The pieces of art that decorate the walls of Jose Carlos Manduley's Rockville office are souvenirs of a career that spans 20 years and 50 countries. They are also daily reminders of the varied cultures he must serve in his new job.

On one wall, a barefoot rider astride a golden donkey passes through a village in South America. Across the room, three African women stand casually together, each resplendently draped in red batik cloth. And birds of blue, yellow, red and green spin themselves into a wall hanging of perfect needlework squares.

A Cuban native who first moved to Montgomery in the 1960s, Manduley last month was named director of the new Montgomery County Office for Minority and Multicultural Affairs. He will serve as an adviser to County Executive Sidney Kramer and the county's chief administration officer, Lewis Roberts, on the problems and issues affecting the growing number of minority and foreign-born residents.

The office will act in cooperation with the Office of Minority Affairs and county agencies such as the Housing Opportunity Commission, Affirmative Action, and numerous health groups, as a clearinghouse for all programs and policies concerned with education, information and publicity for the minority communities. Three staff officers will be hired to work as liaisons with the black, Hispanic and Asian communities.

"The council had three specific tasks in mind {when they formed the office}: The first was to identify previously unaddressed problems, the second was to propose new solutions and innovations, and the third, to recommend an appropriate formal organization within the county government to address the minority groups because of the tremendous {population} growth," Manduley said.

The growth Manduley referred to has been steady for 10 years. Montgomery County's current population of 635,000 includes 60,000 blacks, 47,000 Hispanics, 42,000 Asians and 11,000 from other ethnic or racial groups.

According to a 1980 census, these figures reflect a small rise in the black population from 51,000, but the Hispanic and Asian communities jumped from 22,000 and 24,000, respectively.

Manduley, who speaks English, French, Spanish and Portuguese and has studied Farsi, Japanese, Korean and Italian, is careful to stress his regard for all communities in the area. But he said he recognizes the special problems of individuals to whom English is still a foreign language.

"For many people just coming over, there is a lack of knowledge and trust of government and they don't know that a government, in this case the county government, is trying to help them by providing services and classes," he said.

Two of Manduley's goals are to implement better community services, such as health, immigration and housing information, and to provide training to make county agency officials more aware of the needs of the multiethnic communities.

"One thing I am going to insist on is to maintain an open-door policy because our main task is to be out there in the communities and make sure problems are met. Regardless whether black, Asian, Latino or native American, we will deal with {the problems}."

Manduley, 42, said one of his biggest challenges will be to foster an understanding and acceptance of the minority communities by all county residents.

"There is always tension," he explained. "But I would like to see the communities work closer together in terms of social and economic considerations."

Manduley came to the Rockville area in the 1960s with his family. He lived here while finishing his master's degree in Latin affairs at Georgetown University.

He and his wife will live in the Gaithersburg area.

"I have lived here on and off much of my life, my family has lived here for over 25 years and so I know the county well," he said. Although born in Cuba, Manduley uses the term Hispanic with reluctance. He said he finds the word intangible and prefers to view himself as a compilation of the countries in which he has lived and worked.

He received his doctorate in intercultural education from the University of Pittsburgh. He worked for three years as an assistant professor in Brazil and as an officer with UNICEF in Burma and South Korea. He has worked with the State Department as an adviser on education and training in Guatemala and served with other international agencies in Central and West Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

The potential for being viewed as biased toward the Hispanic community is a concern for Manduley, whose face grows stern when discussing the issue.

"People will meet me and see I am Hispanic, but I want to make sure people know that I am not here as an Hispanic necessarily," he said. "I am here as a multicultural person and that comes first. I hope we can all work together because the problems are not unique to one group. They are shared by the community."

Nonetheless, his appointment to the $45,000-a-year post has sparked a controversy in the county. The Montgomery NAACP issued a formal protest last week, alleging that unfair hiring procedures were followed when Manduley was selected.

"We have sent a letter to Dr. Manduley letting him know there was nothing personal against him, but we have evidence that Mr. DeVance Walker was passed over because of his involvement in community groups like the NAACP," said NAACP Executive Vice President Hanley Norment.

Walker, who had served as the county executive's adviser on minority affairs, was a finalist for the position.

Roberts said the charge is unfounded and denies passing up Walker for the position because of his organizational commitments.

"We are fortunate in this county to have many highly qualified people apply for a post like this," Roberts said. "People align themselves to many organizations; it has no bearing on the job selection process. The job of this office is to assist minorities. I don't feel this sort of rhetoric contributes anything to that cause.

"We are fortunate to have someone of Dr. Manduley's caliber. I am confident that his extensive knowledge of and experience with diverse ethic populations and his experience as an educator and manager will serve him well."

Manduley said the developing world has many lessons to teach affluent areas such as Montgomery County. "What is very sad to me is that in very poor countries where the needs are so tremendous, people are saving their morsels to the very last piece."

He hesitated before adding, "We waste so much. Really we should be more careful. There is poverty right in our own back yards."