Hispanic liaison panel gets new blood Schmoke foresees improved services

January 27, 1991|By Martin C. Evans

The problems for newly arrived members of Baltimore's Hispanic community are many: illiteracy, poor housing, underemployment, improper prenatal care. The solutions, made more difficult by language barriers, are elusive.

But on Friday, a group of men and women greeted each other at City Hall with warm hugs and salutations spoken in varying Spanish dialects, then promised to roll up their sleeves and help the city solve the problems.

"Our whole focus will be getting to the little guy, so he has the same chances as everyone else does and so language is not a barrier," said Servando A. Llanio, chairman of the 16-member Mayor's Committee on Hispanic Affairs.

Eight new members of the panel were appointed Friday by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who promised that the reinvigorated committee would help make city services available to Hispanic individuals.

"I think this committee will play a far more important role in the city than it has in the past," the mayor said. "I'm very proud of the diversity of this group. We have some real talent."

The 6-year-old committee acts as liaison between the city government and Baltimore's diverse Hispanic community, which includes Puerto Ricans and Mexicans, Colombians, Peruvians, Salvadorans and people from other Central American and South American countries.

Although a large segment of the Baltimore-area Hispanic community is made up of well-established doctors, businessmen and other professionals who arrived here more than 20 years ago, the fastest-growing segment is composed of new arrivals.

Many of them settle in Fells Point or other parts of East Baltimore, arriving with few resources and in need of housing, health care, job placement and other services. But because they are unfamiliar with how to go about finding these services or are undocumented immigrants unwilling to risk contact with the government, they often do without.

But reaching the people who need services has been a problem. Many new arrivals cannot read English, and some cannot even read Spanish. And because many of them lived under violently oppressive regimes, they arrive here too mistrustful of government to seek public services.

One of the problems the committee hopes to address is what to do about undocumented aliens who are in need of public services. According to Gali R. Sanchez, who has been on the committee for a year, policies toward them vary.

For instance, the social service offices require a social security card before they will process an application for food stamps. But homeless shelters will not turn away people who may have entered the country illegally.

Mr. Llanio said he would like the committee to organize members of the clergy who have Spanish-speaking congregations to serve as a bridge between the community and the city government and bring community problems to the attention of city agencies.

"The churches have been the most resourceful in getting information to the people who need it the most, the poorer people," said Mr. Llanio, a young Cuban-born businessman who has lived in Baltimore for the past five years. "They need to let us know what we should be doing."

The mayor's appointments were not unanimously applauded. Carlos Lopez-Rodriguez, vice president and co-founder of the East Baltimore Latino Organization, the city's most visible Hispanic organization, was not among those named and said he had been left out unfairly.

Mr. Llanio said Mr. Lopez-Rodriguez was not appointed because he didn't apply until after recommendations had been forwarded to the mayor.

"I don't have any complaints about the people who are on the committee, I see a lot of energy now," Mr. Lopez-Rodriguez said. "What angered me was that every time you talk to a different person you find out about a new procedure that wasn't in place before."

Because virtually all the committee members have middle-class backgrounds -- many of them live in Towson, Columbia and other suburban enclaves -- some of them said they would have to work hard to stay in touch with a decidedly poorer, less literate population.

"That could be a problem," said Dr. Jaime Lievano, a Colombian psychiatrist who lives in Towson. "But I think we are connected with many of the churches where many of the illegal people go."

Indeed, the fact that many of the committee members are successful in their fields could help new arrivals get on their feet.

"I think for this committee to have professionals on it gives the community resources and contacts," said M. Diana Carrion, who coordinates a tutorial program for EBLO. "That is what this community needs, a way to break into the system and become a productive part of it, rather than dependent on it."

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