The smell of fresh corn tamales fills the air of Sacred Heart Church in East Baltimore as nicely-dressed professionals mill about the large church basement. Donning their DIY name tags, they catch up with peers and colleagues before pulling up a folding chair to one of many long tables. The faces provide an interesting twist on the demographic representation typical to a room in Baltimore — white, black, but mostly brown.
Jesus Perez, a board member for the Latino Providers Network, better known as LPN, welcomes everyone to the organization’s December 2019 resource meeting in typical bilingual fashion. The nearly 100 people in attendance dig into their tamales as they hush side conversations happening in English, Spanish, and every dialect of Spanglish in between.
LPN has been bringing together the business, non-profit, government, and religious communities of Baltimore for nearly 30 years in an effort to better integrate the area’s growing latinx population into the fabric of the city. The network consists of both member organizations and private individuals that come together monthly to share resources, contacts, and other news pertinent to the latinx community.
One such member organization, the Southeast Community Development Corporation, or Southeast CDC, sent Housing Counselor and Project Manager Niki Santana to inform the network about their organization’s latest home-buying initiative, ‘Tu Hogar.’ Program counselors are available to offer prospective homebuyers help in navigating the buying process, financial assistance for downpayments, and more — all in Spanish.
“It’s always important to stay abreast of all the activities and the network…so we have access to the resources and we can spread the love,” Santana said. Southeast CDC has been assisting more and more Spanish-speaking Baltimoreans buy homes in recent years, and it was important that other members of the community knew they could refer Spanish speakers to them with any home-buying related questions.
Spreading love and building community – according to LPN Board President David Rosario, that’s really what the network is all about.
“I think LPN has a real pulse on what is going on in the community and I think it can make a difference,” Rosario reflects. “We bring folks together to synergize around what they do.”
Rosario came to Baltimore in 1998. A native New Yorker with Dominican roots, he could sense upon his arrival that Baltimore’s latinx community was bound to grow. “I knew what was in store,” he said.
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Baltimore’s overall population dropped between 2000 and 2010 by over 45,000 people. In that same timeframe, the number of people identifying as Hispanic or Latino in Baltimore rose by nearly 15,000.
“It (the latinx community) has given new life to churches, to main streets that were once barren that are now filled with latino businesses,” Rosario said. “Now it’s a financial force.”
Rosario and others believe that the upcoming 2020 United States Census with demonstrate to the rest of Baltimore what they have known for a long time — the residents of Charm City are starting to look a little different.
“There’s a lot more resources, but it’s not enough,” Rosario said. Given that more and more Spanish speakers are arriving to the city, Rosario and other LPN members are trying to rally the community together, grow the network, and help businesses and organizations be better equipped to cater to a changing population.
And now more people are paying attention. What started out as a small gathering of interested peers and friends, LPN has grown into a dynamic coalition of multiple sectors of society. Luis Borunda, Deputy Secretary of State for the Office of the Secretary of State of Maryland, was just one of several representatives of local Maryland government present at the December meeting.
“It’s exciting to have this many people becoming aware of the growing latino community,” Borunda said. “Every sector really needs to be able to help an organization like this grow.”
Borunda addressed the crowd, offering his office’s support for the community and letting everyone know that, “we have some educating to do” about the presence of the community in Baltimore.
Once the announcements and tamales are through, colleagues that have now turned friends continue to mingle about, extending their Monday afternoon breaks away from their respective offices. Members of LPN’s board stick around to clean the space and ensure that extra food finds a home to go to.
“No one gets paid,” said Rosario, who stuck around after the meeting for multiple interviews and to close up the space before heading back to his day job as an insurance agent. “I mean, our pay is when we hear, ‘hey, LPN did this educational workshop and look, these students were able to move themselves into higher education’ – that’s pay.”
All for the good of community.