Hispanic numbers more diverse than in 1990 Census

The Associated Press
Wednesday August 08, 2001

LOS ANGELES — The story of Hispanic migration to California has largely been one of Mexican immigration. But new census figures show that trend is less predominant in San Francisco, where people of Mexican origin do not hold a majority among Hispanics. 

San Francisco is also home to higher percentages of Central and South Americans than the state as a whole, the figures show. 

Of the state’s 11 million Hispanics, 77 percent are of Mexican origin, 5.2 percent are of Central American origin and 1.5 percent are of South American origin, according to new figures released Wednesday from the April 2000 census. 

Fourteen percent were classified as “other Hispanic,” a figure interpreted by some demographers as possible evidence of weakening cultural identity because respondents did not identify their country of ancestry. 

Among San Francisco’s 109,504 Hispanics, though, only 45 percent are of Mexican origin. It’s the only one of California’s 58 counties where that figures stands at less than 50 percent. Central Americans account for 21 percent of the county’s Hispanic population, and South Americans for 5 percent. 

Demographers say that could be partly because San Francisco declared itself a City of Refuge for Salvadorans driven to migrate because of civil war during the 1980s.  

Also, more Central and South Americans likely arrive in California by plane, so that the proximity of Los Angeles to the border is not as key as it is to Mexicans. 

And once immigrants establish a network, wherever it may be, it draws more immigrants from their country of origin, demographers say. 

Ana Gomez, a native of Argentina who moved to San Francisco eight months ago, said she did so for one reason: “Because my children are here.” It’s an oft-heard response. 

“Not only is it common for groups of people from specific countries to settle next to each other, but even in certain cases we’ll find people from certain towns living in the same area,” said Hans Johnson, a demographer at San Francisco’s Public Policy Institute of California.  

“It’s not uncommon in Los Angeles for soccer teams to be formed based on a town from Mexico, and playing a town 50 miles away in a soccer game in Los Angeles.” 

It is difficult to compare the Hispanic-population data released Wednesday with that collected in 1990. In 1990, unlike in 2000, respondents who were not of Mexican, Cuban or Puerto Rican origin weren’t allowed to write in their ancestry, but rather were directed to the “other Hispanic” category. 

A shift that size is negligible in such a large data set, according to demographers. 

Many demographers were puzzled by the 1,554,575 “other Hispanics” identified by the 2000 Census. Some respondents apparently checked the “other Hispanic” box without writing their country of origin in the space provided. That suggested to some that the question was confusingly presented, but to others that Hispanics increasingly are leaving behind individual ancestral identities. 

Gov. Pete Wilson’s anti-immigrant Proposition 187 of 1994 helped create a group identity for many Hispanics, said Pastor, whose father is a native of Cuba. 

“I would say that prior to Wilson my father would have said he was Cuban, and after Wilson he became a Latino. And I think that happened to a lot of people,” Pastor said. “I think there’s an emergence of a Latino identity that’s more pan-ethnic.” 


Staff writer Paul Chavez in Los Angeles contributed to this report. 


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