In Riverdale Park, language barrier, high turnover keep Hispanic participation low -- Gazette.Net


Riverdale Park resident Erick Mendez said he has never visited the town hall where he lives. Originally from Mexico, Mendez, 28, lives in a multi-family apartment complex along Riverdale Road with his parents.

He said he felt there was a lack of staff who spoke Spanish there, making it difficult for him and his primarily Spanish-speaking family to get engaged in the goings-on at town hall.

With a high proportion of Hispanic and immigrant population moving into the town , town officials have struggled to engage the Hispanic population to participate in the town affairs, said Mayor Veron Archer.

There is a lot less misunderstanding and friction between the Hispanic and immigrant population and the town then there was about five years ago when the town had not made such a concerted effort to reach out to the hispanic population, said Mayor Veron Archer.

“Am I satisfied with our own efforts or the towns efforts? No I am not,” Archer said. “Are we making a real effort, a genuine effort? Yes we are.”

Archer said the town has hired bilingual staff for almost every department and translates some important literature on major action items into Spanish, particularly to be distributed on the eastern side of the town, where most Spanish-speaking residents live. But the large amount of turnover for the population in the town makes it tough to engage them, he said.

“The people you tried to reach out to five years ago are gone,” he said. “The demographics are the same, but they are a different group of people.”

Archer said town officials reached out to residents concerning the Cafritz property, the proposed mixed-use facility to be built on the north side of the town along Baltimore Avenue.

Archer said that the town distributed letters in Spanish and had interpreters attend two early meetings on the project. When hardly any Spanish-speakers came, the city decided to stop having the interpreters present and stopped distributing literature to the population in Spanish.

George Escobar, director of the services department for the immigrant rights group Casa de Maryland, said while overcoming the language barrier is important when trying to engage the Hispanic and immigrant population in any jurisdiction, it is crucial to develop leaders that come directly from the community to inspire activism.

“Translating and having bilingual people is great and necessary, but it is only part of the solution,” Escobar said. “It is really important to spend resources on getting people to be champions of the community themselves.”

Archer said he recruited the two

Mendez said he was concerned that not all documents that are sent to residents are translated into Spanish, which he thinks would help to get the Hispanic community more involved.

“Some people don’t speak English, they have always spoke Spanish,” Mendez said. “Its difficult for them to write stuff and to read, because they do not understand what they are talking about.”

Archer said that town official’s have reached out to get Hispanic volunteers involved in youth and community activities, and such as Riverdale Park Day.

At a town hall work session Archer said that the proposed remolding of the town hall could help to make the building look “less police- looking” and might be a good way to get the Hispanic population to participate in activities there. He later clarified that this was a concern that had been brought to him from people of many different ethnic backgrounds.