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Hispanics feel at home in Brentwood

Darwin Morillo, right, from El Salvador, owner of

Darwin Morillo, right, from El Salvador, owner of New Car City Auto Repair in Brentwood, with workers, from left, Hugo Lopez from El Salvador, and José Maldonado, Estéban Rivera and Aníbal Gonzalez, all from Puerto Rico. (July. 12, 2012) Credit: Romina Hendlin

The sounds, tastes and smells of Puerto Rico share center stage in Brentwood with the sounds, tastes and smells of Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Peru. From catching up on news at the barber shop to pitching in at a fundraising chicken dinner, Hispanic residents said they feel the sense of community.

The popular La Espiguita Bakery, just blocks from Brentwood High School, offers empanadas, fancy theme cakes and favorite tastes of Colombia such as arepa de choclo (a sweet, corn-based bread); pan de bono (a cheese bread); and the traditional tres leches cake (made with three varieties of milk), along with souvenirs. Immigrant-owned stores abound that offer haircuts, groceries, party supplies and dresses for quinceañera celebrations, along with insurance, dental and real estate services.

Angel Banegas, 31, who is from Honduras, recently gathered with friends to eat lunch -- beans, rice and vegetables -- at El Nopal deli on a break from his construction job.

"Being in Brentwood feels like home," he said.

U.S. Census Bureau numbers back him up. According to 2010 data, 68.5 percent of Brentwood's population claims Hispanic descent.

Family and helping others is important to the sense of community as well. Three friends organized a chicken dinner in the backyard of Jimmy Salazar, 45, and Gina Andrade. It's one of two such parties Andrade, 45, usually holds each summer. Her daughter, Pierina, 17, said they use the money to help people in need.

Christian Molina, 33, has lived in Brentwood for 25 years. He emigrated from Ecuador when he was 4 and graduated from St. John the Baptist High School in West Islip. He works part-time at a new barber shop that is part of Ponte Bella Hair Salon and Barber Shop on Heyward Street.

Combining the various immigrant communities in Brentwood makes for a good mix, Molina noted, and it makes him happy to work there.

"We share the same language, but have different foods," he said. "I like that there's access to different things here."

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