Spaniards and Latin Americans in New York

Spanish-speaking New Yorkers made a significant impact on life in New York City, and the city affected them in turn. The individuals featured here were leaders in sports, religion, and architecture, but Spaniards and Latin Americans also played prominent roles in business, engineering, and the arts.
 
During the latter half of the 19th century, the pre-Civil War Spanish “colonies” (as they were often called) continued to grow. Cubans constituted the largest portion of the 3,600 New Yorkers from Spain and Latin America who were counted by the U.S. Census in 1870.
 
The immigrants sought work, educational opportunity, and political refuge. They founded well over 100 Spanish language newspapers (mostly between 1850-1900), created benevolent societies and literary clubs, and opened enough small stores that a visiting Mexican poet could remark in 1877 that it was not uncommon to find signs reading Se habla español

Baseball used by Esteban Bellán, 1871. Courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, NY. Esteban “Steve” Bellán was the first Latin American in the major leagues. He went from amateur baseball at St. John’s College to pro ball, eventually playing third base with the Troy Haymakers from 1869–72. During these years the team won this trophy ball in a 25-10 victory and joined what would become the National League.
 
Bellán was fast, graceful, and as one sportswriter put it, full of “courage and activity.” His batting average in 1872 was a respectable .278. In 1874, after becoming a U.S. citizen, Bellán returned to Cuba, where he helped form the pioneering Habana Base Ball Club. 
Baseball used by Esteban Bellán, 1871. Courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, NY.

Félix Varela, blow up of stamp, 1997. Reproduction. Emilio Cueto Collection, Washington D.C. Félix Varela y Morales was a writer, thinker, and religious leader. He ministered to New York’s Irish Catholics, established Transfiguration and St. James parishes, and became Vicar-General of the New York Diocese.
 
A pioneering advocate of home rule for Cuba, he escaped Spanish vengeance in 1823 and brought separatist activity to New York with publications like El Habanero. The U.S. issued a “Padre Félix Varela” postage stamp in 1997. 
 Félix Varela, blow up of stamp, 1997. Reproduction. Emilio Cueto Collection, Washington D.C.
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