- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 7, 2001

SALISBURY, Md. Diners in search of Mexican meals prepared and served by natives of that country probably wouldn't think of looking on Maryland's Eastern Shore, but that's where they'll find La Tolteca.
Six years ago, the restaurant that features authentic Mexican food moved into a space that had been occupied by a seafood restaurant called Dockside Murphy's.
That single change in Salisbury hints at a broader demographic trend on the Eastern Shore.
The Hispanic population in Maryland grew from 125,102 in 1990 to 227,916 in 2000, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. That 82 percent increase was higher than for any other racial group in the state over the decade.
Montgomery County, with more than 100,000 Hispanics, and Prince George's County, with nearly 60,000, had the largest populations in that category in the state in 2000. The Hispanic population in those two counties almost doubled over the 10-year period.
But in Wicomico County, the Hispanic population tripled between 1990 and 2000, from 610 to 1,842. It more than tripled in Caroline County, from 231 to 789, and more than doubled in Worcester County, from 275 to 596.
Altogether, the nine counties of the Eastern Shore were home to nearly 7,000 Hispanics in 2000, up from fewer than 3,000 in the 1990 census.
Local observers say the totals probably are understated, because some Hispanics are suspicious or afraid to fill out census forms. And they say the movement into the area of Mexicans and Guatemalans and other Central Americans is accelerating.
Karen Gianninoto, who coordinates adult-education programs for Hispanics in three Eastern Shore counties, said enrollment in Caroline County has almost doubled just since 1999.
"We've had a tremendous influx of immigrants in the past two years," she said.
Miss Gianninoto and others who work with Hispanics on the Eastern Shore say immigrants are attracted by an abundance of entry-level jobs on farms, in poultry and food-processing plants, and at construction sites. Word spreads from immigrants who find jobs back to their hometowns, and friends and family members follow.
"They come here to work," said Julia Foxwell, a Panamanian-born social worker who lives outside Salisbury and works in Easton. "They come here to do whatever they need to do to get a few dollars to send back home."
The Eastern Shore's relatively low cost of living means immigrants have more money to send back, even from low-wage jobs, than if they lived and worked in other parts of the United States, particularly large cities.
At the James E. Leonard Apartments in Salisbury, a federally subsidized complex popular with Mexicans and Central Americans, developers opened 32 new units this summer, almost doubling the size of the complex.
But life on the Eastern Shore presents challenges for Hispanic immigrants, who typically arrive with scant formal education and knowing little if any English.
Miss Gianninoto said the language barrier and the low pay of the jobs they take make it difficult for such immigrants to find affordable housing and health care. Their lives are further complicated by a lack of public transportation in the area, because most can't buy their own cars.
The need to reach out to the Eastern Shore's burgeoning Hispanic community struck Memo Diriker, a marketing professor at Salisbury University and director of the university's Business, Economic and Community Outreach Network.
This spring, the outreach program formed Bienvenidos a Delmarva, an organization that brings together area agencies that serve Hispanics.
Ron Appin, one of the founders of Bienvenidos which is Spanish for "welcome" said the organization promotes cooperation among the agencies and identifies the needs of the Eastern Shore's Hispanic community.
Those needs include more certified teachers of English as a second language and a one-stop resource center for Hispanics on the Eastern Shore. The center would combine health care services, legal counseling, transportation assistance and help on immigration issues.
"To go to a place where they know they have assistance would make all the difference in the world," said Mr. Appin, another Panama native.
Bienvenidos members listed racism and discrimination among problems facing Hispanic immigrants on the Eastern Shore.
But Ernesto Camarena, 41, the Mexican native who manages La Tolteca, said he and the other Hispanics he knows have been welcomed by the community in Salisbury.
"Everybody that I talk to, they've been treated fine," he said.
One of Mr. Camarena's waiters, Alfonso Martinez, 35, has followed a pattern typical of Hispanic immigrants on the Eastern Shore and elsewhere.
In 1985, he left his home in the Mexican state of Jalisco and arrived alone in California with only three years of education, knowing almost no English. His first jobs were cutting lawns and working in a lumberyard. He sent a portion of his paychecks back to his family in Mexico.
A series of jobs took him across the country before he was hired five years ago at La Tolteca. He and his wife, whom he met during a trip back to Mexico, have settled in Salisbury to raise their three children born in the United States.

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