It’s another bustling day at Casa Enrique.

In the kitchen, chef and co-owner Cosme Aguilar is busy preparing the traditional dishes he grew up eating at home in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.

“We just wanted to open something and see what we can do with Mexican food because before there weren’t too many good Mexican restaurants. This brings me home. This food reminds me of my grandma,” Aguilar said.

What You Need To Know

  • The Mexican community has grown dramatically in these past 20 years, from 180,000 in 2000 to more than 324,000 in 2021

  • This growth is tied to the changes within the Latino Community in New York City which has become more diverse with the influx of Mexican, Colombian, and Ecuadorian immigrants

  • For many activists, the next step in the evolution and maturation of the Mexican community is more representatives at the local and state level

“Cochinito Chiapaneco” and “albóndigas en chipotle” have become signature dishes at Casa Enrique and a reason it became the first Latin restaurant in New York City to earn a Michelin star.

This was not what Aguilar envisioned when he was younger. He worked as a mechanic in Mexico but decided to pursue his dreams in New York, where he got a job in a French restaurant cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms. He slowly started to fall in love with cooking.

“I was very lucky to start working in a restaurant. There I found the things I want to do for the future,” he said. “The chefs were so good they gave me an opportunity to grow and to learn.”

But when Aguilar arrived in 1998, things were much different when it came to Mexican food.

“Before it was hard to get things for the menu and now, it’s easy because there are more Mexicans, more demand for Mexican food,” he said.

From East Harlem to Sunset Park, Jackson Heights to Port Richmond and points in between it is impossible to ignore the proliferation of Mexican businesses and the numbers reflect that.

According to the CUNY Mexican Studies Institute, a little over 180,000 Mexicans lived in the five boroughs in 2000 jumping to over 324,000 in 2021.

And in Staten Island that growth is staggering. Almost 20,000 Mexicans call this borough home, a 183% jump from 20 years ago.

It’s precisely on Staten Island where many Mexican immigrants, but also from other parts of Latin America, have come to rely on the services and the help of one of the most trusted and important community organizations in the city.

“You walk down Port Richmond, Stapleton, anywhere in Staten Island; there are Mexican businesses, specifically in a borough that is not very welcoming to immigrants,” Yesenia Mata said. “However, you see the Mexican community saying we’re here, we aren’t going anywhere.”

Yesenia Mata has been the executive director of La Colmena since 2020, a group founded six years before that, with the mission to empower day laborers and other low-wage immigrant workers in the borough.

“This year we are going to be hosting our third Mexican Independence parade. I don’t know how to say this, but that’s insane, Mata said. “It’s because many of us are waking up and realizing that it’s important to continue the mission that our parents started when they first came here.”

For activists like Mata, the next step is more political representation at the local and state level, something she hopes will come from the younger generations.

With the growth of the Mexican community, these sounds are becoming commonplace even in settings like the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Mariachi Real de Mexico is a musical pioneer in New York City.

“I remember when we first came to New York back in the 90s there were only a few musicians who played mariachi,” Ramón Ponce, director of Mariachi Real de Mexico, said. “My father actually had to bring his friends from the band he used to play in Mexico, and they joined us here because we had trouble finding the right musicians.”

The group is led by Ramón Ponce, who hails from a musical family. It was created 31 years ago to share this music and the traditions of Mexico. Mariachi Real Director, Mariachi Real de Mexico has played practically everywhere in the city, including Little Island and Carnegie Hall.

“I think the Mexican community has brought the best part of Mexico, the food, all the beautiful traditions like Day of the Dead,” Ponce said. “I believe each one of us has put a little bit so the city can be a better place.”