Recently I overheard two moms chatting in French on the beach. Although I understood some of their conversation, I thought it best to quit eavesdropping and concentrate instead on my planned visit to a nature conservancy. Later, I stopped by the theater to inquire about tickets for an upcoming concert performance by Mariachi los Camperos, and then I contemplated a tour of a historic Roman Catholic Church. My day ended by having dinner with my husband at a wonderful Moroccan restaurant.
Before you conclude that I was on an exotic world tour, think again. I spent those international moments here in Larchmont-Mamaroneck: the beach was in Manor Park; the conservancy, Sheldrake Environmental Center; the theater, Emelin; the church, Sts. John and Paul; the Moroccan restaurant, Zitoune.
Cultural, linguistic and religious diversity are components that give the area its international flavor. Indeed, the Village of Mamaroneck is known as "The Friendly Village," a place for all to enjoy a community that welcomes different cultures and appreciates their differences. That description aptly applies to the Town of Mamaroneck and the Village of Larchmont as well, as each welcomes residents from all over the world.
With the dustup over day laborers seemingly settled into a peaceful co-existence, the Village of Mamaroneck can go about its business of once again being "The Friendly Village." And it's a good thing.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there were 18,752 people living in the village. The racial makeup of the village was 84.6 percent White, 4.1 percent Black or African American, 0.25 percent Native American, 3.52 percent Asian, 0.06 percent Pacific Islander, 4.85 percent from other races, and 2.60 percent from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race comprised 17.5 percent of the population.
Were these broad racial categories to be further disaggregated, one would find a multitude of cultures. Without a doubt, one of them would be represented by Bangladeshi born Saidur Dawn, owner of the popular Café Mozart. Dawn opened his restaurant 15 years ago, and in that period he has seen both his business and diversity in the area grow. "When I arrived here, there weren't as many restaurants serving international cuisine as there are today," said Dawn. "Now there is so much variety. It's nice for the area. It's like the United Nations of Mamaroneck here."
In fact, along a strip of Mamaroneck Avenue, joining the eclectic fare served up by Café Mozart, lays an international corridor of gastronomic choices. In one short span, a Mexican ice cream shop, a store selling Italian delicacies, a Portuguese restaurant and a Guatemalan bakery stand side by side. Other restaurants offer diners a choice of Indian, "Asian fusion," Portuguese, Chinese, American, French and Mexican cuisines as well –paging Secretary of State Clinton: "Consider holding your next summit here!"
Several religions are also represented in Mamaroneck. According to Sperling's Best Places to Live, Half of those who consider themselves religious in the village are Catholic, almost 8 percent are members of another Christian denomination, 9 percent are Jewish, almost one percent affiliate with Islam and a small 0.03 affiliate with an Eastern religion.
With the variety of cultures, languages, religions and lifestyles, residents of the community seem to coexist quite well. The recent Bastille Day celebration in Larchmont brought out not only those with French connections but those with German, Asian, African and Mexican connections as well. And the recent Edgar & Friends concert in Harbor Island Park delivered not only Latin American music to your ears, but Democrats and Republicans to the dance floor (together!).
Nowhere is cultural diversity more apparent in a community than in its school system, and that brings numerous rewards, but can present some challenges as well. According to the NYS Education Department District Report Card, the total enrollment in Mamaroneck schools was 4,901 in the 2008-2009 school year, with 4 percent of the students who attend public schools identified as having limited proficiency in English.
In a recent interview in the Larchmont Gazette with newly retired Mamaroneck Schools superintendent Dr. Paul Fried, he identified some of the challenges ahead for his successor, urging the community "to continue to explore what it means to live within a diverse community" with "fairly segregated elementary schools." Half of Mamaroneck Avenue School (MAS) is Latino, he added.
In 1999, the district adopted a policy that prohibits harassment and intimidation based on cultural diversity. More recently, however, it was reported that both the Rye Neck and Mamaroneck school districts practice discriminatory registration policies by asking for students' social security numbers.
Clearly, some work still needs to be done in this area. (Patch contacted the district to inquire about other initiatives or programs aimed toward embracing cultural diversity. However, no information was received in time for the publication of this article).
Former Village Manager Armand Gianunzio once said, "A community is more than bricks and mortar; it's people." A review of history will reveal that in the process of building this community it has been the people who have helped to make the village what it is in part, by adjusting to new languages and cultural needs.
The arrival of immigrants from all over the world led to the establishment of associations like The Vittorio Society and Voz y Vida, and churches like St. John's Lutheran and St. Vito's. The French-American School has an enrollment of 800+ and offers a bilingual and bi-cultural environment for its students. Recently, the Hispanic Resource Center opened in its new expanded location and is working toward promoting cultural, economic, educational and professional integration between the recently arrived and the already established.
All this has not been without fits and starts, but it has been a testament to the residents of the Village of Mamaroneck that they have been willing to work across cultural, linguistic and religious lines to live up to its reputation as "The Friendly Village," welcoming different cultures and appreciating their differences.