May 17, 2002

Census: More in US Speaking Spanish

By Genaro C. Armas
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Luis Espinoza started a Spanish-language newspaper in Jackson, Miss. Steve Morris learned some Spanish and hired a bilingual salesperson at his lumber products store in Santa Ana, Calif.

With the explosive growth of the Hispanic population over the 1990s came an increase in the number of U.S. residents speaking Spanish at home, according to 2000 census figures released so far for 13 states.

But the effects of that trend go far beyond what language is spoken in conversation around the family dinner table.

In places like Santa Ana in California - one of 10 states to receive more detailed data Tuesday - that means many city workers being required to know two languages, and businesses making changes to attract new clients.

Business from Hispanic customers spreads more by word-of-mouth than advertising, said Morris, manager at Austin Hardwoods in Santa Ana.

“Latino contractors mainly have Latino customers, but as they grow and become more successful, their customers will come from all over the map,” Morris said. Three-quarters of Santa Ana’s population is Hispanic.

Meanwhile, some communities in the Midwest and South that only started attracting large waves of Hispanic immigrants in the 1990s are struggling to break down language barriers to meet the needs of their newest residents, said William Frey, a demographer at the Santa Monica, Calif.-based think-tank, the Milken Institute.

“I know soon I will have to fill my pages with more news,” said Espinoza, of Jackson, Miss. He is the publisher and sole employee of the 12-page tabloid he started last year to bridge the communications gap with the area’s Latinos.

Nationally, the Hispanic population rose 58 percent during the decade to 35.3 million, with Latinos now rival blacks as the nation’s largest minority group.

The latest figures come from detailed 2000 census “long form” data being released by the Census Bureau over the next month. Ten states received figures on Tuesday.

All states are scheduled to receive numbers by early June.

Some highlights from Tuesday’s release:

In Indiana, the percentage of residents age 5 and older speaking Spanish at home increased from 2 percent in 1990 to 3 percent in 2000. Translated into hard numbers, the number of Spanish-speaking residents more than doubled to 185,000.

During the same period, the percentage of foreign-born residents from Latin America surged from 18 percent to about 42 percent.

In California, 12.4 million residents said they spoke a language other than English at home. Of that total, 65 percent spoke Spanish.

In Oregon, a smaller percentage of those speaking Spanish at home say they can also speak English “very well” - 46 percent in 2000, down from 56 percent a decade earlier.

Daniel Juarez runs Immigration Project, a Granite City, Ill.-based operation which helps new immigrants in southern Illinois gain citizenship. Many of his clients came to work in the area plant and tree nurseries; others are migrant farm workers.

Over 1.2 million Illinois residents spoke Spanish at home, though nearly half of them lived in Chicago.

When it comes to services, Hispanics in the rural area he serves are still being neglected, said Juarez, an immigrant from Peru. “They struggle for services because (the population) is still growing,” he said.

The figures may also stir more debate on the best way for U.S. schools to educate students with little or no knowledge of English.

Some school districts in states like Wisconsin and Mississippi “don’t really have a lot of experience doing this, right or wrong,” said Raul Gonzalez, a policy analyst with the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group.

The long-form data was collected from one of every six households, and covered other topics like education and poverty. Census 2000 figures released last year came from questions asked of all households.

Frank Moreno runs a supermarket in Calexico, Calif. that sits a block from the U.S.-Mexico border crossing. About nine of 10 Calexico residents speak Spanish at home.

Moreno was born in Calexico but his family originally came from Mexico. “Everybody is bilingual here,” he said. “It’s almost a necessity.”

Reprinted from Center for Immigration Studies, Washington, DC.

Return to the Frontpage