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Top 10 Cities for Hispanics to Live In

By Gigi Anders and Eman Varoqua

July 22, 2004
Copyright © 2004 HISPANIC MAGAZINE. All rights reserved.


Where do we live? And why do we live there? For the 39.9 million Hispanics in the United States, home is where we feel at ease: A sense of comunidad, where we can raise families, have fun, feel heard–and afford it.

Whether your idea of the ideal place is big, bustling and cosmopolitan, or laid-back, intimate and earthy, you’re both right. This year’s list of top 10 cities satisfies all tastes. From the heat of Miami to the br-r-r of Chicago and down to the just-right 70 degrees of San Diego–we’ve acclimated and settled in to stay.

What matters most to Latinos: jobs, good schools, reasonable living costs, political power and culture. Lots of culture. So we weighed the census, latest real estate values, crime statistics, salaries and entertainment varieties; and relied on sources such as Forbes, Fortune, CNN’s Money, local newspapers,, and residents. It won’t come as a shock that most of our picks are in the Southwest, where the majority of us live. After all, half of us are Californians and Texans. That leaves the other half spread out across the country.

Some choices were tough calls. Would people prefer unlimited growth in the desert or unlimited cultural activities in the city? And then there were other places, strong contenders that tempted us. Over the past decade, for example, Atlanta’s Hispanic population has grown 995 percent to 269,000. It’s part of the new New South, and we’ll keep watching it. Dallas and Phoenix were both players, too. They have the makings of great Hispanic cities and are sure to make our lists in the future. But Dallas’ job growth couldn’t beat the competition’s and Phoenix’s political representation could use a lift.

Two other cities caught our attention, San Jose and Santa Fe. No longer a mere extension of San Francisco, distinctly Hispanic San Jose can stand on its own. It’s high-tech and it’s growing. But the typical house there is $475,000 and the cost of living is 68 percent above the national average. Beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico’s state capital in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, has a 52 percent Hispanic population, a promising job market and indigenous culture to spare. But all that comes at a price: $298,840 for the standard house–twice that of the regional rate.

In the end, we went with balance, the 10 most manageable cities with the highest quality of bilingual life.



The Lone Star State capital’s slogan is "Keep Austin Weird." Well, if by weird they mean groovy, then we tip our 10-gallon hats to them. This hip, comfortable city of 1.3 million is 26 percent Hispanic; has an average household income of $60,000; has maintained steady home value rates at $150,000; has a tiny 4 percent unemployment rate (down from 5.6 percent a year ago); headquarters Whole Foods, one of Fortune’s best companies for minorities (42 percent of its workforce, earning an average salary of $42,000); has the highly rated University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business, with 14 percent Hispanic business majors; and is ranked by Forbes as best American city for singles based on night life, culture, job growth, number of other singles, cost of living alone and coolness.

Specifically, Hispanic coolness includes the Mexic-Arte Museum, with revolving exhibits; the annual Cine Las Américas, an international festival of new Latin cinema; the Fonda San Miguel (a far cry from Tex-Mex–its legendary Sunday brunch features mole, nopalito salad, chicken in almond sauce and tres leches); Tesoros Trading Company, carrying everything from Day of the Dead reta- blos to portable Virgens de Guadalupe; and the Latino Comedy Project (LCP), a Tejano Spanglish-speaking touring sketch comedy troupe that "Will Stereotype for Food."

LCP member Omar Gallaga calls Austin an emerging place for Latinos–politically, educationally and culturally.

"Austin’s hospitable, fulfilling and beautiful," Gallaga says. "It’s easy to get out and see stuff without drowning in it. The hill country climate’s laid-back, liberal and lends itself to the arts. We Latinos succeed and stay here."


MIAMI: No. 2

"No matter what [Latin] country you came from," says Miami’s Cuban-born Mayor Manny Díaz, "when you come to Miami you feel at home. You’re comfortable, you feel you belong and are part of a larger community."

That’s for damn cierto. In this tropical, sexy metropolis of 2 million, where 63 percent are Hispanic and shopkeepers’ windows say "Se habla inglés," we rule! Literally. With the possible exception of San Antonio, Miami is the most politically organized and powerful Hispanic city in North America, especially in this presidential election year.

"We’re building the model city for this country," Díaz says. "So many of us are relatively new immigrants and perhaps came from countries where there were problems in the political process. So we come here and we want to be active and help make things better. People don’t just run for office and they don’t just register–they vote. We have one of the highest Hispanic turnout rates."

But it’s not all Cuban politics. The business exchange corridor to all of Latin America, Miami’s banking and import-export are among the strongest in the U.S., not to mention its tourism. Crime rates are down and home values are up–21 percent this year to $245,000. The only bad news is shrinking economic opportunity for the middle and lower classes. Still, you can’t beat the culture–annual film and theater festivals, and book fairs–or the arroz con pollo, frijoles negros and flan de coco.



