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U.S. Census Figures Show State’s Hispanic Population Rising

August 7, 2008

By Bill Glauber and Ben Poston, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Aug. 7–It might be a quick glimpse of a Spanish-language billboard hyping the Wisconsin State Fair. Or, it could be a stop inside a Milwaukee Public Schools classroom when bilingual education is in full swing.

But for state Rep. Pedro Colon (D-Milwaukee), it’s the drive down Oklahoma Ave. in Milwaukee that tells him of the growing numbers of Hispanic residents in Wisconsin.

“I grew up here, and I can tell you I do a double-take when I see Latino stores on Oklahoma,” Colon said.

The sights and sounds that point to a rise of the Hispanic population in Wisconsin are backed by the numbers, according to new population estimates released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Since 2000, the Hispanic population in the state has increased by 41% to 271,830 people, or 4.9% of the state’s population. In Milwaukee County alone, the Hispanic population rose by 34% to 110,057.

In that same period, from 2000 to July 1, 2007, the state’s African-American population increased 9% to 337,493, including a 5% increase in Milwaukee County to 244,940. African-Americans make up 6% of the state’s population.

The state’s Asian population increased 24% since 2000 and stands at 112,942, constituting 2% of the state’s population.

The latest numbers from the Census Bureau provide county population estimates by age, sex, race and Hispanic origin. The growth in the Hispanic population, in Wisconsin and nationwide, continues to be an important demographic trend in the first decade of the 21st century, fueling population growth as well as igniting the hot-button political issue of immigration.

The estimates for Wisconsin show large increases in the Hispanic population in several areas outside Milwaukee County.

Since 2000, Racine County showed a 29% increase to 19,297, while Waukesha County showed a 35% increase to 12,857. During the same time, the Hispanic population in Washington County increased by 56% to 2,392 and Ozaukee County saw an increase of 45% to 1,556.

“I really think the values of Latinos are aligned to Wisconsin. It is a culture that rewards hard work,” said Colon, who was born in Puerto Rico and came to Milwaukee in 1979, when he was 10 years old.

Colon said he has seen Latino culture, community and business spread from its traditional base in the near south side of Milwaukee. Moreover, Hispanics have helped stabilize the population in the City of Milwaukee.

“The reality is that Milwaukee has become very dependent on this population,” he said. “And, in fact, Milwaukee is Milwaukee increasingly because of this population. I think some people don’t like it that way. While it used to be an interesting anomaly, it’s now who we are in this city. If you do fix immigration and some of the issues around immigrants, you’re really just fixing Milwaukee.”

Tony Baez, president of the Council for the Spanish Speaking, said he was not surprised by estimates showing an increase in Hispanics in Wisconsin. He said his organization has boosted services for everything from Head Start to immigration assistance.

“We know that something is going on,” he said. “It’s important that people understand that the Latino population in this city and state is on the rise, and more likely they’re going to see more people of Hispanic descent around.”

For Baez, it’s a trip to the grocery store that serves as a reminder that more Hispanics live in Wisconsin.

“It’s really refreshing when you go to a Pick ‘n Save and hear so many people speaking Spanish,” he said.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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