National Hispanic Heritage Month begins Tuesday, September 15th and runs through Thursday, October 15th. This month is designated as a time to celebrate “the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America,” according to the Library of Congress. This is an especially exciting time for New York City, whose Hispanic and Latinx communities have helped shape the city’s history since the beginning of the colonial era.
The presence of Hispanic and Latinx people in New York City dates back to 1613, when Juan Rodriguez, a mixed-race Dominican man, became the first non-indigenous resident of the area that would become the city. Rodriguez worked in the area as a fur trader after refusing to continue on with the Dutch trading company with whom he arrived. The first “settlers” of New Amsterdam did not arrive for another 11 years, bringing with them many enslaved Latin Americans from the Dutch West Indies.
New York’s Hispanic and Latinx population only grew over time, particularly as revolutions took hold throughout Latin America. By the mid 1800s, a significant community of Cuban immigrants had popped up in Greenwich Village. New York was fertile ground for revolutionary thought and many Cubans seeking independence from Spain developed their plans in the city. The uprising ultimately brought thousands of refugees from Cuba and Puerto Rico to New York City, many of whom worked in cigar manufacturing.
Later in the 20th century, the East Village and Lower East Side became a hub for New York’s Latinx community and Puerto Rican immigrants in particular. From the late 1960s to the early 1990s, the East Village saw many major social and cultural moments involving the Puerto Rican community. On July 26, 1969, several young Puerto Rican activists gathered in Tompkins Square Park to start a New York chapter of the Young Lords. The group fought for the rights of mainland Puerto Ricans and supported the island’s movement for independence while working with other marginalized groups like the LGBTQ+ community and the women’s movement for greater equality at home.
In 1977, several community groups came together to form the CHARAS-El Bohio Community Center to offer more opportunities to the neighborhood’s young people during the city’s fiscal crisis. The center helped launch the talents of artists like Spike Lee and John Leguizamo. In 1973, a group of Latinx writers founded the Nuyorican Poets Café on East 3rd Street, a space now seen as one of the city’s top cultural institutions. The café has hosted legendary poets like Allen Ginsburg and is still holds virtual events and workshops online almost every night.
One great way to celebrate this month is stop by some of the restaurants inspired by the flavors of Latin America in Greenwich Village. Here are a few of our favorites:
La Contenta Oeste – Sample some traditional Mexican eats accented with French flair and delicious agave cocktails at this Greenwich Village Staple.
La Newyorkina – We may be inching towards fall but you can enjoy these Mexican-style ice pops and treats any time. Stop by their stand in Astor Place!
Tortaria – This robin’s egg blue University Place shop serves up authentic Mexican dishes and marvelous mezcal cocktails that will make you want to stop and stay a while.
Llama San – East meets West at this eatery that blends Peruvian favorites with Japanese flavors. Ceviche and harusame noodles? Sign us up.