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.
"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.