The Latino community in Baltimore is a vibrant tapestry of diversity, comprising individuals from a multitude of countries and backgrounds across Latin America. We are Mexican, Salvadoran, Honduran, Guatemalan, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Peruvian, Ecuadorian and Colombian. Our community spans a spectrum of skin colors, a testament to the complex history of colonization and the trafficking of human beings that shaped our ancestral homelands. We are Black, Indigenous, mestizo, and every combination of those backgrounds.
We savor the flavors of tacos, pupusas, empanadas and tostones. Our dance moves groove to the rhythms of salsa and punta, while our sports fields resonate with the passion of soccer, football, and volleyball. We hold positions as executives, elected officials, business owners, contractual workers, day laborers, public servants, waiters, chefs and nannies. Our legal statuses vary from U.S. citizens, documented permanent residents, asylees and refugees to undocumented immigrants. Whether born here or becoming Latino/a/x/e upon arriving in the United States, we are all part of a broader family.
Our diversity is not just a facet; it’s a cornerstone of our community’s strength. It weaves together a rich mosaic of cultures, traditions, languages and perspectives. To truly understand us, one must invest time, effort and resources.
During the past decade, Baltimore’s Latino population has surged by 77%, now constituting around 8% of the city’s residents. While we once clustered in Southeast Baltimore neighborhoods, today we are dispersed throughout the city, with significant populations in areas such as Brooklyn, Lakeland and Fallstaff. But thousands of us face a language barrier, hindering access to essential public and private services. Recognizing our multifaceted nature, it becomes clear that allocating resources for engagement with our communities is paramount.
We often hear of institutions desiring to connect with the Latino community, but forging meaningful relationships demands more than mere intentions. It requires human capital, resources, and a genuine desire to comprehend and address our unique needs. It necessitates listening to the diverse array of community groups and stakeholders devoted to serving our communities and adapting efforts to account for cultural, linguistic, and social nuances. Engagement must be a continuous effort, extending beyond the confines of Hispanic Heritage Month’s 30 days.
We also want to highlight a few important considerations when working with our communities. First and foremost, language holds a profound influence in shaping perceptions, attitudes and social norms. The term “illegal alien” must be expunged from our vocabulary when discussing immigration matters. This term dehumanizes individuals, reducing their entire identity to an immigration status while dismissing their humanity, personal stories and individual circumstances. It is incumbent upon institutions, media outlets and individuals to abandon the use of this term entirely.
Secondly, while we may speak Spanish, most of us are not Spanish, or Spaniards, referring to people from Spain. Most of us identify as Latino, a term encompassing those with ancestral ties to Latin American countries. This should not be confused with “Hispanic,” which specifically relates to people with ethnic origins from Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America and Spain. Our identity can be rather complex, reflecting the multifaceted nature of our community.
Simply put, no one label can fully describe each member of the Latino community. We are not monolithic and our understanding of the language we use can evolve and change.
In our experience, Latina and immigrant women are at the forefront of advocating for immigrant rights, social justice and equity. These remarkable women often assume leadership roles within their networks, serving as cultural ambassadors, mentors and advocates for social integration and support services.
Unfortunately, despite their efforts, machismo persists in our communities. Machismo encompasses beliefs, behaviors and attitudes emphasizing male dominance, toughness, heteronormativity and a sense of superiority over anyone who isn’t a cisgender heterosexual man. Regrettably, we have encountered or observed machista behavior from so-called community leaders who exhibit aggressive, assertive and even confrontational conduct. It’s important to remember that these individuals, although the loudest or most visible, do not represent the entirety of our community.
Given our diversity, we cannot be reduced to the loudest voice in the room. Take the time to learn about the various groups and community stakeholders. Baltimore is fortunate to have authentic leaders with strong connections to their communities. While our identity can’t be encapsulated by a single label, it’s through celebrating the myriad of musical notes that compose our harmonious song that we can truly grasp the essence of Latinidad.
Flor Giusti is a social worker and is founder of Pláticas con Doña Flor, a digital platform where she hosts community chats via Facebook. She lives in Baltimore.
Veronica Cool is founder of Cool & Associates LLC, a marketing firm specializing in Hispanic engagement, community outreach and translations/language services.
Ricardo Ortiz is a Mixteco/Mexican activist and journalist. He collaborates with various organizations in defense of migrant rights and the LGBTQ+ community. He lives in Northwest Baltimore.