San Diego’s 2.6 million people, 27 percent of whom are Hispanic, are spoiled silly. Seventy degrees year-round, 260 days of sunshine, 70 miles of golden beaches, an unusually low crime rate, a median household income of $55,000, lovely shops, galleries, theaters, and a historic link to nearby Mexico that imbues the city with sabor. The Museum of Contemporary Art, for example, is hosting a Chicano Now: American Expressions multimedia exhibit. The renowned El Agave Tequilería serves hundreds of tequilas and is among the finest Mexican restaurants in the nation. The annual Latino Film Festival is considered among the best of its kind in material, audience response and management.

"It’s better than Miami’s and L.A.’s," says Paul Espinosa, president of the board of San Diego’s Media Arts Center, which organizes the festival. "By 2036, Latinos will be a majority here and it’s a tremendous asset to be in an international border region."

Espinosa notes "an explosion" in the city’s last decade of Latino cultural activities, night life and increasing awareness by major institutions that the Hispanic community matters. To wit, wireless tech supplier Qualcomm, a Forbes-rated best company with a 44 percent minority workforce from some 100 countries who speak 50 different languages. San Diego’s also a mecca for manufacturing, higher education, health care and recreation, and historic mission-style homes.

What’s not to love? Those historic mission-style home prices. Since last year they soared a whopping 24 percent to $483,000.



"At its heart, San Antonio’s a community based on family," says Tejano trial lawyer Jaime Aldape. "It’s full of things to do and supportive of small business."

Known as one of the best cities for business expansion and relocation due to low tax rates, construction and living costs (utilities, groceries, health care and transportation are 10 percent below the national average), median home values at $113,000 (25 percent below the national average), and location for business and trade–San Antonio rocks. Indeed, bilingual professionals are in demand and earn superior salaries. That’s because this historic, fast-growing, ethnically rich city of 1.5 million is 56 percent Hispanic and it shows. This September, for example, the city offers the annual Guadalupe Festival and Street Parade, Fiestas Patrias, and Pachanga del Río, where 20 restaurants from San Antonio’s famed River Walk offer gorditas de picadillo, pollo con calabacita y elote, and leche quemada con nueces.



Ranked by Forbes as two of the best small cities to do business, these sun-drenched sister cities in Texas and New Mexico are overwhelmingly Hispanic. Of El Paso’s 564,000 residents, 75 percent are Latino–the highest percentage in the country. With El Paso’s proximity to Juárez, border trade flourishes and jobs are opening as many U.S. businesses move back from Mexico. El Paso’s also the cheapest city to live in on our list, 6 percent below the national average; $91,000 buys you a very nice house. And if you like baseball, you’ll love the Diablos.

Nestled in the Mesilla Valley, Las Cruces is experiencing a high-tech boom and its population of 165,000 is 59 percent Hispanic. Smaller, more aesthetic and only slightly more expensive than El Paso, Las Cruces houses average $129,000 and rentals $400 (plus, neighborhoods have strong policing programs). The scenery’s great; the literary, visual and performing arts are thriving, and New Mexico State University’ provides a real live symphony orchestra.

Sixth grade teacher Margaret Torres, who manages a youth group called Mariachi Espuelas de Plata, says when Hispanic newcomers arrive they go see her. "They feel comfortable moving here because there’s plenty to do culturally," Torres says. "You can continue teaching our culture to your kids in an environment that nurtures and welcomes it. And it’s not a huge metropolis where you don’t know one part of town from the other. We love it."



Though New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, is huge, it’s cozy. It’s the friendliness of the diverse people, says Stephanie Jaramillo Kozemchak. She’s the marketing director of the National Hispanic Cultural Center Foundation in Barelas, the oldest Hispanic neighborhood in the state’s biggest city, where nearly half of the 670,000 residents are Hispanic.

"I’m very biased," Jaramillo Kozemchak admits. "We have many Hispanics who tend to stick together here through old age. We would never think to move."

Why would anyone? The climate’s dry and sunny, with canyons, mesas and mountains. Nice houses are $134,700. There’s the main campus of the University of New Mexico (Albuquerque has more Ph.D.’s per capita than any other American city). The strong public school system has cross-cultural departments with ESL. PNM Resources, a utilities company, was just voted by Fortune as one of the nation’s best workplaces for minorities; its staff is 41 percent Hispanic. And we mustn’t forget los chiles. Los colorados y los verdes are a state delicacy and as frequently consumed as salt. (Don’t ever try to feed a New Mexican a Texican jalapeño.) At the annual Fiery Foods Show in March, 12,000 chile obsessives salivate and sweat to the classic peppers.

"It’s our favorite food," Jaramillo Kozemchak says. "We’d die without it."



