The measure has opened a fierce debate in this once-rural farming community, where the rolling countryside is now dotted with rapidly spreading bedroom communities.
“It’s divisive,” said Dane Manges, 31, a Manchester resident who works in Cup, a tea bar on Main Street here. He thinks the ordinance distracts from more substantive threats to the community’s traditions and heritage, such as rapid suburbanization. “These things could be maintained without an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality,” he said.
But Commissioner Richard Rothschild said the ordinance has nothing to do with xenophobia and everything to do with common sense.
“If you immigrate to America, then you’re going to learn our language. I’m not going to learn yours,” Rothschild said. “It’s simple — when in Rome, do like the Romans.”
About 35 miles northwest of Baltimore and bordered to the north by the Pennsylvania line and to the south by Howard County, Carroll seems an unlikely place to discuss a threat from any foreign language. Although the Latino population has more than tripled since the 2000 census, its numbers are still small: In a county of 167,134 people, only 4,363 residents, or about 2.6 percent, are Latino. More than nine out of 10 people are white and native-born and speak English in their homes, Census Bureau data show.
The county is also about as politically conservative as Maryland is liberal, with 65 percent voting for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Divisions there over growing diversity and immigration reflect the nation’s divide on the topics.
Some residents think the proposed ordinance is necessary to preserve American culture and its idea of the melting pot. Others think the measure is nothing but a symbolic form of barbed wire that suggests immigrants should go elsewhere.
At Lily’s Mexican Market on Main Street, Maria Luisa Castillo said she agreed that immigrants should learn English. Castillo, 37, who arrived from Mexico about 21
2 years ago, works as a clerk in the market, where people can pop in to buy a Salvavidas soda or a bag of churritos. On a busy day the other week, she used a smattering of both languages with customers who browsed aisles stocked with Latino foods, international phone cards, cowboy hats, soccer jerseys, and even rosaries and crucifixes.
“I think it’s very important that Hispanics know it in order to speak it,” Castillo said in Spanish. “A person who knows both has more opportunities.”
But she also sounded wary of the proposed ordinance and confused about what it would do. She wondered whether people could be prohibited from speaking Spanish in public.
If the ordinance is approved by the all-Republican board, Carroll would join Frederick and Queen Anne’s counties in passing such a law. A public hearing on the measure is set for Dec. 11.