Originally posted on WHYY”s It’s Our City blog:

by Ben Bradlow, WHYY Online

When Italian immigrants arrived in Philadelphia, they made South Philadelphia their home. So it should come as no surprise that over the last ten years the streets of the storied area of the city have been populated by a new immigrant population: Mexicans.  They come primarily from the central Mexican province of Puebla.

At Max de la Cruz’s new dress shop, which he opened only three months ago,  de la Cruz sees an opportunity to make money by catering to growing family life in the community.

“A lot more children are being born here,” he said. “[My store] allows people to bring their customs here so they don’t forget their home, Mexico.”

This means selling the ornate dresses and suits commonly worn at important family functions like baptisms, quinceañeras, and weddings.

According to Peter Bloom, the leader of the primary community group for Mexicans in Philadelphia, JUNTOS / Casa de Los Soles, what started out as a migration of single men evolved to include whole families.  At the same time others who originally came as single have laid down roots here.

“When you talk to people they’re not here to settle, but the amount of time they’re going to be here is much longer. Now it’s ‘I’m going to stay here until my kids finish high school.’ And their kids are only five years old.  So that’s going to be another thirteen years.  I think that started happening about four years ago,” he said.

Even as the Mexican community has begun to transport its cultural life to South Philadelphia, a faltering economy poses a threat.  Shop owner De la Cruz said that his new business is still on shaky ground after experiencing low sales numbers during Christmas.  Domenic Vitiello, an urban studies professor at University of Pennsylvania warned that such hardship could be a sign of things to come.

“The dress stores, the music stores, the sporting goods stores – I suspect that those will have a harder time in economic times like these,” he said.

Maximino Sandoval, a community activist, said that he worries about cuts in work hours and days for many Mexican laborers.  Still, as more families become established, workers like Sandoval may be here for the long haul.

“There are people like me who have to stay here because of our children. It’s not even about living well or eating well,” said Sandoval, “it’s about our children, for their education and their school.  So we have to tolerate the conditions here.”

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