Hispanics in Buffalo, NY
History of Hispanics in Buffalo, NY
On this page:
- NY State Legacies: Buffalo Latinos (online June 2015)
The most recent newcomers to the Buffalo area are the Hispanics, mostly from Puerto Rico but also from Cuba, Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America. Many of the Puerto Ricans had been migrant workers coming to the farms and orchards during the growing season and returning home for the winter.
Little by little, the farm workers and cannery laborers began finding more permanent year-round jobs in the area. By 1960 there were 1,386 Puerto Ricans in Buffalo.
Holy Cross RC Church.
Maryland and Seventh Sts.
Augustine "Pucho" Olivencia arrived in North Collins with 20 other men in 1952. He founded the Puerto Rican-Amerlcan Community Organization on Swan Street in 1969. Through the years he has become the patriarch of the Hispanic community.
Now turning 62, Mr. Olivencia plans to retire soon and return to "the island," where he has a home. But be will spend only the winters there. He plans to to return here each summer and visit his three children.
Since 1942, when the Torres and Rivera families arrived in Buffalo from Puerto Rico. the Hispanic population has swelled to about 22,000, mostly Puerto Rican. In the past 16 years they have arrived by way of New York City, Chicago and Boston.
Those are not immigrants from a foreign country. Puerto Ricans are American citizens. Visited by Columbus in 1493, the island was given up by Spain after the Spanish-.American War and was granted commonwealth status by the United States in 1952.
Father Antonio Rodriguez of the Spanish Apostolate of Buffalo likes to quote the woman who stood up at a Board of Education meeting during a heated discussion about bilingualism and declared, "My language is not a foreign language -- I'm American by birth."
Without any requirements for passports, work visas or immigration hearings, migrating from Puerto Rico to mainland America is as simple as buying a ticket and boarding a plane or boat.
But It doesn't stop there. "The other groups came here to make money, Father Rodriguez says. "We came because we are American citizens and free to come and go. There is a continual coming and going.
"This is because we have very close families. The old stay in Puerto Rico because of the long, cold winters here. A daughter and son work hard in Buffalo and send money to Puerto Rico to build a home. They all feel they own a home there; they all dream of going back."
In Buffalo Puerto Ricans work in factories, in businesses, in the schools and they are now entering the professions. There are many Puerto Rican secretaries and receptionists in City Hall, the priest notes.
From the Swan Street colony, they have spilled into the West Side, where the Puerto Rican-Chicano Committee runs many programs and where the Hispanic Festival is held each year.
"I see the community growing fast," Father Rodriguez says, "But discrimination is a reality, in jobs and housing, Why do you think so many live on the Lower West Side? Because the houses are deteriorating.
"But they are still dreaming. Hundreds of Puerto Ricans own their own houses. That's the hope of every Puerto Rican family. Some have bought homes in Cheektowaga, Tonawanda, Lackawanna, West Seneca. This is a sign we are progressing"
Hispanic/Latino Heritage in Buffalo & Erie County
The Hispanic/Latino population of the Buffalo metropolitan area according to the 1990 census was approximately 16,000 people (about 4.9% of the total population). This population is concentrated in the Lower West Side, South Buffalo and Lackawanna. The Lower West Side is regarded as the center of the Hispanic/Latino Community. This is the area roughly delineated by Porter Avenue (north), Elmwood Avenue (east), Virginia Street (south) and the Niagara River (west).
Initial large migrations of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and other people of Spanish-speaking origin to Western New York were supported by a fairly reliable job market both in the rural areas (canneries, granaries, farms) and in the urban industrialized centers (in the steel mills, railroads, ships and factories).
The first migration of Hispanics/Latinos into the Buffalo area were Spaniards. They concentrated in Lackawanna and formed the Spanish-American Club in 1924. They also formed Las Amigas Leales and Los Buenos Vecinos.
A significant Mexican community has existed in the local area since the 1900s. As the population grew and organized itself, the community established a permanent club known as the Centro Social Club Mexicano in Lackawanna in 1947. However, many left the area for Chicago as the local job market declined after the closing of the mills.
Cubans started coming to Buffalo in the 1960s. Dominican and Central American immigrants are more recent populations settling in the area.
The Puerto Rican community is the largest group of Hispanic/Latino origin in the area. The growth of this community in Western New York has been steady since the 1930s.
Many individuals and established societies (such as the Borinquen Club and Unión Puertorriqueña de Ayuda Mutua) contributed their time, knowledge, and resources to help the newly arrived get acquainted with the American lifestyle and to assist in finding affordable housing and other basic needs.
Early on, the general structure of the community was strongly informal. The many leaders realized that the organizations needed to be formalized and legalized so they would be recognized by mainstream society and be able to participate in the general social and political process. This has become a goal of the community.