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Mercury News

Latinos Dispersed, Study Says

Homogenous Neighborhoods Atypical

By Jessie Mangaliman

28 December 2004
Copyright © 2004
Mercury News. All rights reserved.

A majority of Latinos in the United States live in neighborhoods where they are not the majority, contrary to a common notion that they are ``densely packed in highly homogenous, Spanish-language communities dominated by immigrant cultures,'' according to a national study released Monday.

Using 2000 Census data, the Pew Hispanic Center, a non-profit research group based in Washington, D.C., analyzed the makeup of Census-defined neighborhoods across the country and found that 57 percent, or 20 million, of Latinos live in neighborhoods where they constitute less than half the population.

Still, the report acknowledges that many Latinos live in neighborhoods where they make up the majority. And, in fact, that percentage actually has increased from 39 percent in 1990 to 43 percent in 2000.

``There's a common impression that Latinos, especially immigrants, have bunched up in neighborhoods where Spanish is spoken,'' said Roberto Suro, the co-author of the study and director of the Pew Hispanic Center.

``What this shows us is a much more subtle portrait, that Latinos are being exposed to non-Hispanic culture and ways,'' he said.

That portrait, Suro said, challenges conventional American ideas about assimilation.

``This scattering phenomenon would suggest that there is a great deal of assimilation taking place,'' Suro said.

Manuel Pastor, professor of Latin American and Latino studies at University of California-Santa Cruz, said the Pew study makes a good challenge to the public notion that ``the Latino experience is purely a barrio experience.''

``This is really the first step in another analysis of the Latino experience,'' Pastor said.

The report's findings not only could help dispel misconceptions about Latinos, they also have implications for policy makers, Suro said.

``It's important to know how this population is developing and where it's calling home,'' he said. ``Everybody assumes that the storefronts where the signs are in Spanish is the neighborhood where everybody lives.''

On the question of service delivery, for example, that common assumption could result in missing many who live in neighborhoods that are not predominantly Latino, Suro said.

``Clearly the challenge of targeting this population, whether you're trying to sell them cars or get them vaccinations, is fairly complex because of this process of dispersal,'' Suro said.

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