Monday, December 15, 2008

Killing Haunts Ecuadoreans’ Rise in New York

Uli Seit for The New York Times - An Ecuadorean man last week on Jefferson Street, walking past a mural that celebrates the cultural diversity in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn.

In 1990, there were about 76,000 Ecuadoreans in New York. Today, there are about 170,000 Ecuadoreans, the fourth-largest Hispanic group in the city after Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Mexicans, according to census figures analyzed by demographers at Queens College. The community’s growth has been fed by a succession of economic crises in Ecuador, and by people like Jose O. Sucuzhañay, whose accomplishments seemed to signal what was possible.

That is surprising: fourth largest.

His death was the second reported killing of an Ecuadorean immigrant in the New York area in a month. In November, Marcelo Lucero was attacked and stabbed by a group of teenagers in Patchogue, on Long Island, who wanted to attack a “Mexican,” the authorities have said. Mr. Lucero, like Florentino Sucuzhañay, had come from southern Ecuador in the early 1990s, to send money home. In both cases, the attackers almost certainly did not know that their victims were from Ecuador — the men who beat Mr. Sucuzhañay called him a “Hispanic” — but that did not stop Ecuadoreans from feeling vulnerable.

When one's mindset is ignorant and violent, a Mexican, a Hispanic: they're all the same.

There have been two or three waves of recent Ecuadorean migration to New York, according to people who study the community. Beginning in the late 1950s, middle-class immigrants came from Quito and the coastal cities of Guayaquil and Manta, said Jose Elias Rodriguez, an insurance wholesaler and the founder of the Ecuadorean World Federation. Visas were relatively easy to get, he said, and the mostly middle-class immigrants settled in areas with established Hispanic communities, joining Colombians in Queens and Puerto Ricans and Dominicans in Brooklyn.

Surprising that the numbers go back to the 1950s.

A second wave of immigrants, most of them undocumented and working class, started coming about 20 years later, mainly from rural towns in the southern provinces of Azuay and Cañar. Florentino Sucuzhañay, in fact, came from a small town in Cañar.

There are many Equatorian restaurants and other shops in Jackson Heights, as well as a number of food carts.

Many southern Ecuadoreans were employed making the hats until the 1960s, when men stopped wearing them and cheaper versions in Asia undercut the business. “The people who were most hurt were rural communities involved in the basic production of hat weaving,” Professor Kyle said. “Nothing ever replaced the hats.”

Another surprising tidbit.

The unraveling of the Ecuadorean economy and classic migration patterns that propel migrants towards people they know brought the rural southerners to New York in the 1980s.

Oil boom ended, economic crisis, another military coup.

The Immigration Reform Act of 1986 put many of those immigrants on a path to legal status, which led to even more migration, Mr. Kyle said. The first wave of Ecuadorean immigrants, like Mr. Rodriguez, provided services for the next. In southern Ecuador, new houses appeared, built with money sent from New York. The houses got bigger, but as more Ecuadoreans came to New York, many of the new homes sat empty. As border controls tightened in the 1990s, the trip to New York became more dangerous and more expensive. When Ecuador adopted the dollar as its currency a few years later — sending prices rising — a new surge of migrants headed to New York. That, combined with the heightened border security after 9/11, meant that Ecuadoreans who used to travel back and forth to their home country increasingly chose to stay in New York, Professor Kyle said.

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