Diversity’s Destiny

The Changing Face (and Population) of Frederick

By Gina Gallucci-White | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 10.21.16 – Feature, People & Places

In the decade that Elpidio Herrera has lived in Frederick, he has come to really enjoy the weather. Herrera is from Costa Rica, where the temperatures close to the Equator remain summerlike most of the year, with extreme rainy and dry seasons. Here, he gets to see the seasons change—including watching the leaves turn from shades of green to brilliant reds, yellows and oranges—and witness snow blanketing the area.

He also likes the historical significance this region played in the history of the United States, including its proximity to key Civil War sites and being the home and final resting place for Francis Scott Key, composer of The Star-Spangled Banner. “Frederick is very important for all of the United States, I say,” Herrera says with a smile.

Of Frederick City’s 67,000 residents, an estimated 40 percent are minorities with approximately 19.3 percent, like Herrera, born in a foreign country, according to the most recent U.S. Census data from July 2015. The census also estimates that 24 percent of the city’s population speaks a language other than English in their home—almost double the 12.6 percent in 2000. “That’s a huge [amount] of growth over the last 15 years,” says Roger Wilson, government affairs and public policy director for Frederick County. “It’s an exciting time in Frederick and we should embrace that.”

In the county, the U.S. Census data estimates the population to be just over 245,000 with about 18 percent identifying as non-white and nearly 10 percent stating they are foreign born. “A lot of the ethnic diversity is coming from the city, of course, but some of that growth has started in Urbana, as residents move in from Montgomery County,” Wilson says.  “We are seeing strong growth in the Burmese (Myanmar) population. … It’s an interesting phenomenon. I would have never thought that Burmese would be our biggest growth area as far as ethnic groups. Our Hispanic group is continually growing. I’m starting to see just anecdotally, visually, our African community growing. They are starting to move in from Germantown.”

Having worked for IBM for 20 years, Wilson recalls that among corporate values drilled into him was the importance and benefit of having diverse communities. “It is good to be exposed to what the real world looks like and when you bring that talent—all skills, all life experiences to one community—you can do great things,” he says. Because Frederick is home to a National Cancer Institute campus, Fort Detrick, Hood College and Mount St. Mary’s University, it is attracting people from around the world to the area. “We want that,” Wilson says. “We want that diversity. That makes our community that much better.”

There’s another reason many people immigrate to Frederick. Herrera, who sells cell phone plans part-time, decided to come to Frederick simply because family members wanted to live here. “We go to United States but not because Costa Rica is very bad,” he says. “No. It is a good country, but now we live here.”

When he decided to apply for U.S. citizenship, he came to Centro Hispano de Frederick — an organization dedicated to helping those who do not speak English fluently on acclimating to society, including educational classes, legal assistance and referrals for services. “Anybody who walks through those doors, we will help,” says Tony Naranjo, an associate with Centro Hispano. “We help just a wide gambit of people, from new immigrants who have been here two weeks to people who have been here a number of years. … I think our main purpose is just to educate people. New arrivals, they don’t know our system. They don’t know our culture. All they know is, ‘Well, my cousin told me this.’ ‘My uncle told me that.’ ‘My aunt said this and I don’t know, so I came here because I heard that you guys help people.’ We educate people more than anything else.”

Herrera took citizenship preparation classes at Centro Hispano, completed all the required steps for naturalization and is now very proud to call himself a U.S. citizen. He decided to give back to the organization by becoming a volunteer. “I am very, very excited because the people who come to study at Centro Hispano go to take the [naturalization] test and pass,” he says. “I am very, very happy because they are [successful].”

The services Centro Hispano offer are given at a low or reduced rate. “We ask for donations,” Naranjo says. “We never turn anybody away that cannot pay, but we don’t get any support from any other agencies, federal, state, or local. We survive on the services we offer.”

In the Neighborhoods

The Frederick Police Department recently requested instructors to teach a 13-week Spanish for law enforcement class. “The FPD understands that effective community policing begins with communication,” says Capt. Patrick Grossman, Deputy Chief of Police. “In order to be more effective responding to and resolving criminal or neighborhood issues, it is important that both sworn officers and civilian staff have at least a rudimentary ability to communicate.”

The ability to make an effective and reasonable response will encourage community members to share information that will benefit their neighborhoods and make officers more effective problem solvers. “We must be able to have an open dialogue with residents to have full understanding of the issues affecting their community and taking steps to enhance communication is an important step in the process,” Grossman says. “Building trust in the police department is vital to healthy communities. The sharing of information dispels myths and allows the community to receive accurate and timely information regarding the subject matter they are the most concerned about.”

