Music and the smell of chicken, rice and homemade mole sauce filled the East Library as Joseph Moreno sat behind a laptop screen.
Moreno, of Mexico, was studying and practicing English with his family who moved to Clearwater about 10 years ago.
English is important for work, he said, but also for communicating with friends online. Also, it is frequently the second language of those from a vast array of nations.
“Everybody speaks English,” Moreno said. “It is a universal language, the most important language in the world.”
Moreno and many other Hispanic adults have utilized the library’s programs to better their understanding of English. And the kick off to was an opportunity a few chose to represent their culture, and a chance for the East Library to showcase those programs Monday.
The East Library offers tutoring opportunities for youth, family story times for children, and free English classes for adults.
“We have Hispanics helping Hispanics,” said Elida Quinlisk, the library’s outgoing Hispanic outreach liaison. “There are many organizations geared toward Hispanics, but the problem is they don’t know what is available.”
Pat Bauer, president of the Literacy Council of Upper Pinellas County, said that those utilizing library programs, especially those who come to learn and understand English, represent “a community of learners.” The opportunity to speak English and gain confidence is important for anyone to thrive.
Tutors, volunteers and members of the Literacy Council have an array of programs for non-native English speakers who are looking to improve their English-speaking abilities, up to and including academic exams and citizenship tests.
Non-native speakers learned how to communicate health issues to medical professionals during a program earlier in the year, Bauer said.
“It’s survival needs and communication,” Bauer said.
That is one of the reasons why it is important that local libraries train more Hispanic librarians.
“A library that is open to everyone is a place where you can find information and meet others," Bauer said. "This library has become a place of learning. We need libraries to be places to hold cultures together.”
“This is the epicenter of the Hispanic population,” she said. “The increase since the last census is dramatic. We hope more will come and join this community of learners.”
While the crowd that gathered to enjoy the celebration was small, they represented a large segment of Clearwater’s population.
According to 2010 US Census data, Clearwater has a Hispanic or Latino population of more than 15,000, out of a total population of about 107,000. In 2000, there was slightly less than 10,000, though the total city’s total population remained about the same.
“If you drive down Drew Street, you notice all the Hispanic restaurants and stores,” Bauer said. “The need (for Hispanic services) is here and we have good people working here who know how to meet this need.”
“In this area, the Hispanic population had grown a huge amount, mainly from Mexico, but also from Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, and many others,” Quinlisk said. “(Today), we celebrate, so they know they’re welcome here.”
The Florida Department of Education has a recommended reading list for Hispanic Heritage Month, available here. Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15.