A Documentary about NJ’s Most Populated Latino City

Cubans dancing in Union City (Photo via Reporte Hispano)

[Editor’s note: The story has been updated with numerous corrections provided to Voices of NY by the director of the film.]

Before it became an enclave for Cuban exiles, Union City’s history was linked to that of the country’s most popular sports, theater and musical figures. Today, it is the mostly densely populated city in the U.S., and 95 percent of the city’s residents are Hispanic.

All this is featured in the documentary “Union City, U.S.A.,” which will be screened for free on April 20 at 7:00 p.m. at the Union City Performing Arts Center, located at 2500 Kennedy Blvd.

Film director Lucio Fernández frequently mentions that Joe DiMaggio, one of the greatest baseball players in history, used to spend his weekends having fun in the city.

In his early days Frank Sinatra sang with the Hoboken Four at the Lincoln Theatre in Union City. (Now Mi Bandera Restaurant on 32nd Street.) Fred Astaire also danced in Union City (…) according to Fernández.

The documentary is narrated by actor Tom Colavito, who grew up in Union City and spent some years in California.

Cubans began arriving in 1959. “They called us ‘Havana on the Hudson’ because we were the second city to see a massive immigration of Cubans, after Miami,” said Fernández, adding – a copy of the 2010 Census in his hand – that 65 percent of the residents of Union City are still Cuban.

The film also highlights the emergence of an embroidery industry in Union City’s economy that made it known as the “Embroidery Capital of the World.”

While the census estimated that the city would have 69,296 residents by 2016, Fernández disputes that figure.

“We believe that, right now, we are more than 80,000 residents. We have calculated this from the number of students currently enrolled in our schools,” said Fernández, who is also the city’s commissioner of public affairs.

The documentary sets out to review the history of Union City, and it is preceded by the book “Union City in Pictures,” by Fernández. It has taken its producers one year to make.

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