Greektown Develops Latin Flavor

Sumathi Reddy, Baltimore Sun, October 21, 2008

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Baltimore’s Latino population increased by more than 40 percent between 2000 and 2007, a time when the city’s overall population declined. In August, the Census Bureau estimated that nearly 16,000 Latinos now live here, though community advocates say the true figure is at least 50 percent higher. There are no figures for the number of Latinos in Greektown, but residents and organizers estimate that a quarter to a half of its residents are immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, Ecuador and Mexico.

The pattern of Latinos taking over older ethnic communities is common across the country. Little Italys become Little Perus. “The new immigrant populations are going in where they can find both a sense of community and also a place where they can be successful, and it makes sense for them to congregate in the sort of same ethnic, same background communities,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. “And there is a kind of upward and outward mobility of some of the older groups.”

Gloria Hertzfelt, a Mexico City native, remembers a different Greektown. The 77-year-old resident, better known as Dona Gloria, came 57 years ago. She recalls being one of the only Latinos at a time when other residents didn’t want their children playing with hers.

“It was awful, horrible,” remembers Hertzfelt. “They wouldn’t accept just anybody, and I was Hispanic.”

Now Hertzfelt serves as a matron for Latinos from near and far, fielding inquiries and pleas for help when they come to her for translations, questions about getting social services and ways to resolve disputes with employers. One afternoon, she held up a claim for $750 in unpaid wages that she was helping a man obtain.

She feels equally at home with the Greek and other residents of the community, power walking down Eastern Avenue and waving and hugging business owners, Greek and Latino alike.

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A first-generation Greek-American, Johns says many Greeks remain despite the influx of Latinos. She still loves the area, but she said, “the newer immigrants aren’t that attuned to learning English or to abiding by sanitation laws, and they attribute that to language problems.”

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Some say the inevitable clash of cultures exists, subtle or not. There are complaints about trash and worries about gangs such as MS-13.

“It’s not great between the Greeks and Hispanics,” said Todd Bonicker, 35, who is the founder of the Greater Greektown Neighborhood Alliance. “I’ve heard more times than I care to remember Greeks consistently calling the Hispanics, ‘those people.’”

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Others say the two groups interact just fine. {snip}

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In Bonicker’s view [Todd Bonicker, founder of the Greater Greektown Neighborhood Alliance.], the Latino-owned businesses are thriving in comparison with the Greek shops. He foresees a future in which Latino businesses will become dominant, as in parts of Fells Point and Highlandtown.

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