Strength in diversity

Hispanic Chamber of Commerce president Roberto N. Allen blends his skills and enthusiasm to cultivate opportunities for Baltimore's Latinos

March 15, 2004|By Frank R. D'Onofrio | Frank R. D'Onofrio,Special to Baltimoresun.com

Roberto N. Allen, a business attorney at the Baltimore law firm Saul Ewing, is the new president of the Baltimore Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

A Miami native, Allen has been a Baltimore resident since the 1980s, when he moved here to pursue a master's degree in mathematics at the Johns Hopkins University. While teaching math at Goucher College, he earned his law degree from the University of Maryland Law School.

Allen is a member of Saul Ewing's labor and employment practice, representing management in labor and employment law and litigation. He is a member of the American Bar Association, Maryland Bar Association and Bar Association of Baltimore.

He also serves with the Baltimore Mentoring Partnership, which pairs professionals with local high school students, and obtained a grant from the Abell Foundation to wire more of Goucher's teachers to the Internet.

You came to Baltimore for graduate study, and you've been here ever since. When did you realize that this city was your home?

It was when I bought a house in Mount Washington in November of 1991. I had met my wife, who was from Massachusetts. We met at a summer law program in New York; after an eight-month-long-distance romance, we settled down here in the Baltimore area.

What's changed since you've arrived?

I've discovered in the last few years that there's a dynamic, growing Hispanic community. It was not as visible or vibrant as it is now. Part of the evidence is the Hispanic restaurants in the area. Hispanics are always leading with food.

Any other differences?

There is more of a critical mass of people. People found that there were many opportunities here -- and the families started to grow -- and they would contact friends and relatives back home.

Since the Hispanic community is family oriented, they would start clusters of communities. You see it not only in what I call the [Baltimore] epicenter, down the Broadway corridor in Fells Point, but also in Cockeysville and Pikesville.

How diverse are the region's Hispanic businesses?

These business owners do not own only "restaurant" businesses. Many of the Hispanics coming here are second- and third-generation children of immigrants who identify with our Hispanic heritage. We went to school here and spent our professional lives here. We understand the way business is done here. We open doors for people who do come here.

How has the business community changed over the years?

The biggest change is that there is a very wide diversity of businesses -- not just in the restaurant and grocery businesses, which are usually the first to come into the area, but also in other businesses as well.

In the chamber, we have a broad spectrum of businesses: construction businesses, residential home builders, specialty construction firms, trucking companies, technology consulting companies, a medical equipment company -- and various professionals: financial advisers, attorneys.

That is why the chamber was needed: to bring people together. People get isolated in their own businesses and don't realize there are other Hispanics out there. You wouldn't believe how many members who come to our meetings for the first time, take me aside and tell me they felt they were the only Hispanic company in the state.

How diverse is this population?

For example, the chief financial officer of the Ravens is Cuban [Luis R. Perez]. We approached him to help us with a golf tournament last year. After meeting with him, going to lunch a few times, we got to know each other. He had been here for six or seven years, and he remarked that he felt like he was the only Hispanic here. He was happy to know that there was a growing Hispanic community in the area. This organization brings people together, and there is an energy that is brewing.

In turning down a $78 million offer to join the Baltimore Orioles, Vladimir Guererro's agent said the larger Hispanic community in Los Angeles "was a factor" in his client's signing with the Anaheim Angels. Were you able to meet with Guererro before he made his decision?

I tried to have that opportunity. When I heard about it, actually one of our attorneys here brought it up to me, and I spoke with [Orioles Executive Vice President] Jim Beattie. One of the attorney's here knew some people in the Orioles organization, and we tried to start a dialogue.

I suggested to Jim that Vladimir could speak with me -- and if he came to Baltimore, we would show him the Hispanic communities in the area and he could meet others like him.

Jim, however, said that the players don't normally come down until later in the process, so there wasn't an opportunity to show him what we in Baltimore were all about. I suggested, however, after reading about Guererro, that the person he needed to convince was Vladimir's mother. We are interested in meeting the other Hispanic players on the Orioles, Miguel Tejada and Rafael Palmeiro.

What would you have said to Guerrero?

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