Hispanic population shows strong growth in the area

The Hispanic population showed strong growth in southeast Minnesota in 2008, particularly in several rural counties.

The number of Hispanics in Dodge, Goodhue and Wabasha counties all grew by more than 10 percent between July 1, 2007 and July 1, 2008, according to U.S. Census Bureau numbers released in May.

Nonetheless, Hispanics still make up a small part of the overall population in those counties 4.3 percent in Dodge, 1.9 percent in Goodhue and 2.4 percent in Wabasha. The area county with the largest concentration of Hispanics is Mower County, where 3,192 Hispanics make up 8.4 percent of the population. Nationwide, Hispanics make up 14.7 percent of the population.

In Olmsted County, the Hispanic population grew by 4.5 percent, or 184 people, to 4,269 in the year before July 1, 2008. That was Olmsted’s fastest-growing ethnic group: whites grew by 1 percent, Asians by 1.4 percent and blacks by 3.4 percent.

The growth is evident in the increasing number of restaurants and grocery stores offering Latin American and Mexican products locally, said Graciela Porraz, a Mexican national who moved here in 2001. Porraz, a Spanish interpreter at Mayo Clinic, is active in the Alliance of Chicanos, Hispanics and Latin Americans in Rochester.

Many Hispanics come here for the quality medical care and school system, Porraz said. Some stay year-round, and others are migrant workers just coming in the summer.

“People coming from central Texas realize the health care system is not as nice (there), and people tell them they have to go to Minnesota if you want your kids to have good schooling,” Porraz said.

The schools also have noticed the influx of Hispanics. One indicator is that Spanish speakers are now the largest group receiving English Students of Other Languages services from the Rochester school district, overtaking Somali speakers last year, said Judy Auger, ESOL coordinator for the district.

“They’re coming for jobs that’s always what drives people who are leaving one town and moving to another,” Auger said, adding that even during the recession, it’s worse where newcomers come from than it is here.

While Hispanic newcomers by and large feel welcome here, the Hispanic population hasn’t blended closely with the local population, and has kept its distance, Porraz said.

The overall population of most southeastern Minnesota counties changed very little between July 1, 2007 and July 1, 2008. The only changes of more than 1 percent were in Olmsted County, up 1.6 percent; and Dodge County, up 1.4 percent.

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