Street fiesta celebrates the Oriole-Latino link

City-sponsored event fuses music appreciation, baseball

Metro

News from around the Baltimore region

April 10, 2005|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,SUN STAFF

Orioles baseball competed with the horn-heavy sounds of Afro-Cuban salsa yesterday as fans of both mingled at the corner of Bank Street and Broadway, the heart of Baltimore's Latino community.

The event was a city-sponsored fusion of baseball and music appreciation, designed to draw a connection between the Orioles' Latino-heavy roster and Baltimore's burgeoning Latino community.

The city's Believemobile featured a free concert by Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca, an international group whose sound is a blend of Congolese soukous music and Cuban salsa. Meanwhile, members of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods distributed Sammy Sosa T-shirts and tickets to Friday's Orioles-Yankees game.

And throughout the day, city staff gave updates from yesterday's Orioles-Yankees matchup in New York, which the Orioles lost, 8-5.

"We wanted to do an event that celebrated the city's diversity as well as the Latino connection with the Orioles," said Israel C. Patoka, director of the neighborhoods office. "What ball teams bring to a city is civic pride. Our community is very diverse, so we want to engage our entire community."

Six members of the Orioles starting lineup are Hispanic, and the team has become more international than ever, with 13 members either Latino or foreign-born.

Jose Ruiz, Mayor Martin O'Malley's liaison to the Hispanic community, said he met with Orioles senior management recently to discuss developing deeper bonds between the players and the community. He wants Baltimore to follow in the steps of cities with strong Latino communities, where players mentor youth and teams have done Spanish-language marketing.

"We also want to do outreach to the Latino families of the players," he said. "They are newcomers, too, and may not be aware of all the community has to offer."

While many people who attended yesterday's event said they liked Ruiz's idea, they said the city should do more to encourage Latinos to participate in civic affairs.

Some new arrivals, for instance, are intimidated or hindered by an inability to speak English and don't get involved, said Olga M. Lopez, the sole bilingual employee at the Southeast Community Action Center of the city's housing department.

She was one of a handful of employees from city agencies who took advantage of yesterday's event to get the word out about everything from available jobs at City Hall to city programs to help pay electric bills. But by the peak of yesterday's event only a handful of people had stopped by the information booths.

As for baseball, others said they appreciate the city's efforts to drum up support for the Orioles but said they don't necessarily feel a kinship with players simply because they share a cultural background.

"If the team is good, we will support it. It doesn't matter if there are Latinos on it or not," said Carlos Zelaya, who took time away from his restaurant to listen to the band.

"But this kind of event is great for the community," he said.

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