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The Boston Globe

Area Latinos Seeing Power In Numbers

by Johnny Diaz, Globe Staff

February 6, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Boston Globe. All rights reserved. 

Ask Nancy Morse at the Metrowest Latin American Center about the latest Census figures - that Hispanics are now the nation's major minority - and she'll tell you it's news she plans to spread through cyberspace, in English, en espanol, or em portugues.

Staffers at the 25-year-old Framingham center are working to launch a trilingual Internet site to reach out to non-English- speaking residents and to meet the demands of the area's changing demographics.

The agency is among a cadre of local groups planning to publish the recent Census figures on the Internet or in their Spanish- language community guides to paint a picture of who lives here, where they are from, and what issues they are facing.

"Part of our mission is to bridge the gap between the English speakers and our non-English-speaking residents," said Morse, who oversees 18 full-time staffers at the Metrowest Latin American Center on Hollis Street in Framingham. The website would highlight the agency's services, which include job training, citizenship and immigration assistance, translation, and day care, as well as alert residents to relevant issues and news, such as the July 2001 Census figures released two weeks ago.

"The news brings a new awareness of what the demographics are and who lives in our community," Morse said.

The recent data found the Hispanic population ballooned nationally to 37 million in July 2001, up nearly 5 percent from April 2000, and surpassed blacks as the largest minority.

The African-American population increased 2 percent during the same period, to 36.1 million.

In Massachusetts, the number of Hispanics jumped 50 percent from 1990 to 2000, to 482,729, bringing them to 7 percent of the population, according to the 2000 Census report.

Those numbers mirror a dramatic population growth in the communities west of Boston.

In Waltham, 5,000 residents identified themselves as Hispanic/ Latino, or about 8.5 percent of the city's population, according to the Census. Those figures represent about 55 percent more than the number of Latinos who called Waltham home in 1990. The city's Hispanic population emigrated largely from Guatemala, Mexico, and El Salvador.

In Framingham, Hispanics make up 11 percent of the town's population, while blacks represent 4.5 percent of residents. Framingham's Hispanic population hails largely from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Puerto Rico.

It's that kind of news that Fatinha Kerr of Marlborough Community Services plans to add to her trilingual website,, which was launched last year in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

"It's really important to have that kind of information out there so people know," said Kerr, executive director of the social services agency, which offers translation, job-search assistance, and food donations to minorities and immigrants in the Marlborough area. The website features a row of 12 flags that represent the various nationalities the agency serves, from Mexico and Guatemala to Brazil and El Salvador.

"People need to know who is here and why and what nationalities are represented," Kerr added. " It makes them feel more at home."

Jose Garcia, who publishes Directorio Latino, a regional Spanish- language community guide, will include an article called "Who are the Hispanics in Massachusetts?" in the March issue. The free guide is mailed to 25,000 Hispanic households in Central and Western Massachusetts

and another 50,000 in Greater Boston, Garcia said. The article deals with the diversity of the Hispanic market in Massachusetts, from the average salary of a Hispanic family to the total number of Hispanics statewide.

"For the Latino community, it is important to be recognized as a valuable market so that companies will develop products to accommodate their needs," said Garcia, who lives and works in Northborough. "We are a significant market niche, and the community needs to know that."

The recent Census news validates a reality local advocates said they see every day.

"You hear more Spanish in church, the Little Leagues, and restaurants," said Carlos Cunningham, a 28-year-old Mexican- American and lifelong Framingham resident who works locally with the homeless. Cunningham has seen the region's transformation firsthand since he was a child and hopes that the figures may help local Hispanics realize there is power in numbers.

"That is a positive note for people coming in here," he said. "It is going to open up more eyes in the more rural Metrowest area. "With the publicity and more people knowing about this, it will empower Latinos to read about it and inspire them to participate more" in the political process.

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