While not technically a border city, Tucson nevertheless feels and is Mexican; 31 percent of its 800,000 residents are Hispanic. The southeast Sonora Desert community keeps close ties to its roots and its Old World customs, architecture and cuisine reflect it. Juan Ruiz, manager of Tucson’s popular restaurant Mi Nidito, remembers watching President Bill Clinton consume a colossally caloric and yummy traditional repast back in 1999. What did the then-leader of the free world eat? Why, a bean tostada, birria (spiced shredded beef) taco, chile relleno, chicken enchilada and beef tamale–whoa–now known as the "President’s Plate." Ruiz highly recommends just the birria. "Yeah, I can’t get enough of that," he says. The rest of us can’t get enough of Tucson’s average home price, $164,000; 10 local Spanish-language TV and radio stations, and newspapers; low (2 percent) unemployment rate; excellent high-tech business climate (with rising salaries that outpace rising prices as more companies move in); strong representation in city management; low student-to-teacher ratios; and, like many of our other top cities, bilingual police department.



Even in a sprawling megalopolis like this one, Christine Gaxiola can get her Old Mexico fix. She just visits northeast downtown’s Olvera Street, named after the first county judge of Los Angeles County, Agustín Olvera.

"There’s strolling mariachis, good food and shops," says Gaxiola, a Mexican-American real estate agent and mortgage broker. "It’s as if you’re in a little Mexican town."

Located on the west banks of the Los Angeles River, the historic pueblo known as Little Mexico is, not counting movie stars and their fancy cars, one of the city’s main attractions. (It also houses the oldest surviving residential building, Avila Adobe, from 1818. And in L.A. terms, that’s REALLY ancient.) Always forward-looking and trendsetting, vibrant and sunny Los Angeles has more than 9 million residents and 46 percent of them are Hispanic. Their community is established and influential; Latinos hold key positions on the city council, school board and in the arts. The annual Fiesta Broadway, for example, is the largest Hispanic festival in the nation. Some 500,000 people party through 36 downtown blocks, and the money raised helps revitalize the district.

What’s changing for L.A. Latinos is their increasing numbers. Families are moving out beyond city limits, where they can own their own homes in the suburbs hugging the city, like the popular Silver Lake district. That’s because, unless you’re rich, affording an average house in L.A. is tough; prices have jumped 25 percent since last year to a whopping $387,000. Plus the smog, the traffic, the Botox’d-blonde obsession! On the other hand, it’s L.A.: Clubs, restaurants, shops, museums, music–and celebs.



The Windy City’s 8 million residents–who are 25 percent Hispanic and live in houses averaging $228,000– deal with the cold as Melissa Hernández does: They own an entire wardrobe of coats.

"I never put my 10 million winter coats and jackets away!" says the Mexican-American project coordinator at the University of Illinois’ College of Medicine’s Hispanic Center of Excellence. The center serves to recruit Hispanic students and faculty. It, like the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, is on the city’s lower west side in Pilsen, a.k.a. La Villita, one of the largest Mexican enclaves in the nation. There are historic murals and family-owned businesses such as the beloved Nuevo Leon restaurant, specializing in caldo de res and chilaquiles. The north side’s predominantly Puerto Rican Humboldt Park is now giving way to all Latinos, hence these annual pride events: Independence of Ecuador, Festival de la Villita, Fiesta Boricua. And Chicago’s Salsation Theatre Company explores pan-Latinidad with shows like "Touched By An Anglo."

Speaking of which, Fortune magazine just named Hyatt, headquartered here, as a best place for minorities to work, with a 27 percent Hispanic workforce.

Chicago downsides? Limited growth potential and br-r-rutal weather.



Vegas is America’s wildest city, and not just for its strippers and craps. It’s quite literally a moving target in the dry sagebrush desert: 10,000 people move in monthly and only 4,000 leave monthly, creating record growth, opportunity and not a few challenges. The Silver State’s biggest city–population 400,000, Latinos comprising 22 percent of it–is spreading out past the notorious Strip, where many of us are settling. But let’s not leave the Strip altogether: Fortune magazine just rated the MGM Mirage as a best company; its 50 percent minority workforce is 25 percent Hispanic, the largest ethnicity by far. With one of the lowest tax rates in the U.S., no income tax (the gaming industry, Vegas’ major employer, picks up that tab), a steadily declining crime rate, business costs 10 percent below the national average, and a robust economy from nonstop construction and teaching booms to accommodate all the new arrivals–Vegas is busting out all over. Which is exactly its problem and why it remains last on our list. Average home prices have rocketed 31 percent in a year, to $200,000. City services like health care and utilities like water can barely keep up with demand, and traffic is becoming an L.A.-like problem. Nevertheless, University of Nevada anthropology professor Bernardo Arriaza likes Vegas just fine, gracias.

"It’s a mid-sized city and it’s easy to get around and to find things," he says. "And anything to do with building and selling is hot right now." Speaking of heat, Arriaza’s favorite restaurant is Toto’s, where the salsa, like the town, is always spicy. "A Mexican restaurant run by Argentineans," he notes. "That’s Vegas. It’s eclectic."

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