Caribbean & South America


Twenty-four percent of Philadelphia’s foreign born come from the Pan-American region. Many come from the Caribbean, with significant populations also coming from South America. A growing number of Philadelphia’s newcomers come from Mexico and Central America.

Philadelphia’s connection to the Americas spans centuries. More than 200 years ago, brisk trade flourished between Philadelphia, Cuba and the Anglophone Caribbean. As early as 1923, a survey identified a “Spanish Colony” in Philadelphia, consisting of Spanish-speaking immigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean and Spain. Throughout the last century, the connection between Philadelphia and its southern neighbors has grown due largely to U.S. political involvements, trade and labor relations, and changing immigration laws. Since the Immigration Act of 1965, refugees, exiles, workers, professionals, and others from Latin America have been increasing in number in the region.

Philadelphia has long been a destination for refugees and exiles fleeing north from political oppression or instability. After the Haitian Revolution in 1791, refugees arrived from Saint Domingue, now Port-au-Prince. Latin American exiles sought refuge here in the early 19th century, continuing their independence activities from a new base. After the Cuban Revolution of 1959, Philadelphia became home to families who were forced to flee, some of whom arrived through a national resettlement program called the “Freedom Flights.” The Haitian community was formed in part by refugees in the 20th century. And during the 1980s and 1990s, thousands from Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua fled persecution, violence, and oppressive regimes. Initially denied refugee status, many have subsequently become eligible for citizenship through amnesty programs.

Work programs and trade relations also brought immigrants to Philadelphia. Cuban cigar makers settled in the area in the late 19th century, when Philadelphia became important in the manufacture of tobacco products. Mexican braceros were recruited to work the Pennsylvania Railroad during WWII. After the war, Puerto Rican workers were actively recruited to work in industry and agriculture. By 1952, the first direct flights between Philadelphia and San Juan began and within 20 years, the Puerto Rican population in Philadelphia had grown to over 40,000. Since the 1950s, Philadelphia has maintained the third largest Puerto Rican population of any mainland U.S. city (following New York and Chicago). This predominately Puerto Rican community in large part built the community institutions that now constitute Philadelphia’s “barrio.” Organizations like the Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations (Concilio) and Congreso de Latinos Unidos, formed to address Puerto Rican concerns about housing, bilingual education, discrimination, violence, and inadequate city services, now serve a diverse range of newer Spanish-speaking arrivals.

Today, communities from the Caribbean, Latin America, and Mexico surge with new growth and new cultural diversity. Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic group in the Greater Philadelphia area as well as the nation. Small numbers of mainly Colombians, Argentineans, Peruvians, Ecuadorians and Venezuelans settled in the area in the 1970s and 1980s. Haitian and Jamaican communities have continued to grow. Two groups that have reached a critical mass in the last 15 years are Dominicans and, more recently, Mexicans. Here we will look at some of these communities and their contributions to Philadelphia.


No official U.S. Census estimate

Brazilians in Philadelphia tend to live in the Northeast, with concentrations around Castor Avenue between Roosevelt Boulevard and Cottman Avenue. Groupings of Brazilian restaurants, clothing shops, variety stores and concentrations of Brazilian residents can be found along Cottman, Castor, and Bustleton Avenues.


2,414 (U.S. Census 2000)

The largest Colombian enclaves are in and around Olney, Feltonville, Juniata Park, Summerdale, Lawncrest, and Oxford Circle. There are also Colombian households dispersed throughout the city and surrounding suburbs.

Accion Colombia
Colombians of Metro Philadelphia


4,337 (U.S. Census 2000)

Dominicans are settling largely in North Philadelphia, in West Kensington, Hunting Park, Fairhill, Harrowgate, Richmond, Juniata Park, Feltonville, Fernrock, and Olney. There are also small numbers of Dominicans settling in West Philadelphia and the Northeast.
As of 2000, Philadelphia had the 14th largest Dominican population in the United States.


2,000 (U.S. Census 2000)

Haitians live in Northeast Philadelphia, Olney, East Oak Lane, West Oak Lane, Logan, Cheltenham, Jenkintown, West Philadelphia, and Delaware County.
Many Haitians move to Philadelphia from other cities in the U.S. that have large Haitian communities, such as New York.

Philadelphia For Haiti
Haitians of Philadelphia


3,000 (U.S. Census 2000)

Jamaicans live throughout Philadelphia. Many live in West Philadelphia, North Philadelphia, Olney, Germantown, and East and West Oak Lane. Jamaicans also live in Delaware, Montgomery and Chester counties, as well as in New Jersey.

Caribbean Community in Philadelphia
Caribbean Community in Philadelphia Facebook page


6,220 (U.S. Census 2000)

The most visible and largest concentration is in South Philadelphia between Washington and Oregon Avenues and Front and 18th Streets. There are also smaller enclaves throughout Philadelphia.
The Mexican population is experiencing rapid growth in Philadelphia. In 2003, community leaders estimated the population to have surpassed 12,000, making it the second largest Latino group in Philadelphia after Puerto Ricans.

The Association of Latino Professionals For America (ALPFA)

Global region
Central America
South America
Arts and Culture
History and Preservation