I am reading a page one story in The New York Times about a dying suburban town that has been transformed by the energy and optimism of Latino immigrants. The story describes how new arrivals from Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru are taking advantage of the abandoned storefronts and cheap rents in the depressed downtown to open thriving shops and ethnic restaurants, drawing customers from more affluent communities nearby. The immigrants are described as “the lifeblood’’ of the town, “which fell on hard times in the 1980s and ’90s after factories and mills closed and an older generation of Italian immigrants moved away or died off.” The story is so familiar I almost don’t need to check the dateline, but sure enough, the town is Port Chester, N.Y., where I grew up.
The story didn’t really surprise me because Port Chester has always been a starting point for immigrants, just of a somewhat different complexion. My high school yearbook lists the graduates Abruzzese, Agonito, Agresto, Amendola, Anastasio, and four other Italian surnames, and that’s just the As. We were first- and second-generation assimilators whose grandmothers often didn’t speak English (mine didn’t). Now 72 percent of the students at Port Chester High are Hispanic — and 94 percent of them go on to college.