While it's nothing like her parents' intercontinental journey to the United States in 1965 from the Greek island of Rhodes, Despina Roros has been on an odyssey of her own.
Born and raised in Greektown, Roros, 33, left the east Highlandtown neighborhood in 1989 for Baltimore County. She married Nick Roros of Dundalk, bought a home in Rosedale and gave birth to a daughter.
"I like it here. I'd never go anyplace else again," Despina said. "Everything is within walking distance, the church, the stores, the cafeneia [coffee shops]. And it's very important to me that my daughter grows up around Greek people."
A destination for European immigrants since the early 20th century, Greektown was a section of Highlandtown where families settled and worked in nearby factories or in the shipyards. They filled the rowhouses on both sides of Eastern Avenue, sent their children to public and parochial schools, and shopped in Eastern Avenue's retail district.
"We called it 'The Hill' years ago," said Eugene DiCarlo, 75, while reminiscing with his wife, Lola, in the alley behind their rowhouse on Memorial Day.
On Macon Street, the DiCarlos raised seven children, three of whom live in Highlandtown with their own children. "I'm so used to this area, I'd never move. I have too many grandchildren here," DiCarlo said.
The neighborhood is mostly populated today by young working-class families and a dwindling number of retirees, many of whom have lived there for decades.
It's just as likely to draw people from other parts of the city or a nearby county as from another country. And because of its proximity to downtown and Interstates 95 and 895, Greektown is gaining notice among younger renters and first-time homebuyers as a convenient and affordable option for city living.
"It's an ideal place for people who are just starting out with their first house," said Mary Clark, 40, a marketing manager in Canton. She and her husband, James, bought their first home on South Oldham Street.
"You can be isolated from the hustle and bustle in the city and yet still be close enough to partake in it," Clark said.
For Clark, who was born to Greek parents in Queens, N.Y., and whose maiden name is Frangakis, living in Greektown has allowed her to get involved in the community through St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.
Founded in the 1950s, the church on Ponca Street remains a nucleus for the region's Greek community. Many Greek families have moved to the suburbs, but many still make the commute each Sunday to attend services.
The parish draws roughly 40 percent of its 800 families from outside the city, the Rev. Manuel J. Burdusi said.
"There are no other [Greek Orthodox] parishes out in the county, except for Cub Hill [in Baltimore County], so they have their roots here," Burdusi said.
The church is a potent organizing force in the neighborhood. It sponsors an annual Greek independence day parade, and every second weekend in June for the past three decades it has held a Greek folk festival featuring food, music and dancing. Both events draw thousands from across the mid-Atlantic region.
This year's three-day festival will begin Friday.
The parish is also nearing completion of a $2.3 million cultural center and banquet hall known as the Greektown Plateia, or plaza, south of the church on Ponca Street. It will have a capacity of 450. Also on Ponca Street, the parish's Ladies Philoptochos Society bought and renovated a building where patients being treated at nearby Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center can stay with their families.
Greektown's retail centerpiece is the commercial strip on Eastern Avenue, between the hospital and the monolithic Crown Industrial Park building by Lehigh Street.