Latinos find reasons to call Minnesota home

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 16, 2011 - 10:53 PM

Jobs, family ties and a low crime rate are among the reasons why Minnesota has seen a nearly 75 percent increase in its Hispanic population since 2000.

When Manuel Pizano Carlo first arrived in Minnesota 14 years ago, he did not plan on staying.

A college student from Mexico studying architecture, he came to Minnesota to learn English with the hopes of improving his job prospects in Mexico.

Soon he got a job and was able to buy a TV and a car and rent an apartment. He was making more money here driving a garbage truck than most of his college friends were making back in Mexico.

So he stayed. "I thought it would be a better opportunity here," he said.

Today, Carlo is a U.S. citizen and a real estate investor. He lives in Woodbury with his wife of Ecuadorian roots and their two young children.

He's grown, and so, too, he's noticed, has his community.

On Wednesday the Census Bureau reported a 74.5 percent increase in the state's Hispanic population between 2000 and 2010. With slightly more than 250,000 people, it's the fastest-growing minority population in Minnesota.

The figures put Hispanics at 4.7 percent of state residents, up from 2.9 percent in 2000. The news did not surprise those who live and work with Latinos.

"I think in real life it should be bigger," said Juan Carlos Alanis, publisher of La Prensa, a weekly Spanish newspaper that has operated for 19 years in Minnesota.

He said he expected the number to be between 300,000 and 350,000. He suspects that the undocumented part of the local Hispanic community did not get counted because they were afraid to participate in the census.

In previous decades, Hispanics came to Minnesota directly from other countries, but that's changing.

The economic downturn, combined with the large number of Hispanics already living in southern states such as Texas and California, has triggered a secondary migration to Minnesota, observers said.

"The Latino community is having to relocate to find better jobs," said Ivette Izea-Martinez, of Eagan, who said she's traveled to the southern states and has seen the stiff competition for jobs.

Not everyone is convinced by the census numbers.

From his post at the Las Petacas Luggage and Market on E. Lake Street in Minneapolis, owner Santos Jimenez said he's seen an exodus -- not an influx -- of Hispanic immigrants lately.

In the past two years, Hispanic customers have stopped to buy suitcases so they can return to their native countries, he said, speaking through an interpreter. Jimenez said many people are leaving because "the government is forcing business owners to ask for documentation."

Beatriz H. Martinez Escobar and her partner Angel Maldonado live in north Minneapolis with their sons, Daniel, 7, and Lucas, 4. Thirteen years ago, Escobar moved from Colombia to Minnesota to learn English. Her plan was to master the language so that she could return to Colombia and get a better job because she would be bilingual.

She met Maldonado, from Puerto Rico, and decided to stay. About four years ago, she became a U.S. citizen. She said she started to notice her community was growing about seven years ago.

"When I got here, I don't remember a lot of places where you could speak Spanish, where you were comfortable," she said, while fixing a dinner of arepas, white cornmeal pancakes that are commonly eaten in Colombia. "Now, you're driving around and you see a lot more Latinos everywhere."

Before, when she would go salsa dancing she would recognize the faces of everyone there. Now when she goes, "there are a lot of people I have no clue who they are," she said.

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

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