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Hispanic Heritage Week: Revisiting Mexican-American Presence In East Harlem Community

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NY1 continues its coverage of Hispanic Heritage Week with a look at one Hispanic community in East Harlem that's undergone some changes over the past 20 years. NY1's Shazia Khan filed the following report.

Alendi Vidal was just 10 years old when NY1 first reported on the transformation of her neighborhood of East Harlem, also known as El Barrio. The 1999 report looked at the steady migration of Mexicans into the one-time Puerto Rican stronghold.

Vidal is now 23 years old and sits on Community Board 11, representing East Harlem.

"I wanted to join to have not only my voice as a young woman but as a Mexican-American young woman growing up in East Harlem," she said.

The 2010 census counted nearly 11,000 Mexicans in East Harlem. The community experienced just a slight decline from 2000, though an undercount may be the reason. The median age of Mexicans across the city is 26 and the median family income is $32,400, according to Andrew Beveridge, the president of Social Explorer.

Born and raised in East Harlem, 23-year-old Ingrid Sotelo created a pilot college mentorship program in the neighborhood. The first-generation Mexican-American now works with the Manhattan Borough President's office as a community liaison for East Harlem and is a passionate advocate for Mexican-American youth leadership.

"I think that the youth has a lot of responsibility to become educated and understand the challenges that we face, may they be good or may they be bad, and speak and talk about what is going on in our community, what we lack," Sotelo said.

The Mexican population makes up nearly 10 percent of the overall population in East Harlem. Community leaders say more than 40 percent of businesses in the neighborhood are Mexican-owned. Many of them line 116th Street.

To assist them, the El Barrio Mexican Chamber of Commerce was founded earlier this year.

Pedro Matar is the president.

"Like 43 percent of the business of El Barrio are of Mexican origin," Matar said. "There was a need to keep promoting and keep befriending the presence of Mexican community and Mexican businesses in El Barrio."

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