Virginia's Hispanic population has a uniquely multinational composition, according to the report on a recent survey conducted by the Committee of the Spanish-Speaking Community of Virginia and sponsored by the federal government.
The report also says the one element the Hispanic community shares -- its language -- contributes to the main difficulty identified by the survey: "problems of communication in English."
The survey questioned members of 5,033 Hispanic households in the Northern Virginia, Richmond and Tidewater areas about their national origins, social and economic status and needs. Almost 90 percent of those questioned are from Northern Virginia, where the state's largest concentration of Spanish-speaking persons lives.
"They (the federal and state governments) will be better able to understand our needs now. . .this will bring us out and help us in future planning," said Daisy Rowley, director of the Virginia committee.
The committee, formed in 1966, has five offices in Northern Virginia and offers employment as well as social and other services to the area's Spanish-speaking community.
The survey, taken over a 90-day period earlier this year, was supported by a $15,000 grant from the federal Community Services Administration.
The chairman of the committee's 30-member board, Dr. Luis Vidana, released the survey results Friday.
The primary problems mentioned by an overwhelming majority of those interviewed were communication in English and lack of bilingual education programs.
Rowley said one of the most surprising and important findings of the survey was that Hispanics are not underemployed (not earning their full potential incomes) because of lack of education, but because of the language barrier.
Other findings of the survey:
Virginia's Hispanic population is drawn from more than 21 countries. About 29 percent is from South America, another 29 percent is from Central America and 25 percent is from the Caribbean. Cuba, the largest country of origin, accounted for little more than 17 percent of the area's Hispanic residents. "You go to Florida and you'll find 90 percent are Cuban," said Vidana in noting the unusually cosmopolitan nature of Virginia's Spanish-speaking community.
While the state unemployment rate among Hispanics was 16 percent, (compared with 5 percent for the state as a whole,) only 3 percent of the Spanish-speaking community is on welfare.
Virginia's Hispanic population is growing rapidly. Some 50 percent of those surveyed had lived in Virginia less than five years, and 29 percent had lived in the state less than one year. "It's a young population, too," said Vidana, pointing out that the survey found the average age to be 37, and less than 7 percent to be retired.
Nearly 40 percent of those surveyed had family incomes of less than $10,000 a year; more than 70 percent had total incomes of less than $20,000 per year.
The survey report can be used by the committee to assist the Spanish-speaking community, and to obtain more help from federal and state sources now that problems have been identified.
Aside from language, other problems mentioned in the report include lack of programs and facilities for senior citizens, a need for more day-care centers, unemployment, inadequate housing and lack of training and educational programs. u
Committee recommendations, based on the study, include higher stipends for Hispanics in training programs, more voter registration work in the community, government employment opportunities for Spanish-speaking legal residents who are not yet citizens, and expansion of bilingual programs in public schools.