It is an image worthy of the very best of immigrant literature, Call It Sleep, by Henry Roth; film — Coppola’s Godfather Part II — and art, particularly the 1913 painting “Cliff Dwellers,” by the George Bellows of the Ash Can School.
And there is no better local setting for it than East Baltimore, which has welcomed waves of foreign-born pilgrims well before German Catholics began pouring in about the mid-19th century, leaving their mark with skills in brewing and meat cutting and an obsession for cleanliness and order.
[Note to the current posse of “English-only” crusaders: In 1873, the German influx in Baltimore was so great that the City Council established bi-lingual schools to teach kids in both English and German. By 1913, more than 40,000 Germans a year were arriving in Baltimore. Source: Maryland Historical Society.]
David Mislak, a Dundalk boy whose paternal grandparents arrived in Baltimore from Poland via Ellis Island about 1900, caught a glimpse of generations of hope and disappointment earlier this year from the second floor of the Patterson Bowling Center near Holy Rosary Church.
It was January 22, 2011 during a party at the old-school duckpin alley for Mislak’s grandson Benjamin Gentry, a 12-year-old St. Casimir parochial school student whose heritage is a mixture of Polish, English, German, Italian and Spanish.
“I happened to look out the window from the second floor and saw the [Hispanic] baby in the window across the street at the corner of Eastern and Chester,” said Mislak. “I loved the way she was staring down at the street.”
Rafael Alvarez can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org