Annapolis leaders reach out to Hispanic community; City officials describe services at meeting with Spanish-speaking residents


Accompanied by eight interpreters, numerous department heads and bilingual brochures, Annapolis Mayor Dean L. Johnson orchestrated his first major attempt to reach out to the city's rapidly growing Hispanic community last night and tell them about services available to them.

More than 120 Hispanic residents packed an auditorium for the meeting to engage in what many said was a much-anticipated dialogue with city leaders.

"The people in the Spanish community have many questions for the different departments," said Francisco Encina Vega, 38, who has lived in Annapolis for five years. "It's very important for me and the people of the community to have bulletins on public services in English and Spanish. Fifty to 60 percent of us don't speak English."

The meeting was part of Johnson's "City Hall Comes to You" program, which has visited such Annapolis neighborhoods as Eastport and Parole but not ethnic communities.

Johnson wanted to meet the Hispanic residents to help them feel that they are part of the city despite the language barriers.

In 1990, 483 Hispanics resided in Annapolis, according to county demographer Sandy Speer.

Maria Casasco, president of the Organization of Hispanic/Latin Americans of Anne Arundel County (OHLA), estimated that the number has grown to more than 2,500.

Flanked by heads of the transportation, public works, police, fire and other departments, Johnson began the 7 p.m. meeting by welcoming the crowd and apologizing for having to speak in English.

"This is a community which is this year celebrating its 350th anniversary," he said. "It has lasted that long because we always have new and exciting faces and ideas."

Representatives from the Police and Fire departments explained the numbers to call for help and what information to provide when calling the 911 emergency number, such as giving their name, address and a description of any suspect.

They also asked members of the community to apply for jobs in city government, because their departments need more Spanish-speaking employees.

Richard Callahan, director of the Department of Recreation and Parks, encouraged residents to use city facilities for soccer and basketball.

Said Callahan: "We have a shortage of athletic fields. and we would like a representative [of the Hispanic community] to sit on our council so that we can be sure that you are included in the scheduling of fields."

Other speakers included representatives from Anne Arundel Medical Center, Maryland Children's Health Program, Anne Arundel Community College and, from the court system, Circuit Judge Michael E. Loney, who told residents about the law and their rights to an interpreter and an attorney if they should need one.

Some groups set up booths at the meeting to distribute brochures on city services, fire safety and classes in English as a second language.

Residents asked the city leaders questions and offered comments.

Rolando Quezada, 36, a waiter who emigrated from Bolivia 11 years ago, said he was glad to have the opportunity to tell Johnson about his family's needs.

"Places where we can get educated better, places to play soccer, places to play basketball," he said. "And maybe a Spanish radio station because it's all in English in Maryland."

Pub Date: 1/14/99

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