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Census Shows More US Residents Speaking Spanish At Home

MAY 14, 2002
Copyright © 2002
DOW JONES NEWSWIRES. All Rights Reserved.

WASHINGTON (AP)--In more American homes, the answer is "Si." Census 2000 data released so far for 13 states shows more U.S. residents are speaking Spanish at home, an inevitable trend given the surge in the nation's Hispanic population over the 1990s.

For some small communities in Indiana and Oregon -two states to receive the detailed long-form data on Tuesday -that means local governments struggling to break down language barriers to meet the needs of their newest residents.

In places like Santa Ana, Calif., about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles, business owners say knowing how to speak Spanish and English is a necessity. Already, many city workers are required to know more than one language.

Three-quarters of Santa Ana's population is Hispanic. Of residents age 5 and older, 70% spoke Spanish at home, up from 59% in 1990.

"It's a pretty unique city in that rarely do you have such a complete culture imprinted on it," said Steve Morris, manager of Austin Hardwoods in Santa Ana, which supplies lumber products to contractors. In recent years, Morris said he learned some Spanish and hired a bilingual salesperson to expand his clientele.

Nationally, the Hispanic population rose 58% during the decade to 35.3 million. Latinos now rival blacks as the nation's largest minority group.

While immigrant gateways like California have long had the infrastructure to deal with non-English-speaking immigrants, states like Indiana attracted Hispanics in waves not seen before the 1990s, said demographer William Frey of the Santa Monica, Calif.-based think-tank, the Milken Institute.

Those states in the Midwest and South attracted "less-skilled migrants from Latin America or rest of the United States who will pose new challenges for English-only social and government services," Frey said.

The latest figures come from detailed 2000 census long form data being released by the Census Bureau over the next month. Ten states received figures on Tuesday.

All states are scheduled to receive numbers by early June.

Some highlights from Tuesday's release:

--In Indiana, the percentage of residents age 5 and older speaking Spanish at home increased from 2% in 1990 to 3% in 2000. Translated into hard numbers, the number of Spanish-speaking residents more than doubled to 185,000.

During the same period, the percentage of foreign-born residents from Latin America surged from 18% to about 42 percent.

--In California, 12.4 million residents said they spoke a language other than English at home. Of that total, 65% spoke Spanish.

--In Oregon, a smaller percentage of those speaking Spanish at home say they can also speak English "very well" -46% in 2000, down from 56% a decade earlier.

Daniel Juarez runs Immigration Project, a Granite City, Ill.-based operation which helps new immigrants in rural southern Illinois gain citizenship. Many of his clients came to work in the area plant and tree nurseries; others are migrant farm workers.

When it comes to services, Hispanics are still being neglected, said Juarez, who is an immigrant from Peru. "They struggle for services because (the population) is still growing," he said.

The figures may also stir more debate on the best way for U.S. schools to educate students with little or no knowledge of English.

Unlike California and New York, some school districts in states like Wisconsin and Mississippi "don't really have a lot of experience doing this, right or wrong," said Raul Gonzalez, a policy analyst with the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group.

The long-form data was collected from one of every six households, and covered other topics like education and poverty. Census 2000 figures released last year came from questions asked of all households.

Other states to get data Tuesday were Illinois, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, Hawaii and Montana. Data for Nevada, Mississippi and Washington were released last week.

A rise in the number of Spanish-language newspapers in America is representative of the language's increased prevalence. Luis Espinoza, of Jackson, Miss., started La Noticia last year, a weekly, 12-page tabloid distributed to community centers and Hispanic restaurants and grocery stores.

"I know soon I will have to fill more pages with news," Espinoza said.

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