Ethnic mix changing

August 24, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

Almost 25 years ago, Gregorio Garcia left his home and parents in Mexico in search of better jobs and pay in the United States.

After first stopping in California to look for work, Garcia went to Chambersburg, Pa., in 1981 when he heard of work available picking apples.

Now he is co-owner of El Gallo, a grocery store and restaurant on South Main Street that advertises it has the "boominist" tacos in town.


Garcia, 42, said he sees more Hispanic immigrants coming to the area every year in hopes of securing a better life.

Better pay, a lower cost of living and a better quality of life are leading more Hispanics to the Tri-State area, a trend some Hispanic community members believe will continue.

The Hispanic population in the seven-county Tri-State area increased 130 percent from 1990 to 2000 when there were 10,568 Hispanics living here, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Much of that growth occurred in Frederick County, Md., where the Hispanic population grew 172 percent in 10 years to 4,664 people in 2000, according to the Census.

"I know not everybody is being counted," said Pat Hanberry, chairwoman for the Frederick County group Advocates For Non-English Speaking Residents, or ANSR.

Hanberry said the Census didn't count illegal residents and the survey didn't find some legal Hispanic residents.

With 1,570 Hispanics in 2000, Washington County doesn't have as big a Hispanic population, but more are coming, officials said.

This year, the county's Hispanic population had already increased to an estimated 1,766, according to Claritas Inc., a San Diego-based firm that specializes in repackaging and updating Census data.

"Hagerstown should expect it to continue. I cannot believe that people would not go to Hagerstown because I can tell you rents in Frederick are terrible," said Norine Haas, past chairwoman of ANSR.

Haas said many Hispanics are already going to Hagerstown or West Virginia where there is cheaper rent.

'To better themselves'

Many Hispanic immigrants leave their home country because of war, political strife, poverty and a lack of jobs and opportunities, said Pastor Armando Figueroa and Luz Dolly Benavides. Figueroa is pastor of a Hispanic ministry at Gateway Ministries near Williamsport, and Benavides was president of the Hispanic Association, a Berkeley County, W.Va., group that disbanded last year for lack of volunteers.

"They come here to try to better themselves, to try to get jobs. It doesn't matter what the pay is, just to have a job," Benavides said.

When some immigrants come to the United States, they don't have any money and few clothes. Groups of up to eight people will rent an apartment and split the expenses until they can find work and improve their situation, Benavides said.

Figueroa has been able to offer more than just spiritual support to community members, he said through interpreter Maria McCann. The church has provided food to some families and Figueroa said officials with several local companies call him when they are looking for workers and he recommends good ones.

Figueroa said he has referred congregation members to local employers, such as Phoenix Color Corp., that he knows will hire qualified Hispanics.

Another source of information are some Hispanic grocery stores and restaurants. The owners sometimes allow other businesses catering to Hispanics to post notices in Spanish at their stores so people know where to call for immigration services and jobs.

The Maryland Job Service, Manpower and word of mouth also help local Hispanics find jobs, Figueroa said.

The Hispanic population in the Tri-State area represents a mix of economic backgrounds, with some people holding blue-collar jobs and others, especially those who are bilingual, having white-collar jobs, Pastor Peter Guadalupe said. Guadalupe is a pastor with Hope Community Church, a nondenominational congregation with members from different ethnicities that meets at the Four Points Sheraton.

Menial jobs

Many Hispanic immigrants went to college and were doctors, accountants or lawyers in their home country, but may have had to take on menial labor jobs in the United States because of the language barrier and licensing requirements here, Hispanic community leaders said.

Many Hispanic immigrants moving to the area take jobs in restaurants, on farms and in construction, said Jose Osorio, who owns the Hispanic grocery stores in Hagerstown and Frederick, Md., called La Chiquita.

Many Hispanics work two or three jobs so they can send money to their families or bring them here, Osorio said.

Several Hispanics who worked in construction in the Washington area moved away to Frederick and now to the Hagerstown area for better pay, Osorio said.

In Washington County, a Hispanic construction worker can make $9 to $11 an hour, whereas in the Washington area that worker would start at $6 or $7 an hour, Osorio said.

Not being a legal immigrant can present an obstacle to employment.

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