Diversified Assets

Elmer Arriaza, right, owns a store in Frederick and remembers Pedro Rodriguez as a customer.
Elmer Arriaza, right, owns a store in Frederick and remembers Pedro Rodriguez as a customer. "It's impossible to imagine that happened," he says of the tragedy. (Photos By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Word of the horror started spreading among the nannies. It raced through little townhouse neighborhoods, washed over construction sites and warehouses, swirled around pupusa trucks, interrupted meetings of bankers and business owners.

Four children dead in their beds, their father hanging from a yellow rope tied to the banister, their mother missing.

"Frederick es chiquito," says Rosi Arriaza, ringing up shrimp, plantains, work gloves, phone cards and compact discs behind the counter at A-International Market, which she and her husband, Elmer, own. "Frederick is small. When something happens, it's felt on all sides."

From the market you could hear the wailing sirens of the police cars and ambulances last Monday, rushing down the West Patrick Street corridor, where thousands of Latinos have recently settled.

Here is the leading edge of a Latino migration -- successor to a march of settlements over the decades from Adams Morgan to Manassas and Gaithersburg, as more families are priced out of Washington. Frederick's Latino community, where Salvadorans are the largest group, is almost as diverse as Washington's, if smaller.

The tragedy has "been the talk of the town," says Luis Diaz-Colorado, the Venezuelan-born owner of Cafe Latino, a few blocks north of the tan townhouse where all those sirens were converging.

"The lady who babysits my daughter, who is from Mexico, used to live in that area," says Sonia Dorsey, a bank loan officer from Spain, shuddering during a happy-hour gathering of Latino professionals two days after the police climbed through the townhouse window and found the five bodies. Her sitter, Dorsey says, used to see the mother at Avon meetings.

Tragedy like this transcends ethnicity, of course. Non-Hispanics and Hispanics in equal numbers made up the couple hundred mourners holding candles at a vigil for the family last week.

But for Frederick's Latino community -- growing quickly, quietly, like a flower that one morning suddenly is there -- this is an uncomfortable way to gain intense publicity. The media pay closest attention when the news is bad. The community worries: Are sweeping judgments about Latinos unfairly being made?

Tragedy alone can't define Latino Frederick, where so much is happening in the same week. Semana Santa -- Holy Week -- was around the corner, and dried fish and devotional figurines are on sale. Lines at tax-preparation offices are out the door, as workers seek to build a record of commitment to this country, even if some lack papers to be here.

There are dueling Spanish-language karaoke nights at two restaurants, and Saturday is Latin Night at a dance club.

This is also the week that Diaz-Colorado finally says adios to his 17-year career in banking to devote full time to his passion, Cafe Latino. And Marlon Cedillo, from Honduras by way of Silver Spring, where he has a store, completes his purchase of a diner in Frederick.

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