Lake Norman & Mooresville

Steady growth of Latino population brings change

The Hispanic population of Iredell County has been steadily increasing, going from about 4,200 in 2000 to almost 11,000 in 2010.

Reflecting the national trend of a growth of 43 percent, Iredell County has had one of the more significant growths in Hispanic population throughout North Carolina: 160 percent.

The main reason for the growth might be the increased job availability in the county.

"We have a lot of job opportunities," said Erskine Smith, town manager for Mooresville. "There are a lot of manual labor jobs."

Agriculture jobs in Iredell County attract Hispanic workers, and before it declined the construction industry brought an influx of Hispanic laborers.

"We probably had more (Hispanic residents) when there was more construction," said Smith.

The increase in the Hispanic population has marked new challenges for the town, which officials are working to meet.

The language barrier has been the main challenge to have risen as a result of the rapid population increase. Spanish-speaking police officers have been employed in a continuing effort to make the local police force reflect the population trend. And when Mooresville distributed a community survey last year, town officials had it translated into Spanish, coordinating with St. Therese Catholic Church to distribute the surveys to its sizeable number of Hispanic worshippers.

According to the church's Latino coordinator, Ibis Centeno, about 200 Hispanic parishioners attend the weekly Spanish-language Mass, but the number jumps to about 800 on special feast days like Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Mooresville businesses also have been affected by the population increase. Local stores have begun to cater more toward the Hispanic population, particularly grocery stores, Smith said. Ethnic grocery stores selling only Mexican foods have sprouted up, including Mundo Latino on North Main Street.

"There's a lot more Hispanic foods, spicy foods," said Smith.

But one of the main impacts on the community has been to the local schools, he said. English as a Second Language programs have become a permanent fixture in public schools, starting as early as kindergarten and going up to college-level courses.

Mitchell Community College, located in Statesville with a campus in Mooresville, offers a large number of ESL classes. For the eight schools in the Mooresville Graded School District, three ESL teachers are employed.

More than 300 students in Mooresville Graded School District noted on a Home Language Survey that another language aside from English is spoken at home. Some of these students are proficient at reading, writing, speaking and listening to English and do not need ESL services, but almost 200 of the surveyed students are classified as Limited English Proficient and are in the ESL program.

"It is important to note that not every child who is LEP is Hispanic and not every child who comes from a bilingual/multilingual home requires English as a Second Level services," said Tanae McLean, public information officer of the school district, in an email.

But while the large numbers might not be due entirely to the growing Hispanic population, those numbers still point to the changes in the community stemming from that growth. The changes are likely to continue, as the population growth is not expected to slow.

"I think it's just one of those natural demographic shifts that we're going to see," said Smith. "We've just got to work on ways to be a more inclusive community."