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Census: Mecklenburg’s Hispanic population continues to surge

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/08/10/48/pXdIF.Em.138.jpeg|316
    TODD SUMLIN - tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com
    John and Dina Rojas, natives of Ecuador, and their son, Ian, have lived in several countries but decided to make their permanent home in Charlotte. They were pleasantly surprised by the number of Latinos in the area.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/08/10/48/i7THQ.Em.138.jpeg|218
    TODD SUMLIN - tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

Mecklenburg County’s Hispanic population continues to surge, new data show, far outpacing the growth rate for white and black residents between 2010 and last year.

Mecklenburg’s Hispanic population grew by nearly 11 percent – twice as fast as its white population and leading the way for an increasingly diverse Charlotte region.

Union, Cabarrus and Iredell counties all had growth rates of their Hispanic populations between 8 and 10 percent during that time, according to an Observer analysis of U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

“It affirms the fact that we now have a Hispanic immigrant community that has settled in Charlotte,” said Owen Furuseth, a UNC Charlotte geography professor who has studied the area’s Hispanic population.

From 2010 to 2013, Mecklenburg’s Hispanic population increased 10.9 percent to nearly 125,000 residents. Its white population, meanwhile, increased 5.4 percent to about 591,000. The county has nearly 1 million residents.

The Latino growth also spills over state lines, where York County, S.C., saw its Hispanic population increase by 15 percent – the largest increase in the region for counties with 10,000 or more Latinos.

The Census Bureau data do not distinguish whether the growth is from immigrants or from U.S.-born Hispanic residents moving into Mecklenburg County.

Armando Bellmas, communications director for Charlotte’s Latin American Coalition, said word-of-mouth, availability of jobs and overall affordability make the area attractive to people from all kinds of backgrounds.

“No matter where you are from, this is a great place to live,” Bellmas said.

Mecklenburg’s Hispanic residents often settle in certain pockets within the county. One of the largest is on Charlotte’s eastside near Central Avenue and Albemarle Road.

The area is home to one of the city’s most stable Hispanic communities. There, immigrant-owned businesses line the streets, and area neighborhoods are seeing a growing number of immigrants moving out of apartments and into single-family homes.

Increasingly, families are settling on the eastside, Furuseth said.

“The people who are arriving now have families,” he said. “They’re business people, college-educated – not the people who arrived early on, the blue-collar workers. It’s a maturing of the immigration stream.”

‘Everything is possible’

Furuseth could be talking about people like Dina and John Rojas.

The couple in their 50s are natives of Ecuador. Over the years, they relocated to numerous countries because of John’s finance job with Dole Food. Stops included France, South Africa and the Philippines.

From about 2008 to 2010, they lived in south Charlotte before Dole sent them to Chile. But after John’s contract with Dole ended in December, they decided to return to Charlotte and make a permanent home here.

The couple liked the city, especially the greenways, the churches and the school system for their youngest son. They were pleasantly surprised by the number of Latinos in the area.

And they would be closer to their other children, a son who lives in Cherokee and a daughter in Oakland, Calif.

The couple also recently launched a pair of businesses: John’s will provide promotional items for companies while Dina is planning to import Italian espresso vending machines to place in local businesses.

John said he is eager to go out on his own after so many years of working for a corporation, and he appreciates all of the business opportunities the area offers.

Dina said the couple feels safe and happy in Charlotte. She takes pictures everywhere she goes.

“Charlotte is a beautiful place. … I feel so welcome,” she said. “Everything is possible.”

Immigration task force

To better welcome immigrants, Charlotte’s City Council created an Immigration Integration Task Force to recommend more immigrant-friendly policies that encourage people to move here, start businesses and be more involved in community life.

“The (census) numbers reflect the changing face of Charlotte and the region,” and underscore the need for the task force’s work, said the group’s co-chair, Emily Zimmern.

The Charlotte area already has a welcoming environment for businesses, said Astrid Chirinos, president of the Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Charlotte.

And that also helps Latinos “who are by nature very entrepreneurial. This is a demographic that will work and produce.”

Rafael Prieto, editor of a Spanish language paper in Charlotte called Qué Pasa Mi Gente, expects the growth in the Latino population will continue. “Charlotte is, like they say, a place to raise a family,” said Prieto, a native of Colombia. “You don’t have the gridlock of Miami or the gridlock of New York.”

More census highlights

Despite the Hispanic surge, the black population in Mecklenburg still comprises the largest minority group, with 318,000 residents. The group grew by 9 percent since 2010.

Black residents account for 32 percent of Mecklenburg’s population, while Hispanics are at 13 percent of the population. Whites comprise 60 percent of the population. Asians, Pacific Islanders and multirace residents make up the rest. (The census classifies Hispanics as an origin rather than a race, so the percentages add up to more than 100.)

Other highlights from the census report:

• Mecklenburg’s 10.9 percent Hispanic growth rate ranked 24th of North Carolina’s 100 counties from 2010-13.

• Its 13 percent Hispanic population ranked the ninth highest percentage in the state.

• Hertford County, in northeast North Carolina, ranked No. 1 with a 37 percent increase. Wake’s Hispanic population grew by 9 percent, the same rate as Cabarrus County.

• North Carolina’s Hispanic growth rate of 8.4 percent ranked 30th nationwide. South Carolina ranked 34th with a 7.6 percent increase. The country’s Hispanic population increased 6.6 percent, data show.

• Finally, while Mecklenburg’s Hispanic population is tops in the Carolinas, it’s nowhere near the largest in the nation. That distinction belongs to Los Angeles County, with 4.8 million Hispanic residents – more than the entire population of South Carolina.

Bell: 704-358-5696; Twitter: @abell
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