The growth of the Latino community in Maryland has not been without controversy. The recent rise of ethnic tensions between Latinos and non-Latinos have manifested itself recently in two disturbing issues. The first issue is the so-called amigo shopping.1 This practice refers to the assaults and robberies Latino service laborers suffer after they finish work late at night and are on their way home. Because most migrants use public transportation and walk to their homes after work, they are easy prey to robbers who steal their money hoping that the crime will never be reported for fear of deportation, or simply because the workers do not communicate fluently in English.
The second issue involves day laborers. In Maryland most day laborers are Central Americans working in construction-related jobs, such as construction proper, landscaping, and moving services. They are hired repeatedly by the same contractor or subcontractor, and they report incidents related to collecting their salaries. Besides the controversy regarding fair labor and hiring conditions, other minorities, primarily African Americans, have also accused day laborers of taking jobs away from them and lowering salaries in service jobs. Mainstream populations have complained that areas where day laborers congregate are usually unsafe. For these reasons, how to resolve problems with this sector of the Latino population has become a fierce political issue.
Yet, despite these obstacles, the Latino community has made tremendous strides in recent years. Politically, no gubernatorial candidate in the state can win without the Latino support. For this reason, both Republicans and Democrats are battling for the heart and soul of the Latino community. This is evident in the recent debate over illegal migration, in which Maryland officials have taken a less confrontational position than their counterparts in neighboring Virginia. In Baltimore, Montgomery, and Prince George counties Latino groups have established a presence that cannot be easily erased. The number of Latino organizations in Maryland listed in the National Directory of Hispanic Organizations is comparable to the number of such organizations in any other state in the nation.