New York's Hispanic community became significantly more diverse over the last decade. Unlike many other parts of America, there is no one ethnic group that dominates the Hispanic category here. Yet when you take a look at Hispanic representation in the city's political landscape, it would seem that Puerto Ricans have the job of speaking for all.
Of the 18 Hispanics in the state legislature, 15 are of Puerto Rican descent. Senator Adriano Espaillat and Assemblyman Guillermo Linares are the two Dominicans, and freshman Assemblyman Francisco Moya is the first Ecuadorian American to serve in statewide office. Linares and and Espaillat both represent Northern Manhattan, where the Dominican community is largely congregated, and Moya represents Queens.
This isn't entirely surprising, since Puerto Ricans are still the most numerous Hispanic group in New York, at 723,621 in the five boroughs, and have the longest history here.
But other ethnic groups are flocking to the city, which now has a 29 percent Hispanic population. The Dominican community, in particular, blossomed by 42 percent to reach 576,701, and is expected to surpass Puerto Ricans within the next 15 years.
Luis Almonte, manager at Taino Auto Parts in the Morrisania neighborhood of the Bronx, who's half-Dominican and half-Puerto Rican, said he's seen the area's population change. "You know, that they're putting a good push on Puerto Ricans. We deal with a lot more Dominicans than I can remember when I first started here in '06," he said.
In addition, the Mexican population in the five boroughs jumped a remarkable 70 percent to reach 319,263, and Central and South American populations rose too.
While the Census showed tremendous Hispanic growth, many immigrant advocates and Mayor Bloomberg say there was probably even more. "Especially the newest arrived undocumented immigrants, often those with limited literacy, not only in English but some of them in Spanish, who speak indigenous languages, a lot of this community didn't get counted," said Valeria Treves, Executive Director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE).
The question that has some Latino leaders scratching their heads is if the Puerto Rican officeholders will represent the concerns of newer immigrant groups that came to the U.S. under different circumstances and have other concerns.
"The situation of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans is very similar, in terms of poverty rates and in terms political aspirations," said Angelo Falcon, Executive Director of the National Institute for Latino Policy. "What we haven't done yet is really fully incorporate the politics and agendas of other Latino groups from Central and South America."
Falcon predicts that the political representation of Latinos will change over time as newer immigrants build political capacity, but says it's a good sign that established Hispanic lawmakers are tackling new concerns already, such as immigration reform, as their constituents and neighborhoods shift.
"Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, who technically shouldn't really care very much about immigration issues, have been one of the groups that have actually been at the forefront of the issue of immigration reform and trying to make New York City are more immigrant-friendly city," he said.
Treves agreed. "I don't think there's this narrow correlation between the ethnic background and meeting the needs of the immigrant community. She credited Puerto Rican officials and City Councilman Daniel Dromm for being a good advocate for a predominately immigrant community. On the other hand, Treves said that community boards have been slow to diversify and that is a political level where she would like to see more Latinos represented. NICE predominately works with undocumented immigrants who because of their illegal status are more vulnerable to workplace abuse, fraudulent employment and legal services. When asked if elected officials in Queens were sensitive to these specific concerns, she said, "there's been some attention to the issues over all but it needs to be more targeted."
New York isn't the magnet for Puerto Ricans it once was--their numbers declined by about eight percent in the city, as many Puerto Ricans chose to move to other enclaves in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Florida.
But power structures don't change as fast as population demographics, and it will take awhile before political representation on the state or city level diversifies. The Black community may be losing population, for example--it is now less than the total Hispanic population--but Falcon said Blacks haven't lost their political place yet to the point where Latinos are in any way threatening it. He identified a perceived hierarchy of political power.
"Latinos may see Blacks as gatekeepers, within the Latino community Dominicans may see Puerto Ricans as gatekeepers and Blacks above Puerto Ricans, Mexicans may see Puerto Ricans and Dominicans as gatekeepers, and it goes on and on and on," Falcon surmised.