As Hispanics increase, so do services


When Enrique Delattibodier emigrated from Honduras a year ago, he left a large family behind, knew almost no English and had many misconceptions about American culture.

After a brief stay in the District of Columbia, he and his American wife moved to Churchville so she could work at Aberdeen Proving Ground and he could begin classes in computer science at Harford Community College. "My first time at the college was a difficult time," Mr. Delattibodier said.

Within months, however, he found an extended family in Harford, which has one of Maryland's fastest-growing Hispanic populations.

Now, Mr. Delattibodier, 27, wants to help other Hispanic immigrants settling in Harford. He and other students from Spanish-speaking nations or with Hispanic heritage recently formed the Multinational Hispanic Student Association at the college.

That group is one of several services offered in the past several years to Harford's 5,000 Hispanics.

The county's 2-year-old Hispanic Advisory Committee conducted a community meeting recently to discuss its efforts to promote employment and educational opportunities for Hispanics.

And the only Spanish-language newspaper in metropolitan Baltimore, El Heraldo De Maryland, has been published since October 1993 by Manuel E. Alban, a Churchville resident and native of Ecuador.

Working at home with help from his wife, Lola, Mr. Alban produces 5,000 copies of the paper each Wednesday and distributes it free at libraries, churches and businesses in the Baltimore area and Harford, Anne Arundel and Howard counties.

Mr. Alban is a successful businessman working in the plastics industry who also heads Baltimore County's Hispanic Advisory Council.

He said the growing number of Hispanic organizations seek to dispel negative images of Hispanics and portray them as hard-working people with strong family and community ties.

To help establish those ties, Juan and Maria Lopez, both employees of the proving ground, arranged monthly Spanish-language Masses at St. Francis de Sales, a Catholic church in Abingdon. Today, 80 families attend the 2-year-old Masses.

"The church offers a very good moral as well as religious base to bring our families together," Mr. Lopez said.

The Hispanic Advisory Committee has formed a nonprofit corporation to act as a clearinghouse of information for addressing the social, educational, cultural and economic needs Hispanics in Harford.

All this raises the question: Why would Harford County -- stereotyped as conservative, rural and mostly white -- attract so many Hispanics?

"For many of them, it is similar to their [homelands], which are more countrified," said Orlando Correa, a counselor and associate professor of psychology at Harford Community College. Mr. Correa, 47, a native of Puerto Rico, also is faculty adviser to the college's Hispanic student group.

Hispanics of many origins apparently are also migrating to suburban communities in Harford and elsewhere for the same reasons other families are: less congestion, less crime, better schools and more parks and other amenities.

In the 1990 census, Maryland had about 125,000 Hispanics, but that number is widely believed to be an underestimate. Montgomery County recorded the most Hispanics then, with more than 55,000. Numbers of Hispanics recorded in other jurisdictions were about 8,100 in Baltimore County, 7,600 in Baltimore City, 6,800 in Anne Arundel, 3,700 in Howard, 2,800 in Harford and 900 in Carroll County.

"The ultimate goal is to assimilate Hispanic people into the mainstream community," said Mr. Lopez, 35, an environmental engineer at the proving ground. He also is president of Harford's Hispanic Advisory Committee.

As Mr. Delattibodier, whose grandfather was French, has adjusted to his new life in Churchville, he not only wants to help other Hispanic immigrants seek education and economic stability, but he also wants to help non-Hispanics understand and appreciate his culture.

Students in the group he started are organizing visits to public schools to perform dances from their homelands and act as tutors in Spanish classes.

Said Mr. Delattibodier: "We want to share the culture with people."

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