When Hispanic residents of downtown Allentown Pennsylvania want to grab a bite or get their hair cut or shop for groceries, they often make their way to Seventh Street — but they don’t call it that.
Instead, they call it Calle Siete.
A councilman who noticed the growing population of Mexicans in the area decided to pose the idea to honor them by installing decorative Spanish-language street signs. On one of its main commercial hotspots no less. Hispanics now represent nearly half their population of 120,000.
Unfortunately, where Democratic Councilman Julio Guridy and other residents and business owners on Seventh Street see the Calle Siete signs as a small but long overdue gesture of respect, others call the proposal unnecessary and divisive.
People who oppose the supposed sign of respect, (pun intended) also say the proposal for the signs is a distraction from issues of poverty, drugs, crime and lack of opportunity in Allentown’s urban core.
“With all the problems this community has, please don’t talk to me about signs,” said John Rosario, 54, who moved to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic about four decades ago and owns a Seventh Street insurance, tax, and real estate business. “If you really want to help somebody, roll up your sleeves, come down here and let’s talk about it.”
A city council committee tabled the sign proposal for more discussion after dozens of people showed up at a public meeting this week to voice support and opposition. Guridy hopes to bring it up for a vote in a month.
The debate in Allentown would have been unimaginable not so long ago when Hispanics were a tiny minority. For much of its history, the city, an hour’s drive north of Philadelphia, was a bustling industrial center populated largely by European immigrants and their descendants.
As manufacturing declined, so did the population. Then, drawn in part by cheap housing, Hispanics began swelling Allentown’s numbers again. The Latino population has more than doubled since 2000.
Guridy said the Hispanic community has contributed to Allentown’s efforts to remake its economy and deserves to be recognized.
“It is a good thing for Allentown because it provides a sense of pride, and a sense of belonging, to the Hispanic community, who have been working hard and contributing to this community, and who feel alienated because they are not recognized for their contributions,” he said.
Inside Seventh Street’s bustling Los Compadres Barber Shop, Steven Castillo, 27, views the Spanish-language signs as a good marketing tool, no different from cities that boast Chinatowns or Little Italys.
“When you want Spanish food in Allentown, where do you go? Calle Siete,” he said.
Zack Alali, 48, is a Syrian immigrant who came to the United States about 25 years ago, and opened Casa Dollar on Seventh Street to cater to the Hispanic population. He dares to say that Calle Siete simply reflects the reality of what the street has become.
“It’s just a little appreciation for the people here,” Alali stated. “It’s just a name.”
But it’s not just a name, the controversy goes deeper than those two words.
For some, it’s about language and culture, or the abandonment of our culture while another takes over. Shaniqua Andrews, 25, who lives a block from Seventh Street and works in a warehouse, revealed that her co-workers mostly speak Spanish and her supervisor typically gives instructions in Spanish.
She admitted that she resents having to ask for them in English.
“It makes me upset,” said Andrews, who’s black. “They should come here with the mindset that it’s America.”
What do you think? Should we be more culturally accepting of the people who, let’s face it, most likely are illegally entering our country? I don’t know about anyone else, but I fail to understand the logic in this.
Why do they deserve a sign in their honor when the majority of them broke the law to get here?!!
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