The steady flow of Latino immigrants to New York brought with it a beloved international pastime to fields of New York city: soccer.
Established in 1971, the Liga Mexicana organizes seasonal tournaments of teams organized along national lines, encompassing players from Mexico, Central American and the Andes. The Red Hook ball fields became a regular stomping ground for the the Liga Mexicana as the Latino population, and number of competing teams, grew many fold in the 1980s and 90s.
A telling barometer of this growth is the increase in tortilla production. Only one store in New York sold tortillas in 1985. By the early 2000’s, six immigrant owned tortilla factories in Brooklyn alone were producing over ten million tortillas a week.
You can sample these tortillas and other Latin American delights at the edge of the ball fields, where what started as families bringing homemade snacks has turned into a micro-industry of Latino cuisine and a battle with the city to maintain the right to sell pupusas, tacos and flavored aguas to soccer players and foodies alike.
By the 1990s, the number of ball games and the number of street vendors meant that garbage was piling up along the stretch of Bay St between Clinton St and Court St where the vendors set up. The vendors asked Cesar Fuendes, the son of one of the families selling food every week, was asked to help negotiate with the growing number of city agencies taking issue with the vendors. Cesar got the informal but tight knit network to up their game by organizing clean up and security crews so that trash and alcohol sales would no longer be a nuisance.
The Red Hook Food Vendors also became a non-profit organization. The Parks Department issued an application to bid for the right to sell food at the ball fields and thanks to plenty of press attention from Brooklyn food blogs and the support of local politicians, the Red Hook Food Vendors won the bid as the only contender. They continued to pay the same $10,500 seasonal fee they had been paying the Parks Department in an outdated agreement to use the area, but this time with a six year renewable right to use the space with only minimal, fixed increases in the permit fee.
According to Cesar, now director of the Red Hook Food Vendors, “Even if there were very big forces at work, there’s nothing bigger than the forces of people coming together. It wasn’t just about the vendors–twelve people and their representatives. It was about a whole city fighting for something. It became symbolic.”
You can taste the triumph in the flautas, burritos, and huaraches on sale every April through October at the ball fields in Red Hook.