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The Baltimore Sun

Hispanic Immigrants Building Place In City Growth: The Transformation Of Neighborhoods Into Diverse Latino Communities Can Be Seen In Shops, Restaurants And This Weekend's Celebration Of Arts, Culture And Music.

By Kelly Brewington

June 25, 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Baltimore Sun. All rights reserved.

Bakery owner Daisy Ramos knows there's little difference in texture and taste between pan frances and taleras, but she knows her customers are particular about their breads.

Her Salvadoran customers favor pan frances, an oval French loaf, over the flat, diamond-shaped breads typically called taleras by her Mexican clientele.

At Panaderia Ramos, her bakery in the cultural and commercial hub of the Hispanic community in Southeast Baltimore, Ramos knows she must stock a wide assortment of traditional Latino pastries to meet the demands of local customers with roots all over the Spanish-speaking world.

Along Eastern Avenue, from Broadway in Fells Point to Conkling Street in Highlandtown, Hispanic immigrants are transforming neighborhoods that were longtime enclaves for working-class whites, many with Eastern European roots. The transformation can be seen in restaurants and shops such as Panaderia Ramos in Fells Point.

The selection of sweets behind Ramos' bread counter mirrors the tapestry of Hispanic nations that make up the region's Latino community.

"Everyone wants to be able to find their own style of bread," said Ramos, who was born in New York but whose parents are from Puebla, Mexico. "It used to be there were only Central Americans here in Baltimore. Now Latinos come from all over - Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Ecuadorians."

There are 54,048 Hispanics in the Baltimore metropolitan area, according to the latest census figures. Many advocacy groups think there are twice as many.

Tomorrow and Sunday, thousands of people are expected to visit Patterson Park for Latino Fest 04, a celebration of Hispanic arts, culture and music.

Still relatively small, the area's Hispanic community is diverse, made up of legal and illegal immigrants, and U.S. citizens with roots in Central America, South America and the Caribbean.

The concentration of businesses in Southeast Baltimore makes the growth of the Hispanic community apparent there, but Anne Arundel and Howard counties also have Hispanic enclaves.

Census figures show relatively little growth in the Baltimore area's Hispanic population - about 3,000 people - from 2000 to July 2002. But the figures don't show the impact of the new immigrants, who are not only changing the fabric of some city neighborhoods, but are also taking their language and culture to the suburbs.

It's unclear how many of the region's Hispanics are undocumented workers. A report released this year from the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank, estimates that 9.3 million illegal immigrants live in the United States, 57 percent of whom are Mexican. But local estimates are hard to come by.\

Estimates difficult

"It's really hard to say who is documented and who is undocumented," said Ozzie Ruiz operation manager at Education-Based Latino Outreach in Fells Point. "It's just as hard with the census; not all Latinos respond."

Many advocates notice an increase in undocumented immigrants, but some warn against grouping all Hispanics into that category. "The stereotype is that they are all illegal or migrant workers and only come here to work," Ruiz said.

At Lorena Beltran's English class in the basement classroom of the outreach program, the two dozen students seemed to have one thing in common: a hunger to learn English.

Carmen Mercado, a grandmother of six from the Dominican Republic, sat in the second row beside Fernando Cordova, a former radio journalist who arrived in Baltimore last year from Ecuador. Together they managed the phrase "What time is it?" laughing at times at their accents and stumbling when trying to pronounce the "th" sound in "seven thirty."

Cordova lives in Fells Point and is a carpenter rehabilitating rowhouses, the most convenient job he could find that didn't require a car. He plans to master English and return to school.

"Some people live here for 10 years and don't learn English," he said. "They can live and work in a place where there is nothing but other Hispanics, so they think they don't need English."

The students in the English class range from teenagers to senior citizens. Many of them have been in the United States less than a year. The class also attracts immigrants from countries such as Poland and Togo.\


"This class is multilevel, multicultural and multiages," said Beltran. "Some people are professionals in their country, and some didn't complete the second grade."

They come two days a week for three hours of intensive English classes, all with the same goal, said Beltran.

"They come here because they need English and they want it," she said. "They know this is the only way they can grow in this country."

The class draws from around the metropolitan area, where a growing segment of Hispanics are settling, part of a national trend that has seen surges in immigrant Hispanic populations in rural areas from North Carolina to the Midwest.

Mayor Martin O'Malley hopes new immigrants will move to Baltimore and help offset decades of dwindling population, but some demographers say that transformation is struggling to take hold.\

A moving population

"Just as the city has a hard time hanging on to residents, the same is true for foreign immigrants," said Mark Goldstein, an economist at the State Data Center at the Maryland Department of Planning. "More are leaving than staying. And it's likely they are moving for the same reason anyone does: bigger houses and better schools."

The city had a net gain of immigrants between 1995 and 2000, but data show that immigrants eventually tend to move out of the city.

In the late 1990s, the city gained a net 5,396 noncitizen immigrants, but in the decades back to 1950, the city has consistently had a net loss of such immigrants.

Still, after years of immigrants flooding the Washington suburbs of Montgomery and Prince George's counties, there seems to be a slow movement northward to the Baltimore area.

Why Hispanic immigrants are coming to the Baltimore region has been difficult for demographers to explain. Usually, new arrivals are drawn to a region because of jobs and the presence of other immigrants, but no particular industry has drawn them here.

Some say word of mouth is the draw.

Ives Martinez, who founded the Association of Latin Marylanders of Anne Arundel two years ago, has watched Annapolis' Hispanic population grow in the past decade.\

Growth in Parole

In the Parole area, 1,018 Hispanics call the neighborhood home, making up 18 percent of the population, according to the 2000 Census.

Martinez has noticed apartment complexes full of newly arrived Mexican men seeking to earn money to send back home. He suspects that many are undocumented. Meanwhile, Hispanics from Montgomery County are drawn to cheaper homes in Anne Arundel, he said.

Martinez's job training programs and referrals help a diverse group of Hispanics, some of whom have little in common except language.

Julio Rodriguez, who owns Julio's, a barbershop in Fells Point, moved from Puerto Rico to Maryland 36 years ago. He said he feels he has more in common with his older Anglo neighbors than with the young immigrant families moving into the community.\

Less cohesion noted

Rodriguez, 62, jokes that he's not up on the latest styles that some Mexican clients want. And "the young kids," as he called them, are wild and the community is less cohesive than when he operated the Borinquen Social Club 10 years ago on Fleet Street, where his Puerto Rican friends played pool and dominoes.

"I'm an old-timer," he said. "These new styles and cuts, I don't know how to do that stuff. Most of my clients are Anglos, but I put that sign in the window for the festival, you know, to show my support."

Latino Fest04 is a fund-raiser for Education-Based Latino Outreach.

Ozzie Ruiz, the group's operating manager, said the festival is one place where the community unites.

"If you're Peruvian or Colombian or whatever, we all have something in common, which is to move forward," he said. "That's why we're here."

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