Baltimore Shows How Hispanics’ Influence Grows

Marisol Bello, USA Today, October 6, 2010

In this city’s Greektown, home to generations of Greek families, you are just as likely to see Latino-owned bakeries, grocery stores and restaurants as Greek coffee houses.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese started its first bilingual English and Spanish program this year to attract more Hispanic families.

And City Hall set up a commission two years ago to determine the education, job, public health and social needs of the growing Hispanic population, which increased 45% to 16,000 in 2008 from 11,000 in 2000.

“They live in every community. . . . We’re seeing more restaurants, stores and shops that are just sprouting up,” says Baltimore Councilman Jim Kraft. “It’s creating a new identity.”

In cities like Baltimore across the USA, the impact of Hispanics is wide-reaching and growing. The number of Hispanics in the U.S. is expected to reach 133 million by 2050, when the group is projected to make up almost a third of the nation’s population.

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In the first part of the decade, the gap in unemployment rates between Hispanic and non-Hispanics almost closed, Lopez says. Then came the recession. Now the unemployment rate is 9.6% for the nation and 12% for Hispanics.

In Baltimore, there have been other setbacks. This summer, a half-dozen Hispanic immigrant men were beaten and robbed in separate incidents, Kraft says. The most recent in August led to the death of Honduran immigrant Martin Reyes. A suspect told police he hated Mexicans, Kraft says.

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Hispanics in Baltimore say the city has been welcoming. In Greektown, they have opened more than a half-dozen businesses in a two-block area.

‘This could be Latino Town’

In another 10 or 20 years, “This could be Latino Town,” says Jesus Romero, 35, owner of Charro Negro, a Mexican bar. “Some of the businesses closed down, and that’s when the Latinos, we came and got those businesses. We’re basically building up the economy in Greektown.”

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Other entrepreneurs are pushing the Latino influence to the next step. Fernando Parada, head of the city’s Hispanic Business Association, says his group is encouraging more Hispanics to apply for minority-owned business status so they can get contracts with the city. So far, of the 912 minority-owned businesses certified by the city, 92 are owned by Hispanics.

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Nationally, Hispanic-owned businesses are the fastest-growing segment of small businesses in the country, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce says.

Nearly a third of Hispanic-owned businesses are in construction, repair and maintenance, and personal and laundry services, but they are making a mark in other industries, says Nina Vaca, chairwoman of the Hispanic Chamber and CEO of Pinnacle Technical Resources, a Dallas-based IT staffing company.

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Making headway

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In Baltimore, the Hispanic electorate hasn’t affected any races, says Don Norris, professor of urban and metropolitan politics at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. “They are not organized,” he says. New immigrants are still learning the language, and many are illegal and suspicious of government, he says, making them unlikely to get involved in civic life.

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Education challenges

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A December survey by the Pew Hispanic Center found 17% of Latino youths 16 to 25 do not have high school diplomas, compared with 8% of all in that age group.

The Census finds 13% of Latinos 25 and older had bachelor’s degrees or higher in 2008, up from 10.6% in 2000. Twenty-nine percent of the nation had college or advanced degrees in 2008.

Patricia Gandara, author of The Latino Education Crisis: The Consequences of Failed Social Policies, says Hispanic pupils often attend ill-equipped schools, live in poverty and have language barriers.

“These young people are not being set up for a 21st century economy,” she says, and it will cause problems as they make up more of the workforce.

Young Hispanics who are here illegally face more problems. Sylvia Rodriguez, 23, was accepted by Harvard this year to get her master’s degree in education. Rodriguez’s family illegally emigrated from Mexico when she was 2.

She’s not eligible for government aid, and her mother, who cleans houses, can’t afford to send her to school. Rodriguez’s neighbors in Phoenix raised money to help her through her first semester. She doesn’t have money for the second semester.

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The school district estimates that 3,000 Hispanics will be among its 83,000 students this year. They are concentrated in the southeast part of the city, where schools have increased the number of English teachers and hired bilingual staff for the first time.

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