Sleepy Hollow Tales Now Told In Spanish

Luis Díaz. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

In recent years, a growing Hispanic community has changed the face of the legendary city of Sleepy Hollow, famous across the nation for New York-born writer Washington Irving’s short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

The first Hispanic residents settled in the historic city located in Westchester County in the 1980s. One of Sleepy Hollow’s oldest Latino residents is Dominican-born Luis Díaz, co-owner of Las Americas bodega, on Cortland Street.

Díaz, who has lived in the city for more than 30 years, said that in the 1990s the Latino population was mainly from the Caribbean, including Cubans, Dominicans and Puerto Ricans. However, in the last decade, the fastest-growing population comes from Ecuador, followed by Mexican immigrants. The merchant added that some families from Costa Rica, Peru, Chile and Guatemala have also moved to the area.

“The old white residents gradually moved north of the city as the Latino population grew. White families looked for more exclusive areas, and Hispanics occupied the less opulent homes. There are businesses on Beekman Avenue that have been there for at least 20 years,” said Luis. “This bodega has been here for 40 years, but my family bought it 25 years ago, and it now has this Hispanic flavor. Ever since Latinos opened their businesses here, the economy began to grow.”

The bodega owner said that the arrival of Ecuadoran and Mexican immigrants has further revitalized the historic city, founded in 1640.

“Sleepy Hollow’s school buses are full of Ecuadoran and Mexican children. At least 6 out of 10 students belong to those nationalities. I am very happy that these families are moving into the city,” said Luis.

Luis’ estimates are extremely close to those of the census. According to the federal agency, of Sleepy Hollow’s 9,870 inhabitants, 5,038 are Hispanic or of Latino descent, that is, 51 percent of the total population.

Mexicans represent 1.5 percent of the population, while Puerto Ricans and Cubans are 3.4 and 1.5, respectively. The remaining 45 percent of the Latino population is composed primarily of Ecuadoran, Central American and other South American immigrants.

City officials recognize the contributions made by Latinos and welcome the new residents.

“The Hispanic community of Sleepy Hollow represents more than half of the city’s population, and they have greatly contributed to the local economy. They do so as business owners, employees and consumers,” said Village Administrator Anthony P. Giaccio. “Many local businesses are successful because they serve the local Hispanic community, and that helps the city in general. The city hopes that this trend will continue as a new wave of immigrants moves to Sleepy Hollow, and we welcome them.”

Decades revitalizing the economy

Merchant Ciro Priego, a 36-year-old resident of Queens, opened Tijuana Mexican Grill two years ago on Beekman Avenue. It is one of the newest Latino eateries in the area.

Ciro Priego. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

“We Latinos have grown so much that we are now even part of the chamber of commerce of Sleepy Hollow. We are welcome there; the older residents have made us part of their city. They are happy that we are making an economic contribution with our businesses, but we are also enriching its history with our culture and with traditions such as the Day of the Dead,” said Priego.

The entrepreneur said that the newer Hispanic businesses in Sleepy Hollow owe their success to the perseverance of the first merchants, who took the risk of opening their stores when this population was still a minority.

Peruvian merchant Miguel Salazar’s furniture store is among the oldest Hispanic businesses in the Sleepy Hollow commercial district. It was established over 20 years ago in the intersection of Beekman Avenue and North Washington Street.

“Everyone here knows Don Miguel. His business was one of the first ones to offer service in Spanish,” said one of his employees.

Next door is the handicrafts and embroidery shop owned by the Méndez Family, from Ecuador. They arrived in the city 17 years ago.

“It is just like being in Ecuador. There are many families from my homeland building their lives in Sleepy Hollow. Many of them come to my sister’s store looking for the traditional embroideries from their cities and towns, not to mention the restaurants. There are now many Ecuadoran restaurants. My people have come here to prosper,” said Nelly Méndez, co-owner of the business.

Like a ‘Little Ecuador’

Ecuadoran hairstylist Yoli Arévalo, 45, said that most Ecuadoran immigrants in Sleepy Hollow come from the inter-Andean region, which extends from the north to the south of the Andes.

“There are many people here from the provinces of Pichincha, Carchi, Tunguragua, Chimborazo, Cañar, Azuay and Loja. We love hard work and peace, which is why this is an ideal place to raise children; it is very quiet. We do not suffer from discrimination, and people here look favorably upon us,” said Arévalo.

Rosa Aguilar, with her son Joseph. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Rosa Aguilar, one of Arévalo’s customers, commented that “Ecuadoran Spanish” is heard all over the city.

“My compatriots work in construction and in home gardens. They have made their way. Life here is like being in a ‘Little Ecuador’; all the neighbors know each other,” said the mother. “There is too much noise, too much violence in New York City. Here, we live in peace, we do not fear going out in the street and getting mugged. We all know who everyone is and where we come from. We know and we help each other. It is a nice place for my children.”

Aguilar said that the growth of the Hispanic community in Sleepy Hollow is noticeable even in schools. According to figures from the New York State Education Department, 67 percent of all high school students in this city belong to minority groups, and most of them are of Hispanic origin.

“There is a future for us in this city,” said Aguilar.

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