Annapolis and county officials have pooled resources to help the county's Spanish-speaking residents cope with the language barrier.
The joint effort will begin Wednesday night, when city and county officials conduct a forum in Spanish at the Mount Olive AME Church in Annapolis to hear concerns of Hispanic residents and to tell them about free services.
"This will be our first opportunity to hear first-hand the concerns of the people we're trying to help," said Emily Green, an aide to Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins.
Green and county Human Relations Officer Adrian Wiseman said the problem was too great for either to attack alone.
According to the U.S. Census, 6,815 Hispanic residents live in Anne Arundel County, about 1.6 percent of the total population; 483of them live in Annapolis, about 1.5 percent of the total. But localofficials say the population may be 25 percent higher than the census count.
Most of Annapolis' Hispanic residents are from war-torn El Salvador, and about half are here illegally, community workers say.Language is their biggest problem, but not their only one.
They are cheated because they do not understand the language and customs. They are harassed because people know that many Hispanics won't seek help from police for fear of being deported.
"They don't understandthat they can call the police, that they can stand up for their rights. It's sad," said Pam, the manager of an Annapolis apartment building with many Hispanic tenants. "This forum is going to be an excellent opportunity. It's been a long time coming.
"Most of the people here live in what we would call substandard housing," the manager said. Representatives of the city and county police and fire departments and the Governor's Commission on Hispanic Affairs will attend the meeting, along with representatives of city and county human relations commissions, drug and alcohol abuse groups, social service agencies and business, education and medical organizations.
A speaker from the Immigration and Naturalization Service will tell people how to register for legal residency. An amnesty on illegal Salvadoran aliens hasbeen extended to November, Green said.
Green said 17 interpretershave volunteered to help Spanish-speaking people with education, employment, health, legal and other issues. The volunteers will be certified to help with court cases.
The forum will begin at 7 p.m. at the church, 2 Hicks Ave.