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Patterns and issues in the Latinization of Allentown, Pennsylvania

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Abstract

This chapter has addressed several issues related to the Latinization of Allentown, PA. The research was framed around five general sets of questions, to which we now return in this summary. The first issue was concerned with migration to (and population change in) Allentown. We illustrated that Allentown experienced a dramatic demographic shift between 1980 and 2000, and that the population of the city is now about 25 percent Latino (of which 67 percent is Puerto Rican). The growth of the Latino population is largely due to in-migration of Latinos from the New York City area and from other origins in the Northeast and overseas. Many Latinos stated that their reason for moving to Allentown was for job opportunities. Others had different reasons, such as marriage and family reasons, tranquility and safety, housing costs, and the ability to purchase a home. Second, we were concerned with questions of Latino settlement patterns in Allentown. We showed that Latinos are highly segregated from Anglos in the Allentown area. One way to understand the relatively high level of Latino-white segregation in the metro region is to examine Allentown in relation to Lehigh County. In 2000, approximately 82 percent of Lehigh County Latinos resided within the city of Allentown. In the same year, approximately 73 percent of all Latinos resided within 1.5 miles of its original settlement area, the intersection of Second and Linden Streets. We concluded that rather than social assimilation tied to spatial assimilation, by 2000 Latinos were merely replacing white, non-Hispanics in a more sequent occupance mode. The third issue that we explored in the Latinization of Allentown had to do with Anglo and Latino perceptions. Drawing on Stains (1994) work we demonstrated that Anglos were concerned with Latinos brandishing a "Big Apple attitude" and being indiscrete, boisterous, and loitering, as well as having an association with crime, gangs and drugs. There was a fear among some Anglos that the Latino influence was a threat to women and children. To gain some sense of Latino perceptions of Allentown, we conducted interviews and asked how fairly treated they felt in a number of different circumstances. The majority of our interviewees felt fairly treated by Anglos in the areas about which they were questioned. For example, 70 percent indicated that they received fair treatment by their Anglo neighbors. There are different experiences however, and some Latinos felt that many Anglos simply do not like Hispanic people and unfairly associate all Hispanics with crime and the drug culture of Allentown. The most common perception of Anglo treatment was related to social distance. Another area of concern in this chapter had to do with employment and fair treatment in the regional labor market. We found, from our interviews, that the place of employment was where Latinos felt the least fairly treated. Structural issues, such as spatial mismatch between residence and employment, the existence of a dual labor market, and unemployment, were also examined. U.S. Census data illustrated a spatial mismatch between Latinos' residential location and places of employment. The mismatch might be at least partly responsible for higher unemployment rates among Latinos. In addition, we found that a dual labor market exists in Allentown with Latinos (especially males) concentrated in secondary occupations. Finally, we illustrated with photographs that a Latino ethnoscape is becoming increasingly apparent in the city of Allentown. We concentrated on two major cultural identifiers, religion and food, to show how the cultural landscape of the city is changing. The religious landscape is being modified through the establishment of "storefront" churches and the language change from English to Spanish in formerly all-Anglo congregations. The grocery industry has changed in a variety of ways in Allentown. First, was the appearance of the Latino (Dominican) owned bodega. Second, Anglo-owned chain grocery stores began to offer produce and other items to cater to Latino tastes. The most recent change has been the opening of C-Town, a Latino (Dominican)-owned chain store based in New York City. In both cases, religion and food, Latinos have brought their culture with them to Allentown and it is becoming clearly imprinted on the landscape. Between 1980 and 2000, the Latino population of Allentown has quadrupled. Although the Puerto Rican population is the largest Latino group in the city, the Latino population is very diverse; there are substantial numbers of Mexicans and Dominicans living in Allentown. The rapid pace of the Latino influx would have strained the social fabric anywhere, but the strain has the potential to be particularly acute where it upsets the Germanic (Pennsylvania Dutch) sense of order in small cities like Allentown. Many questions arise concerning the link between these population shifts and what it means for the future of small cities. As cities continue to search for methods to deal with dwindling budgets and increased competition in attracting highly selective and mobile capital, the probability of growing urban isolation and inequality by racial and ethnic groups should undoubtedly be viewed as a social problem on the rise.

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... In the 1960s, the first immigrants from other Latin American countries, such as the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, began to arrive, diversifying the mix of Latin American cultural backgrounds in the area (Adams, 2000:24). In the 1970s, the flow of Puerto Ricans into Allentown continued, but a growing number moved directly from New York City, rather than Puerto Rico, due to perceptions that the cost of living in Allentown was cheaper and the city was safer, as well as decreased pressure to leave Puerto Rico for better economic conditions (Reisinger, et al., 2006). According to the 2010 U.S. Census, about 60% of the Hispanic population of Allentown is Puerto Rican; the remainder is composed predominately of Mexican and Dominican populations (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). ...
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