Magazine article State Legislatures

More Hispanics Call Rural America Home

Magazine article State Legislatures

More Hispanics Call Rural America Home

Article excerpt

Hispanic Americans--who number 37.4 million nationally--have become the fastest growing population in small towns and rural areas. They have doubled in population from 1.5 million in 1990 to more than 3.2 million in 2000, according to a new report by the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The greatest increase in numbers came in the rural Midwest and Southeast, where half of all rural Hispanics now live. Some states in these regions saw their rural Hispanic populations increase by more than 400 percent, which helped offset the many people leaving.

"It's grown by leaps and bounds," says Michigan Senator Valdemar Garcia. "Hispanics are not only coming for work, but some are opening businesses."

They are also changing these rural towns from educational needs to cultural offerings. "The school in Howell, Mich., gained 500 new students last year, mostly Hispanics. They've had to add an English as a second language program," Garcia says.

Nebraska Senator Ray Aguilar said schools in his hometown of Grand Island have seen a 35 percent to 40 percent growth in the number of Hispanic children. "All the growth in our small towns comes from Hispanics."

He's seen grocery stores stocking foods from Mexico and Central America and restaurants serving authentic Mexican meals. "We even have Spanish radio."

Many of these rural Hispanics are recent arrivals from Mexico and Central America, speaking little English and taking low wage jobs that few others will accept. But their children born here are American citizens, studying in local schools am becoming part of the community.

A majority of rural Hispanics still work in agriculture as migrant workers, but many are moving into more stable and profitable jobs. Meat packing plants hire many Hispanics, as do lumber mills, fish processing plants and construction companies. …

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