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New York State Archives
Throughout the Ages
A Visual Document Resource

History | Syracuse | Latino Communities

Image. Photo of mural on side of Spanish grocery store, Syracuse.
A bright mural decorates the side of a Spanish grocery store (bodega) on the West Side of Syracuse.

Latinos were living in Syracuse as early as the late 1800s, when the 1880 census listed ten residents of the city who had been born in Mexico, South America, Cuba or Spain. These numbers did not change by large amounts until the 1950s, when Latino migrant farm workers came to pick crops in Onondaga and Oswego counties. Most of these workers had come from Puerto Rico, where times were hard due to poverty and high rate of unemployment. These workers intended to save enough to go back to the island and make a better life for their families there. Most of them worked only during the growing season and returned to Puerto Rico during the winter months. However, as the economy of Puerto Rico continued to decline over the next decade, many decided that Syracuse provided a better place to raise their families. By the 1960s, a number of Latinos had left the farms to find jobs in restaurants and factories in Syracuse. The story of Juan Gonzalez is typical of their experience. He first came to Onondaga County in 1952 on the migrant work circuit. He eventually decided to put down roots, and he was able to find work in Syracuse -- first as a dishwasher, and later in a bakery and on construction. His family was one of the first Puerto Rican families to make their home in the city.

In the 1960s, Puerto Rican residents of Syracuse lived on the South Side of the city in conservative, middle class neighborhoods. They had family and social relationships that brought them together to found the Borinquen Latin American Club in 1974. The social organization sponsored dances, softball, bowling, card games, and other activities for the community.

Vocabulary

Migrant: One who moves from one place to another.
Economy: System of interrelationship of money, industry and employment in a country.
Circuit: A complete round or course, an area or path of travel.
Conservative: Moderate, opposed to hasty changes within the system.

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