The Bronx’s Little Italy Gets Some Latino Flavor

(Photo by Gerardo Romo via El Diario)

(Photo by Gerardo Romo via El Diario)

With its string of restaurants, bakeries and butcher shops, Arthur Avenue is the very heart – or belly – of the city’s Italian gastronomy. Most of the businesses’ owners are descendants of the old European immigrants, but the employees are now Mexican, Central American and Dominican.

Leticia Sánchez, 35, from Honduras, has been working for four years at Terranova Bakery. Many of the customers speak Dante’s language, and the oldest among them reproach her for not speaking it. “But I speak Spanish,” she replies with a smile.

As the old residents have been moving to the suburbs, a new crop of Latino immigrants is taking over. Sánchez points at a pizzeria across the street, and says that a Mexican employee bought it from the owner when he retired. The Belmont neighborhood now hosts the annual Cinco de Mayo celebration in the Bronx.

(Photo by Gerardo Romo via El Diario)

(Photo by Gerardo Romo via El Diario)

Italian Americans often shop at Mexican bakeries, says the vendor at Guadalupita Bakery, which sells all kinds of Mexican products. “In the beginning, the smell of our bread attracted them, and now they buy it when they want to change things up a bit.”

Apart from Arthur Avenue, the commercial hub includes 187th Street. Outside that area, Belmont is basically residential. It is bounded on the north by Fordham Road, on the east by Bronx Park, on the south by 183rd Street, and by Third Avenue on the west.

Lauro Rosales, a 46-year-old from Puebla, Mexico, arrived here in 1987 when he was 17, and he has never thought of moving out. He remembers that a subway ride was 75 cents back then. Although he currently works as a construction worker, for 17 years he managed Emilia’s Restaurant. Aside from Italian Americans, Rosales says that there used to be many Albanians in the neighborhood. They arrived in the U.S. via Italy, and settled in this Italian quarter. “An Albanian on Arthur Avenue helps me file my taxes,” he says.

Chris Borgatti, 57, the owner of the pasta and ravioli shop Borgatti’s, remembers the story of his grandfather, Lindo Borgatti, who emigrated from Italy as a 17 year old and opened his business in 1935. His son, Mario, began working there when he was 17 himself, and grandson Chris started at 18. He remembers that, in his teens, Belmont was a predominantly Italian neighborhood. Later, the Albanese and Puerto Ricans immigrants arrived.

“Now, there is a mix of Hispanics, African Americans, some Filipinos and Europeans,” he says. “History repeats itself: New people find new opportunities, just like the Italians did.” In his business, he has six employees, three of whom are Hispanic.

Chris remembers that during the troubled ’70s – when the phrase “the Bronx is burning” became popular – arsonists, high crime and poverty drove out many residents. “But this sector always remained an oasis of good food, commerce and shopping. And in the ’90s, it became even better.”

Now, Borgatti is enjoying the arrival of new communities. “You have Mexican, Ecuadorean, even Asian food,” he says. “They have brought their flavors to the area.”

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Dominican Edgar Coss, 49, is among the Hispanic small business owners who have found their place in Belmont. His company, E-Z Advertising, prints T-shirts, baseball caps and key chains. “I don’t need to go to Manhattan’s Little Italy because here we have Big Italy,” he says.

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