The Ecuadorian immigrant community might be one of the smallest Latino immigrant communities in New York but it is also the wealthiest.
After many fled a serious of economic distresses in their homeland during the past 50 years, Ecuadorian immigrants have established financial strongholds in the United States to provide for themselves and their families who stayed behind in Ecuador.
Ecuadorians are the second highest-earning Latino nationality in the United States and the highest-earning in New York in comparison to the five largest Latino groups: Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans, Colombians and Ecuadorians, according to the Center for Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies at the City University of New York
Ecuadorians were earning $55,000 in inflation-adjusted median income in 2011, having endured only a -1.3% drop in income since 1990. While the Dominican population is the lowest earning community with a median income of $33,000, the Mexican population endured the largest drop in income since 1990 of -23.1%, resulting in a current median income of $45,000.
These high-earning Ecuadorians are likely to be an older generation of migrants, said Victoria Stone, a socio-cultural anthropologist who has researched migration trends in Ecuador.
In a wave of out-migration in the 80s through mid-90s during which Ecuador underwent a debt crisis due to falling petroleum prices and increasing inflation, the Ecuadorian population in the United States nearly doubled to 200,000.
“There were trends where they realized opportunities were a bit better here,” said Stone.
Hugo Barreto, a middle-aged Ecuadorian who arrived from Milagros, Ecuador in 1991, now owns two restaurants in New York and New Jersey. He partnered with two other Ecuadorian immigrants in the early 2000s to open Piccolino’s Restaurant in Bayonne, New Jersey.
However, after a series of events, Hugo was left as the main titleholder. And in 2010, he encountered an opportune moment to find a partner and open a second location in Staten Island.
“That was my vision,” said Barreto. “Personally, I am so proud I was able to do it.”
And although his initial plans were to return to Ecuador, he said the opportunities here changed his mind.
“The biggest reason for migration is one’s financial status,” said Barreto. “Whenever I go back to Ecuador I am always surprised at how wonderfully beautiful it is. But even though they use the same dollar, they have much less of it. And prices are the same.”
One Ecuadorian who lived in New York up until 2005 but now lives in New Jersey, points out that Ecuadorian migration and their present economic well-being is a reflection of a very specific “Ecuadorian dream.”
Nelly Moreno, 44, says Ecuadorians do not often migrate to start new lives in the United States, rather, to make enough money to provide more sustainable livelihoods for their families who remain in Ecuador.
“They have that purpose,” said Moreno. “They don’t come here to not do anything. They come here to work. Many Ecuadorians have been able to provide more than what they imagined to their families because of the opportunities in this country. But there’s always that dream to go back home.”
Many Ecuadorian immigrants are providers for their families in Ecuador like both Barreto and Moreno.
Ecuadorians living abroad sent annual remittances totaling upwards of $2.8 billion, accounting the second largest component of the gross national product, second to oil revenue, according to Stone, who cited 2008 estimates of the Multi-lateral Investment Fund of the Inter-American Development Bank in a chapter of “Immigrants in American History.”
“Since dollarization, this influx of capital has helped to keep the weakened economy afloat,” she wrote.
In fact, New York is home to a remittance-sending agency called Delgado Travel, named after the Ecuadorian immigrant who opened it. The agency allows migrants to send remittances, purchase appliances to be delivered to households in Ecuador, and send other commodities.
“He is the epitome of migrant success,” said Stone.
Ecuadorians have migrated to the United States since the 60s in characterized waves, according to Stone. Beginning with the collapse of the Panama Hat Trade in the 60s and, most recently, the dollarization of the Ecuadorian economy and economic crisis beginning in the early 2000s, there is now 400,000 Ecuadorians in New York City. They account for more than 40 percent of the Ecuadorian population in the U.S. according to a report by the Center for Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies.
Although there has been a steady increase of incoming Ecuadorians in the past five years—according to Census data that reveals 30,000 new Ecuadorian immigrants since 2010—it is unlikely they are part of the wealthier population.
Stone said older generations of migrants have had more time to adjust and had an easier time gaining legal status than newer migrant groups.
Moreover, European countries like Spain and Italy have been recently more popular destinations because of the high risk of migration to the United States and growing anti-immigrant sentiments.
Approximately 10 percent of the country’s total population reside outside of Ecuador, according to Stone who cited estimates from the Central bank of Ecuador in the chapter she authored.
“But many scholars, both in Ecuador and in countries with large or more recent Ecuadorian populations, consider that the migrant population has been dramatically undercounted.”