“I think now if you came into our center, you’d just see a better reflection of what our population is comprised of,” Claro said.
The Point, which has long attracted Salem’s newest immigrants, is now home to much of the city’s growing Latino population, which has settled in this district of small shops and apartment blocks not far from Salem Harbor. The number of Latinos in Salem increased by about 42 percent, to 6,465, between 2000 and 2010, according to the US Census.
In the decades since Latinos began to move to The Point, relations with City Hall have often been tenuous at best. But now the Latino Leadership Coalition meets monthly with Mayor Kimberley Driscoll. Last year, Salem Education Foundation began publishing the city’s first bilingual newspaper.
“The moment is finally coming when the city is recognizing that it is a community that is growing,” said Rosario Ubiera-Minaya, executive director of the Salem Education Foundation, who moved to The Point from the Dominican Republic when she was 16. “It’s a community that is vital to the city.”
Salem, despite its significant Latino population, is still a largely white city. About 76 percent of residents identified themselves as white and non-Latino in 2010. The Point was once home to earlier immigrants, especially French-Canadians.
The Point covers 144 acres and includes 4,100 people, according to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. Immigrants have settled here partly because the rents are lower than in other parts of the city.
Lucy Corchado’s family came to The Point from Puerto Rico in the 1960s, one of the first Latino families to settle there.
“It’s always mostly like they start out in The Point neighborhood because they see the bodegas,” Corchado said. “Then slowly but surely, depending on their economic situation, they own their own homes.”
Corchado served two terms on Salem’s City Council, a rare Latino voice in city government. Now, she said, she hopes the Latino affairs coordinator will help herald the concerns of the residents of The Point.
“The hope is this person will be able to bridge the gap that exists between Latinos and City Hall,” she said. “There’s not that much diversity in City Hall.”
Ubiera-Minaya, who graduated from Salem public schools and Salem State University, said previous city administrations in Salem did not understand the needs of the Latino community. At the same time, she said, Latinos distanced themselves from city government.
“Historically, we’ve been discriminated against, and just not welcomed, looked at as a problem,” she said. “Baby steps, but it’s finally coming together. It’s been a long, long time.”