WESTMINSTER – Holding hands in a half-circle, a 10-person choir sang “Padre nuestro, tu que estas en el cielo, escucha nuestros versos . . .” to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” to open the Sunday afternoon Mass at St. John’s Catholic Church.
The church is better known to the 100 or so worshippers who attend the weekly 3:15 p.m. service as “Iglesia de San Juan,” which began five years ago for the Spanish-speaking newcomers to Westminster.
While some have only been in the county less than a year, and others are more established, these families are joining others across the state in building Maryland’s outer suburbs into the new home for two of the state’s largest immigrant populations, instead of their more traditional first stop in big cities.
As the populations of Asians and Hispanics steadily grow in Montgomery County, which has long held the state’s fastest-growing immigrant population, the two groups are pushing outward into neighboring counties, according to Census Bureau statistics.
Frederick, Carroll, Charles and Calvert counties saw their populations of Asians and Hispanics grow by more than 50 percent between 2000 and 2005, according to the statistics.
Part of the reason is that immigrants are no longer moving into what are known as the “traditional gateways of immigration” — urban areas in their home country to urban areas in their new country. Rather, they are moving straight from cities to suburbs.
Most new immigrants connect with social networks in “new settlement areas” like Riverdale and Greensborough, instead of into metropolitan areas like New York, Chicago, Miami and Baltimore, said Judith Freidenberg, professor of anthropology at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her research revolves around new immigrants in northwest Prince George’s County, a county where the Hispanic population has grown 58 percent to 90,365 in 2005.
The churchgoers at St. John’s typify this movement. Only about 20 or 30 attendees, mostly working men, appeared at the first services at St. John’s in 2005, said regular Elena Hartley, a Peru-native who moved to Westminster from Rockville. Later, wives joined. Then, mothers came, to help take care of newborn children as the parents worked.
“A lot of people moved to big cities first for work, and when they were established and met more people, they found that they can go outside of the city,” said Robert Gutierrez, who came directly to Westminster from Costa Rica seven years ago to work with his uncle. Over the years, however, he’s seen streams of Hispanic newcomers to America in the area, uniting with friends and relatives who already started to settle there.
“Most people coming are people who are new to the country,” said Hartley, one of the founders of United Hands of Carroll County, an organization founded in 2006 to help provide local resources to new immigrants, most of whom are from Mexico.
She noticed that many immigrants move to the outer suburbs, like Carroll County, because they resemble the small-town, countryside similar to their native country.
Gutierrez said economics is the driving force: Many immigrants realize that they can do the same jobs in different areas outside cities, and even if they make less, the lower living costs make up for it.
But, he added, “Carroll County is a farming area,” which draws many non-English-speakers looking for manual work.
Ramon Garcia and his family are new regulars to the Spanish Mass at St. John’s. A U.S. permanent resident, Garcia moved from Ventura, Calif., a Los Angeles suburb, to Westminster with his wife and three children less than a year ago.
“My job is better here,” translates his 15-year-old daughter. He was drawn to Westminster by the inexpensive homes, job prospects and family living.
Many service providers and business owners are starting to seek interpreters, incorporating more bilingual services and targeting the new population in their advertisements, said Hartley.
Advertisements and business signs with translations in Spanish line Baltimore Street through Westminster and into Carroll County. Nearby, bundles of signs for new housing and condominium communities advertise new homes for $169,000.
Asian immigration has followed the same pattern: Baltimore City had about 169 fewer Asian residents in 2005 than in 2000, according to census surveys, while counties around Baltimore saw rapid Asian population growth.
Howard County, wedged between Montgomery County’s high-immigrant population and Baltimore County, has had a historically high Asian population — 7.7 percent of all residents in 2000. That rose to about 11 percent in 2005.
Other areas with historically small foreign-born populations are also seeing a rise in immigrants: Carroll County’s Asian population increased by 79 percent to 2,029 people during those five years, and Harford County’s grew by 46 percent to 4,842.
The migration numbers, as high as they are, are probably even higher, Freidenberg said, because they don’t include the burgeoning population of illegal immigrants.
Beyond the statistical data, traces of the outward migration are evident on every street corner: Ethnic supermarkets and restaurants are growing in suburban areas, selling assortments of cultural ingredients and foods at lower prices than local grocery stores.
Lotte Oriental Supermarket, a Korean-owned oriental foods market with stores in Rockville and Silver Spring, opened a new outlet in Ellicott City. And Jin Mi Oriental Market and Landover Oriental Food are Korean-specialty stores for shoppers in Beltsville and Landover.
As immigrants concentrate in suburban areas, they bring the foods and stores that are part of their culture, which are changing the social and cultural dynamic of Maryland and the country, said Charles Christian, former professor of population geography at the University of Maryland, College Park.
It was uncommon to see Hispanic people in Harford County years ago, said professor of English and Spanish Jim Galbraith, but more are enrolled in his courses at Harford County Community College than he’s seen in other years in his 38 years of teaching.
There is more interest in learning Spanish to accommodate new residents, as well, said Galbraith, who now teaches four sections of elementary and advanced Spanish, in contrast with his first entry-level Spanish class in 1974. One of his students teaches breast-feeding at a local hospital, and enrolled in his class to better communicate with her students.
About 200 people come to the Sunday Spanish Mass at St. Francis de Sales church in Abingdon in Harford County that’s been running for about 15 years. A new service held in nearby St. Margaret Church in Bel Air now has any where from 30 to 40 regulars at its Saturday Spanish Mass, which has been meeting for about 18 months.
Often, Americans often don’t spend enough time learning about new immigrant cultures, which often leads to friction in the community, said Christian.
“If we think immigration is continuing at the same rate as the past, we’re going to have to be a bit more knowledgeable of global geography, and the types of culture those residents have been brought up in,” Christian said.
But Garcia, who speaks very few words of English, hasn’t found it a problem. In fact, he hopes that being in a community where there are fewer Spanish speakers, he may be more challenged to learn and understand more on the job and in the community.
“I wish the best for my family,” said Garcia of his decision to move across the country. “I wish to learn more English, have a good job and raise my family.”