Urban Spaces and Migration

With a global migrant population of over 200 million people, international mobility of labor is one of the most significant contributing factors to both globalization and urbanization worldwide. It is widely recognized that globalization is a function of the liberalized flow of capital, commodities and labor across borders and that economic opportunity is increasingly concentrated in urban areas. However, migration policy discussions at the national or international level give little attention to the local nature of this phenomenon; migrants move to cities and have an impact as well as spatial demands on the local

environment in which they live.

A full report of the class’ case studies can be downloaded.

My project for this seminar focuses on Brooklyn’s Red Hook Food Vendors.  See my video here.

The Story of the Red Hook Food Vendors

The Red Hook Food Vendors story parallels Red Hook’s story of change, flux, and adaptation. The story of the vendors is largely an oral history of immigrants making use of public spaces available to them in the neighborhood. Cesear Fuentes, the executive director of the The Hook Food Vendors’ Committee was able to provide key insights into the role the vendors play in the Red Hook environment.


Courtesy of Daniel Avila, 2008

Although the vendors began as an activity separate from the Red Hook neighborhood, throughout the course of recent developments, the Red Hook Food Vendors have merged their identity with that of Red Hook. The ball fields where the vendors operate are not only known within the immediate community, but also throughout Brooklyn, the five boroughs, and even nationally.

In the early 1970s, immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, and other Latin American countries began to arrive in the New York area. At the time, Red Hook was largely populated by African-Americans as well as immigrants from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Unlike the Latino residents from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, the newer immigrants from Mexico and other locations in Central America sought to play soccer in the nearby ball fields instead of baseball.

Soccer Ligas (organized leagues) began to make use of the ball fields in the south eastern corner of Red Hook. Friends and family members of the soccer players often spent the day cheering on their favorite teams. The influx of people to the fields (both fans and players) developed the need for food and refreshments.

Red Hook’s isolation from the rest of Brooklyn and the disinvestment caused by population loss, job loss, and industrial loss resulted in no nearby operating restaurants or grocery stores. In addition, the recent immigrants did not find places in the area to buy and eat foods they were accustomed to.

In response to this situation, community members began to bring homemade foods to the fields to share with friends and to sell to others.  This informal food vending established the beginning of the Red Hook Food Vendors, now an organized group of Latin American vendors that sell food to the public every summer at the Red Hook ball parks.