The Miami Herald
May 10, 2001

Census shows increase in Hispanics' diversity

Florida, U.S. see a Mexican boom


 The nation's Hispanics became notably more diverse as their numbers soared during the 1990s, a decade in which fast-growing Central and
 South American populations began eroding the traditional numerical dominance of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Cubans, new Census 2000 figures show.

 The sweep of the diversification trend extended deep into Florida, where robust growth among Cubans, long the state's main Hispanic group, was overshadowed by
 prodigious increases in the numbers of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics, all of which roughly doubled. The state is now home to one of about every 13
 Hispanics in the country.

 Non-Cuban Hispanics also made sharp inroads into the Cuban exile capital of Miami-Dade County.

 Cubans saw their share of the county's Hispanic population dip to about 50 percent from 59 percent in 1990, a Herald analysis of the Census numbers shows. The
 Census Bureau's report provided no other detailed national-origin figures for Miami-Dade or other Florida counties -- that data will come this summer.

 But population experts say the finding is largely the result of substantial influxes into Miami-Dade of Central American as well as Colombian and other South American
 immigrants during the '90s.

 Miami, in fact, was among the top five cities in the nation in 2000 for South and Central American populations, the Census Bureau found.

 At the same time, state population experts say, Mexicans drawn by agricultural jobs settled in farming areas surrounding Lake Okeechobee, while Puerto Rican
 newcomers became concentrated in the Orlando metropolitan area, where service and professional jobs in tourism abound.


 So substantial was the growth in Florida's Puerto Rican population that it is now second only to New York's in size, surpassing New Jersey's, which was long number
 two, said Thomas Boswell, an expert in Hispanic immigration at the University of Miami.

 ``It was just a matter of time until other Hispanics discovered Florida,'' Boswell said. ``The epicenter is clearly South Florida, where we think many of them are going, but a
 second epicenter I would guess to be that area around Orlando.''

 Census figures released earlier showed that the Hispanic proportion of Florida's total population of almost 16 million rose to nearly 17 percent, as Hispanics supplanted
 blacks as the state's largest minority group. In 1990, Hispanics represented 12 percent of Florida's population.

 The increase in Florida's Mexican population reflects another finding in the Census study: The nation's Hispanic population has become more far-flung, fanning out well
 beyond traditional concentrations in states such as California to such unaccustomed places as clusters of counties in Idaho and central Washington state.

 To a substantial degree, Hispanics do remain concentrated in several large states. Florida, California and two other big states -- Texas and New York -- accounted for
 two-thirds of all Hispanics nationwide.

 But that's down from 70 percent in 1990, reflecting the dispersion of Hispanics throughout the country.

 ``You have a couple things going on: People coming directly from Mexico to parts of the country where they didn't come to before, and Mexican Americans from California
 and the west going to some other states,'' said Faith Mitchell, an expert on race and ethnicity at the National Research Council in Washington, D.C.


 To be sure, Mexicans remain by far the largest single Hispanic group in the United States, representing nearly 59 percent of the total, the Census Bureau analysis shows.
 The 53 percent growth in the country's Mexican population between 1990 and 2000 accounted for more than half of the 13 million increase in the number of U.S. Hispanics
 during the decade, study author Betsy Guzmán concluded.

 The next two largest Hispanic groups, Puerto Ricans and Cubans, also experienced strong growth. The number of Puerto Ricans (not counting the 3.8 million on the
 island, a U.S. commonwealth), grew 25 percent, Cubans by 19 percent.

 But the population of other Hispanics -- chiefly driven by immigration, experts say -- grew much faster, in sum nearly doubling to 10 million.

 The numbers of Hispanics with origins in Central and South America rose markedly, in particular Salvadorans and Colombians, but also Guatemalans, Ecuadoreans and
 Peruvians, the Census Bureau found.

 As a result, the proportion of U.S. Hispanics with origins other than Mexican, Cuban or Puerto Rican grew from 23 percent of the total to more than 28 percent.

 The Census Bureau's report also found that Hispanics as a whole are younger than the U.S. population. The median age for Hispanics was just under 26, compared to the
 U.S. median of 35. And while less than 26 percent of the U.S. population is under 18, 35 percent of the Hispanic population is.

 The Census Bureau's questions on Hispanic national origins are mandated by long-established federal regulations. The data has been eagerly anticipated by social
 scientists who study U.S. immigration and ethnic relations, and by business people eager to fine-tune their sales pitch to the different national tastes that make up the
 booming Hispanic consumer market.

 The Census findings may also well give new impetus to a debate about the meaning of the Hispanic label, which now encompasses newly arrived immigrants and refugees
 from throughout the Americas, Mexican Americans whose families have been in the country for generations, and Puerto Ricans who are U.S. citizens by birth and can
 move freely between the island and the mainland.

 ``Most of these people who we lump together and call Hispanic don't think of themselves as such, but primarily as Puerto Rican or Colombian,'' said Boswell, the UM

 Paradoxically, however, the Census Bureau also reported a puzzling finding: More than 6 million of those who identified themselves as Hispanic, or 7.3 percent of the
 total, did not indicate a national origin. Guzmán said the bureau as yet has no explanation for that number, which she said is substantially higher than in 1990.

 Mitchell speculated that many U.S.-born children of immigrants, in particular those whose parents come from two different Latin American countries, may simply regard
 themselves as generically Hispanic Americans.

 ``It stands to reason that when you have a lot of people who are immigrants, they would identify with their national origin, but you would not expect their kids to,'' she said.

 To a surprising degree, however, the three main Hispanic nationalities remain tied to particular regions: Mexicans in the West and Southwest, Puerto Ricans in the
 Northeast, and -- more than any other group -- Cubans in Florida.

 Fully two-thirds of the nation's Cubans live in the state, and 52 percent -- or 651,000 -- are in Miami-Dade. That actually represents a small decrease in the concentration
 since 1990, when 54 percent of all U.S. Cubans lived in Miami-Dade.

 The dip is probably a consequence of Cuban Americans moving to Broward County, and college-educated children of exiles following out-of-town job opportunities, experts

 But the persistent concentration of Cubans suggests to some that community will probably retain its formidable economic and political clout even as other Hispanics
 make up an increasing share of the county population.

 ``The Cubans have been resistant to that dispersion pattern. This shows they're still pretty resistant,'' said Max Castro, a researcher at UM's North-South Center who also
 writes an opinion column for The Herald.

 ``They're much more invested in the community, and other groups don't have the same kind of economic position or power, with some exceptions.''

 Herald staff writer Jason Grotto contributed to this report.

                                    © 2001