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Collection Working in Paterson: Occupational Heritage in an Urban Setting

Hispanics on the Avenue

The decline apparent in the avenue's Italian community seems absent from its Hispanic communities. The majority of Hispanic-owned-and-operated businesses offer services — as in restaurants, beauty salons, travel, and real-estate agencies — rather than the sale of merchandise. Moreover, they reproduce aspects of Hispanic culture by providing trips to the home country, hair and nail styles that reflect a culturally defined aesthetic, and ethnic foods (the setting of at least one restaurant, the Tierras Colombianas, is contrived to convey the atmosphere of the home country, Colombia).

Taqueria la Mexicana Deli.

One may speculate that Hispanic cultural activity exerts a stabilizing force among these communities. Whereas in the Italian community the Stabilizing force had been "work flows" (part of a system of reciprocity, mutual aid, and obligation) and the home town in Italy (Montescaglioso, for example), in Hispanic communities the stabilizing force is the national idea or national cultural identity, which takes shape in practical terms outside the domain of commerce in events such as parades, festivals, and processions and in the economic practice of sending remittances to family members who continue to reside in the home country. Hispanic identity is augmented in commercial settings through the availability and sale of cultural goods and services and in everyday life through Spanish language maintenance and the wide availability of cultural forms such as music, dance, and ethnic foodways.

A view of Tierras Colombianas: Interior of restaurant with customers sitting at tables; murals on the wall depict scenes from Colombia.

A signal aspect of Hispanic culture in Paterson today is the proliferation of nationally oriented restaurants, clubs, music stores, and other establishments where a person from any given Spanish-speaking country can commingle with others of the same national heritage, listen to the national popular music, speak the language, eat the food, and reproduce the social relationships that perpetuate the national culture in the new (North American) setting.

Paterson offers a great deal to those in the Spanish-speaking community with an interest in maintaining national identity. The proliferation of ethnic restaurants, grocery stores, and service-oriented businesses; the Spanish-language media (some of which are based in Paterson); the neighborhoods and work places that are filled with Spanish speakers; and the national parades and celebrations all provide occasions to express and strengthen national culture.

Listen

Miguel de la Carrera: "Hispanic businesses, small businesses, are one of the things that have regenerated economic life in Paterson."

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