Hispanic congress opens tomorrow

February 05, 1993|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

Manuel Alban wants people to know that the Hispanics of the Baltimore area do more than sponsor ethnic festivals on hot summer weekends.

That's why, as president of the Federation of Hispanic Organizations, Mr. Alban has convened the First Hispanic-Latin American Congress this weekend at Essex Community College.

"Our main concern is the American people's perception of Hispanics -- as the ones who do drugs, commit crimes and take jobs away from blacks," Mr. Alban said. "In fact, people in this congress have become an asset to this community.

"We want people to understand that Hispanics are a diverse group of people, proud to be a mixture of Spaniards, Indians, Germans, blacks. . . . Our only common denominator is language," said Mr. Alban, an Ecuador-born engineer who lives in Harford County.

The congress, to be held in the college's Community Theater, will offer a mix of speakers and town meeting-style discussions from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday.

Enrique Fernandez, editor of the New York-based magazine Mas, will give the keynote address tomorrow on "Unity Among Hispanics: Key to Empowerment."

Mr. Alban advised his fellow Hispanics to first learn English and then "forget about parochialism and become U.S. citizens. This is your home; this is your country."

More than 180 area residents have registered for the congress, the federation president said, and more are expected to show up tomorrow morning.

"The enthusiasm for this congress is great," Mr. Alban said. "This has never happened before. It's going to be the first step in getting ourselves together. We know there is a need to find common ground among ourselves."

The Baltimore area is home to about 30,000 Hispanics, according to the 1990 census, which some Latinos contend missed many recent immigrants. Another 190,000 live in Washington and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs, the census found.

No one national origin dominates Maryland's 125,000 Hispanics. Salvadorans (15.9 percent), Puerto Ricans (14.7 percent) and Mexicans (14.2 percent) are the principal groups, according to the census.

Small pockets of Latinos exist throughout the metro area -- Puerto Ricans in Fells Point, Mexicans in Columbia and Essex and Cuban- and South American-born professionals scattered across the suburbs.

"There's no single location you can pinpoint as a conglomeration of Hispanics. There's a little concentration starting in Southeast Baltimore, but even there it's multicultural -- Puerto Ricans, Salvadorans, Peruvians," Mr. Alban said.

The Federation of Hispanic Organizations includes groups from Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela, and it sponsors the annual Hispanic Festival in downtown Baltimore.

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