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The Patriot-News

Spanish Speakers In Lebanon Look For Bilingual Help


May 25, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

While the number of Spanish-speaking people continues to grow here, few businesses offer bilingual help for crucial services.

The Hispanic population of Lebanon County has reached 5 percent and could touch 7 percent by 2005, according to the U.S. Census. Already, Hispanics make up almost 30 percent of Lebanon city residents.

If a Hispanic shopper leaves the grocery store with the wrong cut of meat because the butcher didn't understand Spanish, it can be frustrating. But when a mother cannot explain her sick child's symptoms to a doctor, a misunderstanding can be life threatening.

Hispanics said that when it comes to medical, legal and financial matters, Lebanon has few Spanish-speaking doctors, lawyers or bankers.

Sometimes children as young as 8 have to translate for their Spanish-speaking parents. Some people dislike that practice.

"I don't want a translator in the examining room when I go to the woman's doctor," said Edelmida Gonzalez, a local businesswoman.

Delta Covarrubias, a native of Mexico, said she doesn't like her children to know all of the family problems.

"The parents should do the worrying," Covarrubias said. "It is the children's job to get an education."

As a result, many times Spanish-speaking people don't go to the doctor, some said. Or they don't go to the bank after getting a letter they don't understand. They might not go to an attorney when they have an accident.

Hispanics end up with high rates of preventable diseases and early onset of illness, state Department of Health statistics show.

Nationally, Hispanics are almost twice as likely to have diabetes than whites of a similar age.

The state also reports that almost 28 percent of Hispanics receive no prenatal care in the first trimester. The percentage is more than double that of white women who get no prenatal care.

In emphasizing the need to get information on healthy lifestyles to all segments of the population, the state reports that from 1986- 98, the percentage of Hispanic children who were overweight increased by 120 percent, while the rate for white children increased by more than 50 percent.

When doctors and other professional businesses hire bilingual workers, it benefits not only Hispanics, but the businesses, residents said.

Lebanon Federal Credit Union, for example, hired a teller four years ago who spoke Spanish.

"We had no idea what a difference it would make," said Cindy Raiger, a credit union official.

Long lines started forming at the Spanish-speaking teller's window. The teller quit when she decided to start a family, but another bilingual teller has taken her place.

The credit union has a large number of Hispanics depositing at their bank because four companies that routinely employ Hispanics -- Murry's Steaks, Bell and Evans, Pennfield Farms and Weaber's Saw Mill -- belong to the credit union.

It just makes good sense to employ Spanish-speaking employees, bank officials said.

For mortgages, loans and investments, Lebanon Valley Farmers Bank uses a bilingual call center, which it shares with Fulton Bank of Lancaster. Clients can call a toll-free number and talk to a Spanish- speaking representative.

It's a step in the right direction, Hispanics here said, but it is not widely advertised in Spanish.

Other county companies said it is difficult to find bilingual candidates for even entry-level jobs, such as receptionist, teller and other clerical positions.

Lebanon schools have been graduating hundreds of students who spoke English for 12 years in school and Spanish at home all their lives.

"These graduates are in very high demand everywhere," said a Lebanon School District official who asked not to be identified.

"Our best and brightest Latino students are being heavily recruited" outside of Lebanon, the school official said.

Things have improved, according to longtime Hispanic residents.

Forty years ago, Juan Rivera arrived in Palmyra from Puerto Rico. Recently, he has been noticing changes.

At the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Rivera has been assigned a Spanish-speaking doctor.

"It makes a big difference," he said. "They need to bring more Spanish-speaking doctors to this area."

If more Hispanic professionals worked here, he said, young Hispanics would have role models.

"These young people would see they can be anything they want if they work for it," Rivera said, "and that we need them here in their own community."

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