WESLEY CHAPEL — Rocio "Rosie" Paulsen predicted it.
"I think a lot of people are going to be in for a real reality check," the founder of the Pasco Hernando Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said last year, referring to the increasing numbers of Hispanic residents in Pasco County that the 2010 Census would show.
Her instincts were correct. Recently released figures show the Hispanic population, once limited mainly to pockets of Dade City, grew significantly in nearly every part of Wesley Chapel, including areas that include upscale neighborhoods such as Saddlebrook Resort. That tract posted an increase from 4 percent to 11 percent Hispanic. In the tract that includes Seven Oaks, which didn't exist in 2000, 18 percent of the 3,100 residents identified themselves as Hispanic. In one area, which now includes the Watergrass neighborhood off Curley Road, not a single one of the 96 people was a minority in 2000. Today, 21 percent of the 1,373 people are.
"I'd say 90 percent of my business is Spanish," said Marisaida Mendez, an agent with Prudential Tropical Realty, who moved to New Tampa's West Meadows community in 2000 and works in Land O'Lakes. She said her Hispanic clients mirror the profiles of other buyers. They are mostly professionals such as bankers, accountants and business owners. Most are in their 30s and 40s with children.
"They are not stereotypical," said Paulsen, who owns an insurance company. "They're not cutting lawns and cleaning houses. They're more educated."
And they are drawn to Wesley Chapel for the same reasons as everyone else: spacious, affordable homes, lower taxes, good schools, youth sports, and a suburban lifestyle that still allows for easy commutes to work.
"They're focusing on quality of life," Mendez said. "You can still go out and play and not be worried about a stranger coming into the neighborhood. It's an overall good place, still quiet, still calm."
Kathy Midkiff, an agent who sells homes for Ashton Woods in Palm Cove off Boyette Road, said Hispanic families, like everyone else, are buying homes there because additional road construction makes it more convenient to the Interstate.
"It's only 13 minutes to Wiregrass mall," she said. "That's huge."
Juan Carlos Pinto moved to area from Venezuela in 1997 with his wife, Chichi, and their preschool-age son and middle school-age daughter.
They considered several communities in Hillsborough but ultimately settled on Wesley Chapel's popular Meadow Pointe community.
"The home we bought was $20,000 less than in (New Tampa)," said Pinto, 49, an executive for Citibank. "The area was very quiet, but it was growing."
Pinto was slightly ahead of the latest Census, but he's seen the changes over the decade.
He ends up being contacted by others from his native country who have moved to the area.
"They relate to me and say you've been here a while so you can guide me," he said.
Pinto now sees more Spanish-speaking people working in stores such as Target and Walmart, which offers a better shopping experience for relatives visiting from back home.
He also has noticed changes in the grocery aisle, which used to be limited to items such as salsa and taco shells.
"You can get a corn flour from Venezuela," he said. "Five or six years before that was not there. There are drinks you see now, too. It used to be just a couple of spaces."
Grace Badillo, a dance instructor who offers salsa lessons, says most of her students are from central Pasco.
She has noticed more second-generation Hispanics, who grew up in places such as New York.
Some come to dance events and whisper that they want salsa lessons.
"They say, 'I was raised here my whole life and don't know how.' They're embarrassed. They're just as white as a slice of bread."
Paulsen, who started the Hispanic chamber last year, has seen membership grow to 105. She said the goal is not for business owners to segregate themselves but to work with everyone to improve the area.
"We want to works side by side to make the area a better place," Paulsen said. "We want to help bring the economy back."