Latinos in Greenwich: A Tale of Two Towns



Downtown Greenwich
By Wayne Jebian
Greenwich is not like many other places where people have more money. It has more working class and poor residents inside its town limits than other municipalities known for their mansions.  Kim Eves, director of communications for the Greenwich Public Schools says, “There are three subsidized housing areas in town, one on the eastern side of town, one in the central section of town and one on the western side of town.”
This past summer, the New York Times reported about the effect that concentrations of poor Latino students in the southwestern section of town were creating — possible legal challenges for Greenwich schools in terms of preserving acceptable levels of diversity. A recent article reported, that at least one of the town’s schools has a Latino student population of more than 60 percent.
Al Baker wrote in the Times: “New Lebanon and Hamilton Avenue Elementary, the two schools on the western edge of town with too few white students, (and) two schools on the far eastern and northern sides of town are flirting with imbalance of an opposite kind: having too few minority children.”
But while the Times story challenged the outmoded stereotype of Greenwich being populated by Monopoly men in monocles, it also gave the impression that all Greenwich Latinos live in poverty and segregation.
However, many residents and those who work here say that is a far from a complete picture of Greenwich and of its Latino population.
Eves says, “We have the whole range, from families who qualify for free and reduced price lunch — this number has almost doubled in the last 10 years — all the way up to multimillionaires and everything in between.”
Still, much of the surge in the Latino population has been driven by lower-income families; they are moving to Greenwich not only for the job opportunities, but for its reputation for having quality schools.
“In spite of the very high cost of living, they are choosing to live here mostly because they want the best possible education for their kids, and they want their kids to grow up in a safe community,” said Stuart Adelberg, president of the Greenwich United Way. “They are aware that it is a high-cost community, but they are willing to make that sacrifice.”
As a consequence of the financial strain that living in Greenwich can put on these families, compounded by the effects of the recession, there has been a growing demand for the kind of the charitable services that the United Way supports.
Adelberg said, “It’s a population that is in need; many live in subsidized housing. There is a portion that are in Head Start; there is a portion that needs assistance feeding their families. There is a portion that is struggling to learn English to improve their employ-ability. They are working very hard to improve their situation. We are funding a whole variety of human service programs to meet this need.”
According to Ira Tamigian, vice president for Elegant Homes for Real Living Five Corners Real Estate, there are many Latinos moving in who aren’t poor. As a Realtor, Tamigian sees Latinos entering the upscale mainstream of Greenwich and purchasing multimillion-dollar homes.
“A lot of Latinos in the area are domestic workers, and then there’s also the upper class Latinos who have come from Europe or South America, investing in Greenwich,” she adds. “I saw Latino clients who purchased a $2 million home, also opened a business from the ground up recently, and they’re financially secure and pretty successful,” she said.
Restaurateur and chef Rafael Palomino came from Colombia via Queens, N.Y, and has probably talked to more upscale Latinos at his Bistro Latino than anyone else in town.
He says of this population, “They work in finance; they work in IT, and some have their own business, both in Greenwich and in New York. You have people from Colombia, Argentina, Spain.”
With South America growing wealthier, there are more Latinos who could chose to move anywhere. Ira Tamigian says that Greenwich has an international reputation, so it tends to draw affluent people from outside Connecticut, rather than prosperous families from in-state Latino enclaves like Bridgeport and Norwalk. And New Yorkers are coming to Greenwich for financial reasons:
“People who have money are coming here to Greenwich,” said Tamigian, bluntly. “Of course, Greenwich being so close to New York, it’s certainly an advantage to a lot of people, to invest here in Greenwich. Taxes are lower, both income taxes and property taxes.”
Photo: Wikimedia Commons