Naranjo says Centro Hispano already had an established relationship with police before being contacted about Spanish language classes. “We have a very good police force here who are very in-tune to what’s going on and letting us know how they can help us and we can help them,” he says. Naranjo and Centro Hispano director Maria-Teresa Shuck also completed the police department’s Citizens Police Academy, a course designed to teach residents more about law enforcement work. Naranjo says the experience was helpful to better understand their work. “Just to learn about what they have to deal with and why they do the things they do,” he says. “That was great.”

Just a few doors down from Centro Hispano is the Asian American Center of Frederick. Founded 10 years ago, the nonprofit offers services to low-income minorities and immigrants, including assistance with health insurance enrollment and citizenship. It also offers programs for seniors and sponsors events like the upcoming Frederick Community Health Fair, set for Oct. 22 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Frederick Fairgrounds.

“Over the last decade, things have changed quite a bit in Frederick County,” says Elizabeth Chung, founder of the Asian American Center. Often she hears people ask, “Why diversity?” She always responds with, “Why not?” “I can only say to be diverse or [to] address diversity is being wise. … It’s innovative because if you just have one way of doing things, [you don’t realize the] other ways it can be done. A diverse population and diverse ideas give you a great deal more innovation.”

She has seen many collaborations with different agencies and entities since starting the center. “It’s just a nice feeling,” she says. “To me, it takes both sides. It’s not just mainstream [community members who] need to know us. We all need to know about the mainstream.” Within the local Asian community, there are an estimated 30 different languages and dialects. “We don’t know about each other but we have so much in common,” Chung says. “Even within our own Asian community, we have diversity and we have to work on that.”

“Melting pot” is not a description preferred by Chung. “We can come together but not necessarily melt together,” she says. A better way to describe diversity, she believes, is a salad bowl—different textures, unique colors and flavors, coming together. “I always ask people to feel comfortable, even when you are different, and support each other,” she says. “I think that you have to do it first and that’s why the [Asian American Center] feels proud to be an agency [where] we really, really practice diversity. We are proud to see the difference and comfortable within the difference.”

Business Opportunity

Several years ago, Mana Shi was visiting Frederick when she recognized the need for a good Japanese fusion restaurant. A resident of Germantown, she decided to open up Sushi Densha in 2012 off Buckeystown Pike. With a modern, chic atmosphere, the restaurant features freshly rolled sushi and seafood along with salads, soups, rice and noodles. “I always wanted to be my own boss,” she says. “I can control my schedule. It’s more flexible for me and I can take care of the kids at the same time.”As a minority business owner, Shi believes having a growing population of diverse establishments will only benefit the area. “I think it helps the economy,” she says. “It creates more job opportunities around here.”

Last year, the Frederick County Office of Economic Development started the Minority Business Vision, an initiative aimed at providing resources, educational programs and networking events to established or new entrepreneurs. “We just want to reach out to the minority business community and give them the tools they need to be successful,” says Sherman Coleman, the office’s business development specialist for minority business outreach. “Along with that you’ll want to create a huge networking net so minority business owners can reach out and do business with each other. My whole thing on this is minority businesses need to do business with other minority businesses here in Frederick County. If you are a minority business who handles service or some type of goods that you could offer or you need, why go down to Montgomery County? Why go to Loudoun County? Howard County? When you can do business with another business right here? I am trying to get the minority business owners to team up with each other, partner and go after different contracts themselves. … It’s a win-win for everybody.”

According to the U.S. Census 2012 survey of business owners, there has been a 68.9 percent increase in Asian-owned businesses, 25.6 percent growth of Hispanic-owned businesses, 8.2 percent rise in women-owned businesses and a 5.6 percent expansion of African-American-owned businesses. Chung says the increase is because the influx of minorities who want familiar goods and services. “[Entrepreneurs] see the growth of the community, so they want to come in to do business,” she says. “If you come in here being … new residents to Frederick County, you want someone who understands you culturally, speaks to you in your own language. There is a sense of trust there too.”

Coleman agrees that growth follows opportunity. “Once people see other [minority-owned] businesses that become successful, they know it is alright to put their foot into the water,” he says. “… The one thing I believe, the one thing I stress is there is strength in numbers and … that [if] we build the minority business community and the more cohesiveness that we can ban together it makes winners of everybody.”