When Americans think of Boston, I’ll guess that most of the out-of-towners immediately go to the city’s important role in the early history of the United States. Visitors expect to absorb that colonial vibe, and the city accommodates them by dressing people up in 18th-century attire to stand outside tourist destinations. And that’s all great! The history of the city is truly special.
But I also think of Boston, along with many of the surrounding towns, as having the most European feel of all U.S. cities. There are streets in the Beacon Hill area of the city that could have been borrowed directly from London. Beyond the physical layout of the city, there are, of course, the people — and the area is home to a highly international population.
(A brief detour here to explain how the different towns and cities fit together. There’s the City of Boston with its many distinct neighborhoods and a firm sprawl-preventing border of the Boston Harbor. But then there’s “the Boston area,” which includes some of the surrounding cities, generally Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline, and Newton, but it’s not an official designation and it may be defined differently for different purposes. This description might be helpful for future Fletcher students.)
So now, back to the international nature of the place. One day, some time back, I was clicking around online (as one does), nerding out over the statistics for different groups in the U.S. My impromptu online research followed hearing several references to Boston being the home of the “third most” people from two very different countries. The result of my casual research was confirmation that there’s a reason for the international vibe that I feel as a long-time resident. Many of our neighbors with origins in other countries have been here for generations, while others are newcomers.
Despite our most untropical weather, Greater Boston is home to the third largest population of Haitians in the U.S. As it happens, Massachusetts also ranks third among the states.
Ditto (third again) for Armenians. (Massachusetts ranks second among the states.) Boston has one of the oldest Armenian communities in the U.S.
I had already known about the Haitian and Armenian communities, so I continued searching.
Our own Somerville has the fifth largest Nepali community in the U.S.
And suburban Brockton has the U.S.’s third biggest Cape Verdean population, preceded by Boston in second place, with Massachusetts home to far more Cape Verdean immigrants and their descendants than any other statte.
Cape Verdeans are not the only Portuguese speakers around here, giving Massachusetts the largest community of Portuguese speakers in the U.S. (including immigrants from Portugal and Brazil). When you add neighboring Rhode Island, our two small states leave even California in the dust. Suburban Framingham and nearby Somerville rank fourth and fifth for Brazilian Americans. The Brazilian and Cape Verdean newcomers expanded the existing Portuguese and Portuguese-speaking population.
After those linguistic or national groups that had seemed most prominent, I started hunting more widely. I found that:
Massachusetts ranks fourth in the number of Dominican Americans.
Boston ranks ninth in the number of Puerto Rican Americans.
Massachusetts ranks fifth in the number of Israeli Americans.
North of Tufts, Lowell has the second largest Cambodian-American population, and Lynn follows with the third largest.
The Irish-American portion of the total Boston population is, at 15.8%, the second largest in the U.S. The interesting detail about the Irish American population here is that we have both a traditional population (from 19th and early 20th century immigration), and also a newer group that arrived in the 1980s.
Among other traditional immigrant groups, Massachusetts ranks fourth in the country for Italian Americans, who comprise 13.9% of the population.
For a metropolitan area that ranks only tenth by population in the U.S., that’s a major presence for varied cultural heritage groups.
I realize that might be more than enough statistics for most readers, but if you’re interested in even more detail about Boston’s demographic profile, have fun with it!