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Spanish street signs spark debate in city's business district

Street signs along one of Allentown’s popular business districts has prompted heated debate among locals, according to The Morning Call.

A resolution to add Spanish language signs reading “Calle Siete” — Seventh Street in English — in Allentown is on hold, but the city council may reconsider the resolution. The signs were pitched by Julio Guridy, one of two Hispanic members of Allentown’s City Council.

The proposal drew criticism from those who say the area has more pressing matters to deal with than the language of its signs. Other critics say the signs discriminate against other multicultural businesses on the street.

Business owners on Seventh Street appear divided on the issue. More than 50 people on both sides debated the issue for nearly an hour Wednesday, before the public works committee tabled the resolution. 

Logistically speaking, the signs would cost about $400 per intersection and would be placed at the 10 or so major intersections on the designated stretch of Seventh Street. The signs would have to be blue, white or brown and cannot be added to existing street signs because of PennDOT regulations.

According to U.S. Census data, 49.2 percent of Allentown’s population was Hispanic as of 2015, which is one of the driving motivations behind Guridy’s proposal. He has referenced a lack of buildings, public places and streets named after Hispanics in a community with such a large population.

Peter Lewnes, manager of the Seventh Street Main Street program that works to develop the area, has said there are other investments that could be made to Seventh Street before changing the signs. He also has questioned what would happen if other city neighborhoods had street names duplicated without input of community leaders. Lewnes also pointed to the number of businesspeople, including those who have built businesses on the street, opposed to the signs.

Thursday night at First Thursday Latino in Lancaster and during Hispanic Heritage Month, Javier Avila pointed to the large and continuously growing population of Hispanics in Allentown as a positive reason for honoring locals with the signs. Avila, a resident of nearby Bethlehem, said he supports efforts to honor Hispanics and doesn’t think honoring his people takes away from any other culture.

Avila, a professor at Northampton Community College, noted that the U.S. does not have an official language, refuting criticism that everything must be written and spoken in English. Avila said that even though the U.S. is a melting pot, people shouldn’t confuse mixing of cultures with colorblindness.

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