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South Florida Sun-Sentinel

South Florida Reflects Cultural Change

Staff Writer Jennifer Peltz and Researcher John Maines contributed to this report.

March 6, 2001
Copyright © 2001 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

It's not just the hair-cutting techniques she is learning that impress Magglebe Garcia about the Margate School of Beauty.

It's the fact so many of her fellow students and teachers speak Spanish that makes her feel like she's in her native Venezuela.

"When I first came to the school, I couldn't believe there were so many Spanish people here," said Garcia, 21, who lives in Coral Springs and works as an assistant at a Boca Raton hair salon while studying for her beautician's license. "It's like being with family."

What's happening at the Margate school, where courses are taught in English and Spanish, reflects the growth nationwide in the number of Hispanics, according to a March 2000 population survey released today by the U. S. Census Bureau.

The survey estimates the country's Latino population at 32.8 million, or 12 percent of the total U.S. population. It also found:

A majority of Hispanics, 66.1 percent, are of Mexican origin; 14.5 percent are from Central and South America; 9 percent are from Puerto Rico; 4 percent are Cuban and 6.4 percent are of other Hispanic heritage.

More than a third, or 12.8 million people, are foreign born. Of those, 43 percent entered this country in the 1990s, while 27 percent came before 1980. One in four are naturalized citizens.

More than two in five Hispanics have not graduated high school, and more than a quarter have less than a ninth-grade education. Whites are almost three times as likely to have a college degree.

Only 14 percent of Hispanics, compared to 33 percent of whites, are in management or professional jobs.

The report does not include state or local figures. Those numbers are due this month as part of Census 2000, which will detail race, Hispanic origin and age data down to the block level for the entire country. That information is used to draw new congressional and legislative districts and to dole out nearly $200 billion in federal grants.

The deluge of numbers won't end in March.

This summer, more census data will come out on everything from home ownership to population figures by gender and age. Over the next two years, more numbers will trickle out on employment, housing, education, income, marital status and commuting.

The figures due this month are likely to confirm what South Floridians see every day: an increasingly diverse region.

In Miami-Dade County, business leaders are trying to turn the area into the "Hong Kong" of trade and investment for Latin America and the Caribbean, said Mario Sacasa, a vice president at the Beacon Council, the county's economic development agency.

In Palm Beach County, informational brochures are now printed in Spanish, as well as English and Creole. The public school system now has three full-time Spanish translators.

And in Margate, the 300-student beauty school has increasingly become an ethnic melting pot, said owner Stan Barnett.

Mary Riley, 74, a Coral Springs resident, has been getting her hair cut and permed at the school for at least 15 years. Though she doesn't speak a word of Spanish, Riley said it hasn't been a problem. "If they don't understand me, they call someone over who does. It seems like three-quarters of them speak in a foreign language."

Having students of different backgrounds has its advantages.

Often, they bring homemade foods from their native countries to the school at 2515 N. State Road 7. Or they find favorite delicacies downstairs at Las Palmas Deli-Mart, which began selling and stocking all sorts of international foods about six months ago when new owners bought the business. They can get Cuban coffee and a Cuban sandwich, Jamaican patties and pasteles de Puerto Rico.

"We also added Latin products on the shelves because customers asked for them," said Claudia Lemus, whose Guatemalan parents own the store.

Even longtime school employees like Linda Schierbaum, the educational director who has been there since it opened more than two decades ago, have learned to adapt to the new cultures streaming through the doors every day.

Said Schierbaum with a laugh: "Just when I thought I was starting to learn more Spanish, I told the Haitian girls last week they get to teach me Creole."

To view the survey results, go to the U.S. Census Bureau's Web site at

Robin Benedick can be reached at or 954- 385-7914.

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