At the recently concluded convention of the League of United Latin American Citizens, Louis Kincannon, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, announced that Latinos became the country’s largest minority group in July 2002. The Latino population grew 9.8 percent since April 2000 to 38.8 million, about 500,000 more than the African American population. Since African Americans are counted as a race and Latinos are counted as an ethnic group, there is an overlap of 1.7 million. More than half the U.S. population growth since 2000 was Latino.

About 53 percent of the Latino growth is the result of immigrants coming to the U.S. With one-third below the age of 18, this population is expected to continued growing rapidly.

But just seeing these numbers alone doesn’t tell the whole story.

While for most people the term “Latino” is short for Latin American, it means something totally different when the government counts people. For the Census Bureau, “Latino” includes people from Spanish-speaking countries or who identify with any Spanish-speaking country including Spain. It doesn’t count people from Brazil (estimated at 600,000 by the government of Brazil) nor Haitians (estimated at anywhere from more than 500,000 on up), who are counted as Black.

The U.S. Latino population is very diverse, coming from different countries with different, albeit similar, experiences and traditions. A majority are people from Mexico or of Mexican descent who make up 58.5 percent of the Latino population. This is followed by Puerto Ricans with 9.6 percent, Cubans with 3.5 percent, Dominicans with 2.2 percent, and Salvadorans with 1.9 percent. Central Americans (including Salvadorans) make up 4.8 percent. People from South America make up 3.8 percent, with Colombians the biggest group at 1.3 percent.

While Latinos are found in every state of the Union, they are concentrated in certain areas. The city with the largest concentration of Latinos is New York with over 2 million, according to the 2000 Census. This is followed by Los Angeles with 1.7 million, Chicago with over 750,000 and Houston with 731,000.

The cities with the largest Mexican population are Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston. Of the top ten cities with Mexican populations, four are in California with a combined population of 1.8 million and four are in Texas with 1.7 million. The second largest Mexican population is in Chicago (530,000).

The second largest Latino population, Puerto Ricans, is concentrated in New York (789,000), followed by Chicago (113,000), and Philadelphia (92,000). Other large Puerto Rican communities can be found in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ohio and Florida.

California has the highest Latino population of any state, but it is second to New Mexico in terms of percentage. Texas follows California in both percentage and numbers. Illinois, New York, Florida, and New Jersey are among the top ten states for Latinos.

While the Southwest, Northeast, Illinois and southern Florida have been the traditional areas of Latino concentration, many new immigrants have been settling in other locales over the last 20 years.

One of these areas is the South. The metropolitan Atlanta area has a Latino population of over a quarter of a million, ten times what it was in 1980. Greensboro, Charlotte, and Nashville have all seen their Latin American population grow six to nine times in the same period. Raleigh, N.C., takes the grand prize in Latino population growth, with an increase of over 1,000 percent since 1980. The Raleigh metro area now has a Latino population of almost 73,000.

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