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Hispanic Dreams Lead To Florida
Maria T. Padilla
May 10, 2001
Glad to be here. (PHOTO: ANGELA PETERSON/ORLANDO SENTINEL)
More Puerto Ricans now live in Florida than in the island capital of San Juan, and about the same number of Mexicans are in the United States as in Mexico City, new census numbers released today show.
Continuing the trend of large jumps in the number of Hispanics, the census figures indicate equally stunning increases in individual groups and diversification among Hispanics within states.
In Florida, the Mexican population more than doubled to 363,925; Puerto Ricans nearly did the same, reaching 482,027; and the Cuban population was up by one-quarter to 833,120.
Central and South American Hispanics were grouped together, and their numbers in Florida increased 104. percent.
Many Hispanics didn't expect such results from the 2000 census.
"It's surprising," said Oscar Pineda, who hosts a Mexican radio program called Onda Mexicana.
For Myrna Roche of Orlando the figures weren't surprising at all.
"For me, Florida is like a small Puerto Rico," she said. On Roche's southeast Orlando neighborhood, at least three of four Hispanic neighbors are Puerto Rican, she said.
In fact, Florida edged out New Jersey as the state with the second-highest concentration of Puerto Ricans, the only state outside of the Northeast to make that list.
There are now 3.4. million Puerto Ricans in the 50 states -- just 400,000 short of the total island population.
Puerto Ricans make up the largest Hispanic group in Central Florida, migrating here from the North and Midwest as well as Puerto Rico in search of jobs, higher quality of life and lower-cost housing.
"I think the climate is good for Spanish people. It's very comfortable, Central Florida is fairly safe, and it's a good place to live," said Dennis Lopez, 36, who moved to Orlando from New York in 1980.
New York, which historically has had the highest number of Puerto Ricans, saw that population decline by 3.3. percent, or 36,300 Puerto Ricans. Many came to Florida.
Cubans remain the state's largest Hispanic group. In addition, Cubans are the only Hispanics that are found mostly in one place.
Of the nation's 1.2. million Cubans, more than two-thirds live in Florida. Of those, the majority are in Miami-Dade County.
But the Cuban population isn't growing as fast as other groups.
Cubans are older
Cubans generally are older than other Hispanics -- their median age is 41 -- and they tend to have fewer children. Although thousands of Cubans cross the Florida Strait each year, there hasn't been a great influx since the Mariel boatlift of the early 1980s.
"What you have is a kind of slowdown," said Dario Moreno, professor of political science at Florida International University in Miami.
That slowdown has allowed other Hispanic groups to start catching up. Now, Cubans comprise 31. percent of all Hispanics in the state; Puerto Ricans, 18. percent; and Mexicans, 14. percent -- figures that surprised even demographers.
"The thing that I found most interesting was not just the growth in the number of Hispanics, but the growth in the individual groups," said Betsy Guzman, census statistician. Immigration and birth rates account for the higher Hispanic population. Growth -- in Florida and across the country -- is likely to continue because Hispanics also are younger than the rest of the population.
The median age for Hispanics in the United States is 26, versus 35 for non-Hispanics. Mexicans are the youngest, with a median age of 24, meaning half that population is older and half is younger.
Mexicans also fueled more than half of the nationwide jump in Hispanics, and they make up 58. percent of the total.
Although most Mexicans live in the West and Southwest, the group has fanned out to every state -- from a high of 8.5. million in California to a low of 2,756 in Maine.
Many Mexicans have migrated from the West following job opportunities to the poultry plants of Arkansas and the textile mills of North Carolina.
In Florida, Mexicans have worked seasonal agricultural jobs in the fern, citrus and sugar industries. In recent years, Orlando's strong construction economy has drawn workers.
"You don't see as many farmworkers as before," said Pineda, who helped establish a Mexican Chamber of Commerce in Central Florida last year.
All together, there are 20.6. million Mexicans in the United States -- nearly equal the population of Mexico City, the Mexican capital. The figure doesn't reflect the illegal-immigrant population, of which Mexicans make up a chunk.
Census does good job'
In general, the Census Bureau is credited with doing a better job of counting illegal immigrants in the 2000 census than in 1990.
During the 1990s, 11. million people entered the country illegally, according to the census, or double previous estimates.
"I think the census did a good job, but the number [of Mexicans] may be double in Florida" from what the census counted, said Martin Torres, head of the Mexican Consulate in Orlando. Last year, the office issued a record 15,000 identification cards to Mexican nationals, Torres said.
But the proportion of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Cubans in the nation --the three main Hispanic groups -- shrank during the past decade as the number of other Hispanics grew.
Other Hispanics total 1. million in Florida and 10. million in the United States.
Nationwide, this group includes nearly 765,000 Dominicans; 655,000 Salvadorans; 471,000 Colombians; 373,000 Guatemalans; 261,000 Ecuadorians; 233,000 Peruvians; and 218,000 Hondurans.
Another 6. million, however, didn't indicate their national origin. That means that individual Hispanic groups may be significantly larger than stated.
City streets and neighborhoods reveal the growing presence of Hispanics. More people are heard conversing in Spanish, more Hispanic supermarkets and restaurants are opening up, and schools are filling up with Hispanic students.
"Being surrounded by so many Puerto Ricans makes you feel at home," Roche said.