Report: Salvadorans by far largest Hispanic group in area
Politically, they're banding with other Latinos on immigration, other issues
One in three Hispanics in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area are of Salvadoran descent, more than double the size of any other Latino ethnic group, according to a new Pew Hispanic Center report.
Although Los Angeles has a larger number of Salvadoran residents 414,000 the D.C. area has the highest concentration of El Salvador natives as a percentage of its overall Hispanic population.
Businesses catering specifically to the Salvadoran community have thrived in the Maryland suburbs, including dozens of restaurants selling pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran dish containing cheese, refried beans and cooked pork meat that is ground to a paste and rolled in a corn tortilla.
But politically, Salvadorans are part of the broader community advocating for issues important to all Hispanics, such as the national immigration debate.
"Everybody is feeling the need to come together because it's only larger political forces that are going to be able to change the negative climate we're facing," said Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez. "I think right now there is a unity that we've never seen before, because we're all in the same boat with the immigration issues."
Gutierrez (D-Dist. 18) of Chevy Chase became the first Salvadoran-American to win elected office in the U.S. when she captured a seat on the Montgomery County Board of Education in 1990.
In the past 30 years, the Salvadoran population has exploded in suburban Maryland. "There are so many Salvadorans that you can almost feel quite at home," she said.
With legislative redistricting on the horizon, Gutierrez wants to look at grouping large pockets of Hispanic communities in Wheaton, Aspen Hill and surrounding areas into a single district to provide more representation in Annapolis.
In the D.C. area, 240,000 of 712,000 Hispanics are of Salvadoran descent, according to the Pew report, which is based on data from the 2009 American Community Survey. The region has 95,000 Mexicans and 55,000 Puerto Rican natives.
And about two-thirds of Hispanic-Americans identify themselves not as belonging to the general Latino culture, but to their specific country of origin or their parents' homeland, said Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center.
In fact, more identify themselves as Americans rather than Hispanics or Latinos, he said, citing a separate Pew Center report from 2009 that explored how young Latinos view themselves.
"The notion of a pan-ethnic identity is actually an American concept," said Lopez, an American citizen whose grandparents emigrated from Mexico. "If I go to El Salvador and I say I'm Hispanic, they're going to think I'm from Spain, or they're not going to know what that means. They don't see a pan-ethnic identity. They see themselves as Salvadoran."
As the Salvadoran community has grown, so too has their representation in government. In addition to Gutierrez, Sen. Victor R. Ramirez (D-Dist. 47) of Cheverly, Prince George's County Councilman William A. Campos (D-Dist. 2) of Hyattsville, Arlington County Board member J. Walter Tejada and Hyattsville City Council member Carlos Lizanne all have Salvadoran roots.
The growth in Maryland's Hispanic population in the past decade is likely to be reflected when new political lines are drawn at the local, state and federal level in the months ahead.
U.S. Census data showed that the number of Hispanics living in Maryland more than doubled since 2000, to 470,632. Roughly one in 12 Marylanders is now Hispanic. About one-third of the state's Latinos live in Montgomery County, while 62.5 percent reside in either Montgomery or Prince George's counties.
Casa of Maryland, which advocates for immigrant rights, views the Hispanic community as a single bloc "because together they have greater power as a community to address issues that are affecting one particular nationality or all," advocacy specialist Helen Melton said in an email.
But there are times when individual nationalities are pushing for a specific issue, such as the temporary protected status program for refugees from several Central American nations, including El Salvador.
"In cases such as those, it is clear to see what the problem is and how to address it or what specific nationality is being affected," Melton wrote in the email, "but generally most issues do overlap with the Latino community as one group and not as a unique bloc."