves.
Small Businesses in the Latino Enclave of Williamsburg:
The Latino enclave extends down Havemeyer Street and consists of mostly Dominicans and Puerto Ricans. As compared to the Hasidic enclave, the Latino enclave is more open and caters to everyone. Like the Hasidic enclave, the Latino enclave does not have any large chains such as McDonalds or Best Buy. Instead, the Latinos in the community have set up small businesses that do not take a lot of time to start up and require a small budget to support. As a result, the majority of small businesses in the Latino enclave are bodegas, barbershops, and money transfer agencies.
Almost every block down Havemeyer Street has a bodega. These bodegas sell snacks, sandwiches, and alcohol. We were able to talk to a few bodega owners and ask why they decided to open bodegas instead of a different type of small business, to which almost all of them made the same points. People shop at bodegas everyday. People need milk, food, and water for their families. Bodegas are cheap to start and maintain, which makes it extremely profitable for the storeowners.
We were able to interview Jorge Gomez, an employee at Santos Grocery, a bodega on Havemeyer Street. Jorge said, in scrambled English: “I have worked here for almost two years. I came to America from Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) two years ago. My family is still in Santo Domingo and I’m working here to bring them to America. I make sandwiches, pick up boxes, and work as the cashier six days a week, from 7 AM to 8 PM.” After talking to Jorge for about ten minutes, we could definitely see that he had an incredible work ethic like many of the workers in the Latino enclave.
As we walked down the streets of the Latino enclave, we observed that many barbershops are set up in close proximity to each other. The reason barbershops are so popular in the Latino enclave is because cutting hair is a skill that does not require a large amount of time to acquire and everyone needs a haircut once in a while. Many of the barbershops are hangout places for Latinos. We peeked inside one barbershop and saw that domino tables were set up inside, which made it seem like there was a small party going on.
Finally, there were many money transfer agencies set up down Havemeyer Street. We stopped by Mateo Express, an express money transfer agency, to talk to employee of the month, Manuel Perez. He said: “The reason these money transfer agencies are quite popular in this area is because most people have left their families in their home countries to come to America to get work. Every week, they send over their paychecks to support their families back home. It’s quite sad that most of these people are separated from their families for many years, but they make friends here very quickly because most of the Latinos are going through the same problems.” We soon realized that most of the members of the Latino enclave are saving every last penny to send over to their families in their home countries.
Our experience in the Latino enclave was a welcoming one. The people were very nice and eager to speak to us even though they had difficulty using the English language. We were even able to play football with a few kids. As compared to the Hasidic enclave, the Latino enclave did not shun us when they noticed we were not “one of them.” The Latino small businesses were made for all different people to shop at, not just the people from the enclave because the Latinos were more concerned with making money that could be sent over to their families rather than engaging in cultural isolation.