The Growing Latino Presence in America
The 2020 U.S. Census report, due out this summer, is expected to show increases in the Latino population, which currently numbers 60 million. Significant increases are expected among the youth group under the age of 18, as well as increases among those in the age group between 20 and 35. This is a reflection of the size of Latino families, the increased arrival of Latino migrants from Central America, and the growing migration of Puerto Rican citizens in recent years.
In 2020 when I began publishing my newsletter, Latinos in America, I knew that Latinos lived in every U.S. state and that their numbers nationally exceeded that of any other ethnic group. I have spent the majority of my life studying Latino issues, and with an interest in both urban and rural population centers experiencing dynamic growth, I knew there would be sufficient stories for me to write. In this account, I concentrate on Latino demographic changes in Los Angeles and San Antonio, two cities with which I am most familiar.
I have lived in five cities in Texas and California: San Antonio, where I was born and now make my home; Austin, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Palo Alto. With the exception of Austin and Palo Alto, these cities have a significant Latino population. While in this essay I will focus on Los Angeles and San Antonio, I will conclude with comments on the demographic features of several other large Latino communities.
Nearly six million Latinos live in the metropolitan area of Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim according to the Pew Research Center. With a total of 5,979,000 Latinos, this Southern California area has the largest concentration of Latinos in the nation. In this region, Mexicans make up 78.5 percent of the population, followed by Salvadorans at 7.4 percent and Guatemalans at 4.6 percent.
My family and I resided in Southern California until 1980, after moving there in 1967. Notable features of that region are the dynamic and changing ethnic concentrations of Latinos, African Americans, and Asians. In the 1960s, Watts-Compton, for example, was largely African American. That began to change over the decades of the 1980s and 1990s, and today Latinos are nearly 70 percent of the population in these neighborhoods.
According to the Los Angeles Times, however, Blacks still have the majority of political power. A decade ago, the Los Angeles Times reported: “Though the city is now majority Latino, all four city council members and the mayor are African American. Since 2000, half a dozen Latino candidates have run for office and lost.” Today, Compton has one Latino city councilman and has never elected a Latino mayor. Political empowerment for Latinos will require greater voter registration efforts, grassroot organizing, and mentoring of young Latino leaders.
Similar Latino population growth has also occurred in Texas. Three Texas cities are now among the top ten metropolitan regions of the nation with the highest concentration of Latinos: Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. For many decades going back to the early 1900s, San Antonio was the largest Latino community in Texas.
That changed several decades ago when Houston surpassed San Antonio in Latino population growth. Latinos in the Houston metropolitan area, which includes the Woodlands and Sugar Land, account for 2,335,000 residents, or 36.4 percent of the population of that area. The Latino population in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metropolitan area has now surpassed San Antonio.
Despite its Latino cultural heritage, San Antonio is no longer in the top 100 Texas cities with the highest concentration of Latinos. Indeed, there are now 45 Texas cities with greater than 90 percent Latino concentration, including the cities of Brownsville and Laredo. In San Antonio, with a total population of 1,581,730, sixty-three percent of those residents or 1,259,000, identify as Latinos. The Mexican-origin population of San Antonio accounts for 89.8 percent of the Latino population, while Puerto Ricans are estimated at 2.4 percent and Salvadorans at 1.0 percent.
Scholars who study Latinos are most surprised at the rapid growth of the Latino population in the Dallas metro area. In 2018 Dallas Latinos accounted for 1,943,000 of this area’s residents. In the San Antonio metro region, which includes several surrounding counties, Latinos account for 55.7 percent of the population. It should be noted that while city officials in San Antonio cite the city’s percentage of Latinos at 63 percent, the metro area, which includes New Braunfels, lowers the Latino percentage for the larger region to 55.7 percent.
These two states, Texas and California, account for slightly less than half of the Latino population of the total United States. An estimated 11.5 million Latinos live in Texas, while California accounts for 15.5 million Latinos. The Latino population on the East Coast is also worth mentioning. Second among the nation’s five largest Latino concentrations is the New York-Newark-New Jersey metropolitan area with a total of 4,780,000 Latino residents. In this East Coast region, Puerto Ricans represent the largest portion of Latinos at 26.7 percent of the population followed by Dominicans at 21.3 percent and Mexicans at 13.6 percent. The 2020 U.S. Census may show an increase in the Puerto Rican community given the sharp increase in migration of families from the Island to the U.S. mainland in the aftermath of several devastating hurricanes.
Among the trends to watch in the next decade with regards to Latinos is the growing California exodus of middle class working families due to the high cost of housing and burdensome state income taxes. How does this exodus impact Latino families? Where are these Californians going? Migration from Mexico and Central America is also shifting, with more Central Americans arriving at the U.S. border than Mexicans. Traditional migration patterns are changing and may be further altered by pending legislative policy in Washington regarding asylum for refugees and work related visas for farm laborers. There is much to anticipate in the 2020 U.S. Census reports, and the debates about the impact of changing demographics should be interesting.
Copyright 2021 by Dr. Ricardo Romo. Crowd photo copyright by Barrio Dog Productions Inc. Puerto Rican parade in public domain. All other photos copyright by Ricardo Romo.