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Collection Working in Paterson: Occupational Heritage in an Urban Setting

Hispanic Work and Economic Patterns

According to informants interviewed for this report, work in the Hispanic community is divided among people of different national origins in the following manner. Puerto Ricans were early arrivals, and by the 1970s they had established themselves, mainly as small business owners with corner grocery stores, liquor stores, gas stations, tire companies, and so on. Their success enabled them to purchase houses for themselves and their families and also investment properties, from which they derived rental income.

Sign for Seclen's [Travel] Agency, 245 21st Avenue.

Puerto Ricans are increasingly choosing to leave the city, however. Many return to Puerto Rico (if they are nearing retirement age) or move to Florida (Orlando is a favored destination). As a result, Puerto Ricans are no longer the numerically dominant group of small business owners. Rather, the Dominicans have increasingly taken over this role, according to a number of people encountered during field work.

Indeed, some people credit Hispanic-owned small businesses with the city's economic revitalization. When asked to generalize and provide a typography of employment among the city's Spanish-speaking workers, the real estate agent Ralph Soria answered that Dominicans are now the small-business owners, Colombians are restaurant owners or professionals, and Peruvians (the most recent arrivals) are laborers in the factories of Paterson and nearby towns. Another group which whose numbers have recently been rising is the Costa Ricans, who work mainly in the restaurant business, as dishwashers, waiters, and cooks.

The Peruvian community of Paterson has grown rapidly in recent years, according to a Peruvian travel agent in the city. Its growth is evinced by the fact that there is now a Peruvian consulate in Paterson. One significant feature of Peruvian activity is the large number of remittances sent to the home country. One travel agent interviewed said that his agency handles about $5 million a year in remittances, with a regular clientele of some 250 families. This agent remarked that Peru doesn't export goods; it exports people, who find jobs outside the country and send money home. He added that the remittances are crucial to the survival of family members who have stayed behind and that they also contribute to the Peruvian economy.

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Ralph Soria discusses recent immigration patterns

Americo Castro, owner of Castro Travel Agency, discusses the growth of Paterson's Peruvian community: "I serve now in one week like I used to serve in one month."

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