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GeographicaWho Knew?

Latinos Rise Nationwide
America's new majority minority

It's official. Latinos have overtaken African Americans as the largest minority in the U.S., a milestone the Census Bureau had seen coming but didn't expect so soon. Numbering 38.8 million, Latinos now make up 13 percent of the nation's demographic total. With high birthrates and immigration—legal and illegal—swelling their ranks, Latinos have more than doubled their presence in the U.S. in the past two decades and added 3.5 million to their count just since the 2000 census. In areas where they are most populous—the West and Southwest and the cities of New York, Miami, and Chicago—they've already influenced local culture. Now, as they follow jobs and lifestyles into the American heartland, they're changing the fabric of the entire country.

A case in point: Siler City, North Carolina, close to the Raleigh-Durham hub that has seen a phenomenal 1,180 percent rise in its Latino population since 1980. At Siler City's new adobe-style church, St. Julia's, where flowers share garden space with jalapeño peppers, Friar Michael Lorentsen ministers to a thousand parishioners, most Spanish speaking. A dozen years ago a 125-seat Catholic church was big enough for this small southern town, whose population was then about 70 percent white, 30 percent black. Today 40 percent are Latinos, lured here by jobs, especially in poultry processing.

"Siler City would be a dry place in the middle of a mud puddle if it weren't for them," says Bob Hall. His produce store serves a mostly Latino clientele, many of whom are living in and revitalizing a neighborhood of former textile factories. "We came here for our children, to give them a better life, a better future," says a customer originally from Mexico. "There weren't the same opportunities for them back home, or work for me." Most Siler City Latinos earn low wages, and many hold two jobs, but they're making their version of the American dream come true as they buy cars, homes, and other middle-class comforts.

Similar stories are playing out across the country, adding new tastes, sounds, and traditions to mainstream America. A Kalamazoo, Michigan, bakery specializes in Mexican pastries. A Spanish-language radio station broadcasts from Grand Island, Nebraska. Anchorage, Alaska, celebrates Mexico's Cinco de Mayo holiday. Big business is paying attention too. Companies like Häagen-Dazs and Kmart are creating products for Latino customers—and profiting from the products' crossover appeal to the general consumer.

Store displays, websites, and packaging increasingly appear in both Spanish and English. Ten years ago the Eder Flag Manufacturing Company decided to offer the Stars and Stripes in a bilingual wrapper. The results have been overwhelmingly positive. "Latinos want to fly the flag too," says marketing director Jim Kowalewski. "Even the ones who can't yet speak English are proud of America." 
—A. R. Williams

Web Links

U.S. Census Bureau 2002 Population Estimates
Access the most recent population estimates, which include numerous statistics on national demographics. You can also access data for state, county, and even city or town levels by placing your cursor on the Estimates Data column; a list of options will appear.

National Council of La Raza
Learn more about some of the more pressing social issues affecting our nation's Latino population through this organization's website.

Free Best of Wildlife

El Nasser, Haya. "39 million make Hispanics largest U.S. minority group," USA Today, June 19, 2003. Available online at See graphics at

Pérez, Sonia M., and others. Beyond the Census: Hispanics and an American Agenda. National Council of La Raza, August 2001. Available online in two parts at and

Suro, Roberto, and Audrey Singer. "Latino Growth in Metropolitan America: Changing Patterns, New Locations," The Brookings Institution's Center on Urban & Metropolitan Policy and the Pew Hispanic Center, July 2002. Available online at


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