Latinos celebrate their heritage

Cinco de Mayo Festival draws crowds and officials to bask in spirit of diversity

May 06, 2007|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,sun reporter

Cinco de Mayo in the heart of Baltimore's Latino community brought salsa dancing, native Mexican dress and free-flowing tequila to Fells Point yesterday, where anyone with a good two-step was welcome to join the party.

Amid the festivities on South Broadway, local politicians and police commanders turned out in numbers greater than in the past. Mayor Sheila Dixon and Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm, as well as Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown were there.

The organizers of the event pointed to the turnout of official guests as evidence of the Latino community's growing force in political and civic life.

After Brown presented a proclamation from the governor for the holiday -- which honors a Mexican victory over the French in the 1862 Battle of Puebla -- he and his family stayed for lunch in a restaurant a Mexican immigrant helped build.

Brown's wife, Patricia Arzuaga, who is of Puerto Rican descent, delivered remarks in Spanish.

"This day symbolizes national pride and has a larger meaning for all Latinos, not only Mexicans," she said later.

Police officials said they are noticing clear benefits of stronger ties to the Latino community. Hamm noted how a recent influx of officers recruited from Puerto Rico is changing the face of law enforcement in the Southeastern District, where the new Spanish-speaking officers are assigned.

"Latinos are sharing their culture with the rest of us, and I am proud of the Southeastern District officers," Hamm said. "They know what works."

Jeanne Velez, outreach director of the Assisi House of St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, said a series of monthly meetings involving the Latino community and police have provided a big boost.

"People can get together, express concerns and ask questions about the law," she said.

Eliott Morales, 25, who runs a business supplying hotels with workers, thought the current national debate on immigration had a negative effect.

"Immigrants just work here. We all pay taxes," he said. "With all the war and trouble in the world, we are not the ones to be targeted."

Hispanic numbers are on the rise in Maryland, census figures show. Dixon noted that the Hispanic community has a larger presence not only in East and Southeast Baltimore but in Park Heights, Falstaff and Southwest Baltimore.

For many Latinos, yesterday's event was a chance to celebrate not only their heritage but their accomplishments in the U.S.

One of the organizers of yesterday's festivities was Nicolas H. Ramos, owner of Arcos Mexican Restaurant & Bar on Broadway. The brick, arch and tile work of the restaurant and outdoor patio was the result of his craftsmanship and made with recycled materials, he said.

During the project, his wife and two daughters came to sleep there on weekends while he worked all night.

"I built the tables, I built the chairs," said Ramos, a 47-year-old native of Mexico. "It took me four years."

For Ramos, yesterday marked a personal anniversary as well.

"I opened on Cinco de Mayo," he said. "Two years ago.

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