Arundel's diversity still growing

Residents: The county's minority population has expanded in recent years, creating a cultural melting pot.

May 16, 2004|By Erika Hobbs | Erika Hobbs,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

An influx of immigrants is weaving a rich and varied cultural tapestry in Anne Arundel, a county already imprinted with historic ethnicity.

"We have vibrant communities," said Carl O. Snowden, intergovernmental relations officer for Anne Arundel County. In some cases, the influence is so great that some county services are adapting to meet their needs.

The Maryland Cooperative Extension's Anne Arundel office, for example, is experimenting with producing ethnic fruits and vegetables, such as the Chinese cabbage bok choy, to determine how they grow best here, said Dave Myers, an extension educator.

"Culture filters from one to another," said Ives Martinez, president of the Association of Latin Marylanders in Anne Arundel County. "We learn from them, they learn from us."

African-Americans, who remain the largest minority group, make up 13.5 percent of Arundel's population, the latest census figures show. Hispanics and Asians, the next largest groups, each make up a little more than 2 percent of the population. But their numbers have increased drastically between 1990 and 2000 and are expected to continue to climb, reflecting national trends, county officials said.

Hispanics from El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras and other South American countries are the fastest-growing segment in the county, census figures show. According to census figures, Koreans are the largest Asian group in Arundel. Asian Indians, Filipinos and Chinese are also settling in the county.

Using census figures, county demographers say that minorities are located largely in Annapolis, Glen Burnie, Maryland City, Fort Meade, Severn and Odenton. Severn has the largest concentration of Asians at 1,504 and Hispanics at 1,390. In Glen Burnie, gas stations, car dealers and drug stores fade into Korean grocers, restaurants and churches.

Unlike classic ethnic enclaves such as Little Italy in Baltimore, there is no true Korean neighborhood, although Glen Burnie is considered the community's anchor, according to Kap Park, executive director of Korean Americans in Anne Arundel Service Center.

Koreans first flocked to the county in the late 1980s and early 1990s, after South Korea suffered a recession, Park said.

"They're an underreported group," said county government spokesman Matt Diehl.

Park said the intensely private Korean-American community does not have a local newspaper or cultural festivals. But the community has established a strong presence through successful corner businesses.

The Hispanic population is similarly underreported, Martinez said.

Community advocates estimate that about 43 percent of Anne Arundel Hispanics are undocumented workers, many of whom don't speak English. Fearing authorities, they won't answer doors or census-takers' questions, Martinez said.

Still, it's these legal and undocumented employees - among them construction workers, landscapers and hotel maids - who make an impact, filling service-sector jobs and putting their earnings back into the local economy.

And their cultural influence is prevalent as well, from minority-owned, Hispanic-themed restaurants such as Jalapenos in Annapolis, to local radio station WYRE (810 AM), an all-Spanish channel.

In September, ALMAA will sponsor Annapolis' first Latin festival at the City Dock. It will feature ethnic food and folkloric dancers.

African-Americans in the county are proud of their heritage.

"We have made great civic contributions to society," said the Rev. Walter E. Middlebrooks, president of the county's Black Chamber of Commerce.

In August, the community will hold a Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival to commemorate the slave brought to Annapolis in 1767 whom author Alex Haley made legendary in his Roots saga. There is a statue of Haley in a park at the City Dock.

Annapolis also has recognized former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall with a statue at the State House. And the city is working on a sister relationship with Gambia, said John W. Wilson, executive director for Respect Foundation Inc., an umbrella group of African-American based advocacy organizations.

But it wasn't necessarily the rich history that drew Wilson to the county.

Wilson, 60, who moved from California to Edgewater in 2001, said he was attracted to the access to the Interstate 95 corridor, the strong economy and the quality of life - the same reasons driving the influx of affluent African-Americans to the county, Snowden said.

"I give credit to the leadership of this county," Middlebrooks said.

For more information:

Korean Americans in Anne Arundel Service Center, 410-863-0800.

Association of Latin Marylanders in Anne Arundel County, 410-280-5335.

Respect Foundation Inc., 410-571-7992.

Kunta Kinte Festival, www.kuntakinte.org.

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