A procession of American Indians marched through Sunset Park, Brooklyn, on a weekend afternoon in early May, bouncing to a tribal beat. They dressed in a burst of colors, wore tall headdresses and danced in circles, as custom dictated, along a short stretch of the park.
But there was something different about this tribe, the Tlaxcala, and when the music ceased and the chatter resumed, the difference became clear: They spoke exclusively Spanish.
The event was Carnaval, an annual tradition celebrated by tribes indigenous to land that is now Mexico. And despite centuries of Spanish influence, the participants identify themselves by their indigenous heritage more than any other ethnicity.
Seventy percent of the 57,000 American Indians living in New York City are of Hispanic origin, according to census figures. That is 40,000 American Indians from Latin America–up 70 percent from a decade ago.
The trend is part of a demographic growth taking place nationwide of Hispanics using “American Indian” to identify their race. The number of Amerindians–a blanket term for indigenous people of the Americas, North and South–who also identify themselves as Hispanic has tripled since 2000, to 1.2 million from 400,000.