The word “barrio” comes from the Spanish word which means “‘neighborhood” not ‘ghetto’ which is what many people think of today when they hear the word. However, some Latino communities are working to take back the meaning of “barrio” by organizing and creating Latino hubs that are anything but a ghetto, rather they are pulsating and resonating vibrantly with culture and economic development.
Most recently in the city of New Britain, with a Hispanic population of nearly 30% of the city’s residents, city council members voted to officially designate a section of Arch Street as “Barrio Latino.”
City Councilman Manny Sanchez, who is also a member of the Latino Coalition—the organization that drove the movement to establish Arch Street as a Latino mecca with a purpose –says, “Ethnic and cultural diversity is important to every community, especially within cities. Our social and economic prosperity depends on it.”
New Latino businesses that give hope to the success of the concept and help establish this portion of Arch Street as a Latino mecca are the new Dollar General store and a a new drug store. Long time businesses such as Criollisimo—a well-respected Latino restaurant; and the Borinquin Bakery are already well established and attract customers from around the state.
Councilman Sanchez says, ” Now we need to capitalize on this by bringing more businesses; the “Barrio Latino” designation is going to be a phenomenal addition to what we already have here.
Sanchez added. “Latino is a very broad word, and it encompasses all types of cultures. We are hoping it will have something for everyone allowing people to embrace the Latino culture.”
While the Latino Coalition plans to heavily revitalize “Barrio Latino” the first step was to give the area a clear purpose and a name. “This isn’t putting the cart before the horse, we’ve designated an area and we have a clear plan to move it forward,” Sanchez added.
Vision and drive are resonating themes when revitalizing a neighborhood and establishing it as a Latino hub. This was seen years ago in Hartford, where the Latino community came together, organized, and established the now well-known Latino mecca on Park Street—a retail thoroughfare oozing with Spanish merchants.
Today, a stroll down Park Street offers numerous Latino grocery stores, an abundance of salsa music echoing from record stores, and Spanish street conversations that bring authenticity to the harnessing of the Latino culture.
Fifteen years ago the area began to really spike, and 160 members of the Spanish Merchant’s Association owned businesses in the area. Today, it is hugely successful, and few empty store fronts.
Park Street in Hartford has set the standard for Latino barrios in Connecticut, and has proven their need and their overwhelming benefit to the Latino community, in terms of work and connection, as well as to the community at large, in terms of economy and culture. While there are a lot of Hispanic residents in neighboring cities, like New London, Waterbury and New Haven, nowhere else in the state of Connecticut has the Latino community organized in such a large scale, successful manner. Latino leaders in New Britain hope Arch Street will also become such a destination.
Sanchez acknowledges these things take time. And it takes money.
Since the early 1990s, about $7 million has been invested in Park Street in order to improve the image of the thoroughfare, bringing in new lighting, benches and sidewalks. While the transition and revitalization may be timely and expensive, the results can be beneficial to the Latino community, the economy of the city, and the needs of its residents.
In nearby Massachusetts, a 2011 study, titled Small Businesses in Springfield, Massachusetts: A Look at Latino Entrepreneurship and published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, found the role of Latino companies as going beyond being an important source of employment. Rather, they contribute to the revitalization of poor neighborhoods to Latino entrepreneurs, who are “occupying and maintaining storefronts that otherwise would be vacant and providing goods, services, and help to Latino residents.”
The study’s authors found that Latino-owned businesses “play an important role in providing additional services and support to Latino residents” and stated that: “Further collaboration among business owners would help transmit their needs to city officials and other organizations and better address the barriers [Latino business owners] face…Local partnerships between the city, nonprofit organizations, and larger employers are important to support small business formation and growth. Strategies geared to Latino entrepreneurs that address their particular needs are essential.”
In New Britain, the city’s Mayor, several city council members and Latino leaders say supporting the designation the ‘Barrio Latino” neighborhood is good economic development because it means more dollars coming into the city that benefit all residents.