For a while, Cristian Castillo split his time between his native Colombia and Maspeth, Queens, where his parents had moved in 2007. Ultimately, Castillo said, he made the decision to leave his homeland for New York, seeking better opportunities.
Castillo, who came to Hempstead in 2018, the same year he became a U.S. citizen and got married, is part of the 33.5% growth in Latino residents on Long Island from 2010 to 2020, according to the 2020 census. The national survey's results, released Aug. 12, also show more Island hamlets and villages have become majority Latino over that 10-year span.
"I have more opportunities here, the opportunity to study," Castillo, 32, said in Spanish, as his wife, Elise de Castillo, executive director of the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN), translated. Castillo speaks English but wanted to answer questions in Spanish to better articulate his views, he explained.
After graduating from high school in Colombia, Castillo said, "I wasn’t able to do much else there. I lacked stability and economic opportunity. … There's a very difficult economic situation and political as well," he said of conditions in Colombia.
What to know
The Latino population on Long Island increased 33.5% between 2010 and 2020.
Latinos now make up 20.2% of Long Island's 2.9 million population, or 589,384.
Latinos are a majority of the population in seven Long Island communities.
Latinos make up 20.2% — 589,384 — of Long Island’s 2.9 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. They are the largest minority group on the Island and in the nation. Latinos, also referred to as Hispanics, are counted as an ethnicity by the Census Bureau and can be of any race.
Latinos made up a majority of the population in seven hamlets and villages on the Island in 2020 — up from four in 2010. Topping the list is Brentwood, where 75.5% of the more than 62,000 residents of the hamlet are Latino, up from 68.5% in 2010, according to the census.
Among the communities where Latinos were recorded as the majority in 2020 for the first time was Hempstead Village, where Latinos are 50.1% of the 59,000-plus residents and Blacks are 38.9%. In 2010, Blacks were the largest group in the village at 45.9%, while Latinos were 44.2%.
There are 52 communities on Long Island where Latinos constitute 20% or more of the population — up from 39 in 2010 — and another 11 where they make up between 19% and 19.9% of residents, according to the census. There are 293 villages, hamlets and cities on Long Island.
The changing face of the Island's population, officials acknowledge, impacts government services, such as providing documents in languages other than English, translation services, programs and adding bilingual staff.
For example, Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter said in an email that electronic billboard signage about pandemic safety measures in Spanish was placed along roadways in the town with messages from the Suffolk County Health Department.
"We've always been very, very sensitive to the special needs of the community," Carpenter added in an interview.
She said Brentwood now has a "showplace" park "right in the heart of the Hispanic community." Roberto Clemente Park was closed for three years because of illegal dumping of hazardous construction waste in 2013 and 2014. The waste was removed.
"When I got here, we were in the throes of dealing with the horrific situation of Roberto Clemente Park," Carpenter said.
It's happening 'all across this region'
The change in the dominant population is evident in Hempstead as well.
"As you may recall, Hempstead was predominantly an African American community for many years," said the Rev. Sedgwick Easley, executive assistant to Hempstead Village Mayor Waylyn Hobbs Jr. "Before that, it was a predominantly white community."
Now, Easley said, the village's population has shifted again.
In Hempstead, the Latino increase is indicative of what's happening "all across this region," Easley said. Hobbs, the village's mayor, aims to "meet the needs of all the people in the village of Hempstead," said Easley, who is also pastor of Union Baptist Church in Hempstead. He recalled many Black parishioners have left Hempstead for the South.
Easley said information about events and government documents is translated in Spanish, and the local library offers English language classes and translation services. As for village-sponsored cultural events, he pointed to the municipality's Friday Night Concert Series during the summer geared toward "different populations."
George Siberón, executive director of the Hempstead Hispanic Civic Association, a nonprofit formed in 1978 that provides after-school tutoring, translation services and English language instruction for residents free of charge, had similar observations.
"The Village of Hempstead has been predominantly a Black community until very recently," Siberón said. "And the influx is predominantly from Central America, and more so from El Salvador than any other Central American country."
Many Latinos talked about working long hours to make a way for their families here and to help family back home.
Castillo called Latino immigrants "extremely hardworking" and strongly sought to rebut negative perceptions of them. "I think one thing that native-born Americans need to understand is that immigrants come to this country with great hopes for their life. I am a Latino immigrant who is knocking on the door of professional success through education," he said.
Castillo said he's studying liberal arts at Nassau Community College.
Not far from the Hempstead office of the Central American Refugee Center, the Hempstead Hispanic Civic Association held a Family Day celebration at the conclusion of its summer camp program.
Norma Vasquez, 36, a mother of three, was there. Originally from El Salvador, she came to Hempstead in 2005 with her father and brother "for a better life," she said in Spanish as Angela Morales, another Family Day attendee, translated.
Vazquez said in those early years before she had children, she worked seven days a week in a local deli for nine years. "I did it to save money" to help bring other family members to the United States. She sent money back home, enough to build a house there, and one day, she said, she plans to return.
Delmy Lopez, 31, is originally from Guatemala. She arrived in the United States 10 years ago with her parents. After living first in Uniondale and Hempstead, she now resides in Brentwood with her husband and their three children. A stay-at-home mom, Lopez recently was pushing her 18-month-old son Diego in a baby stroller around Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood.
"I came here to work, make money and send money to my country," Lopez said. She added that she thinks about going back to Guatemala, like her brother, "but I have three kids here," suggesting the decision to return to her home country was more complicated now.
Jose Palacios, 45, has lived in Brentwood for five years, having left behind a life of farming in El Salvador. He now works in a Brentwood factory.
"I like it [on Long Island] because in my country there is a lot of problems," Palacios said as he relaxed in Roberto Clemente Park recently. Trying to move beyond farming was difficult in his homeland, he said. "I can't find a job." And besides that, he found El Salvador "scary. It's a lot of criminals over there."
Ana Hilda Morales, 74, of Hempstead, has lived on Long Island for decades. She left El Salvador "the first time" in 1970 for New York City, commuting to Westbury, where she worked at an electronics factory, said her daughter, Angela Morales, 50, of Hempstead, who translated for her mother.
Ana Morales and her family settled in Hempstead in 1981. Those who weren't born in the United States, Angela Morales said, gained U.S. citizenship over the years.
"We all went to college," Angela said of herself and her siblings. She said of her parents: "Education was their first priority for their family."
Angela Morales is a massage therapist. She said a sister is a registered nurse; one brother is an electrical engineer; another is a retired police detective, and the oldest grandchildren are in college, with one studying to become a physician.
"She's proud," Angela Morales said as her mother smiled broadly.