TAMPA — The top-line trends are widely known, visible in political campaigns, video programming and store shelves: People of Hispanic heritage are growing in total number and as a share of the U.S. population.
This decades-old progression is affirmed again in a much-anticipated annual survey from the Pew Research Center that coincides with the federally designated National Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15-Oct. 15. This year, the survey is bolstered by analysis of comprehensive data from the 2020 Census.
The bigger numbers — nearly one in five people in the United States are Hispanic, Hispanics accounted for more than half of U.S. population growth in the past 10 years — add urgency to the smaller ones in helping Florida and the U.S. understand its identity and serve a changing population.
Oscar Huerta, 46, a husband and father who moved from Venezuela to Tampa five years ago, represents one of the more remarkable trends.
From 2010 to 2019, the Venezuelan population in the U.S. increased 126 percent to 540,000, more by far than people with roots in any other nation. The top three nations are Latin American, but Guatemala is a distant No. 2 at 49 percent growth followed by No. 3 Honduras at 47 percent.
Earlier surveys showed that about half of Venezuelans in the U.S. live in Florida.
Huerta is among the 140,000 refugees or asylum-seekers across the United States who have left Venezuela as the once-stable nation deteriorates under the leadership of the late socialist Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolás Maduro.
Huerta suffered a brutal attack, he said, after defending democracy and liberty during a public meeting. He applied for asylum in the U.S. 2016.
It was the furthest thought from Huerta’s mind before Chavez came to power in 1998. Huerta had been working as a university professor and computer engineer in the state of Maracaibo. He and his wife Sharon liked to fly to Orlando and Tampa for vacations with their two kids.
“Our life was made impossible in Venezuela because of the political situation,” Huerta said. “We didn’t have any other choice.”
Huerta opened a computer business in Tampa and his wife, 43, found a job here. Their two children, Sabrina and Oscar, are now 22 and 13. The family bought a house last month in Pasco County.
Venezuela is tops in the rate of growth among U.S. Hispanics, but it doesn’t crack the top ten in total population among Hispanics. Nearly 62 percent of U.S. Hispanics are of Mexican origin, followed by Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Salvadorans, Dominicans, Guatemalans, Colombians and Hondurans.
The Huerta family represents another remarkable number from the Pew Center analysis. Three states saw their Hispanic populations increase by more than 1 million from 2010 to 2020, Texas at 2 million, California at 1.6 million and Florida at 1.5 million.
One of the study’s authors, Jens Manuel Krogstad, said in an interview that every corner of the U.S. has experienced varying degrees of growth in the Hispanic population during the past 10 years — all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
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“Latino population growth is happening all over the nation from 2010-2020, and can have a significant impact on the makeup of communities, regardless of their population size,” Krogstad said.
The Pew Center survey begins with a nod to National Hispanic Heritage Month, started as a weeklong observation by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 and expanded to a month in 1988 under President Ronald Reagan. Later that year, Congress enacted it into law. The monthlong period was timed to span the independence days celebrated in a number of Latin American nations.
Among the other highlights of the Pew Center survey:
College experience rising: About 42 percent of U.S. Hispanic adults ages 25 and older had at least some college experience in 2019, up from 36 percent in 2010. Hispanics enrolled in college also increased from 2010 to 2019, from 2.9 million to 3.6 million. In 2019, women made up a much higher share, 56 percent versus 44 percent.
More Hispanic citizens: Eighty percent of Latinos in the U.S. are U.S. citizens as of 2019, up from 74 percent in 2010. The highest rates are among Spaniards, 93 percent; Panamanians, 88 percent; and Mexicans, 81 percent. Hondurans at 51 percent and Venezuelans at 48 percent have the lowest.
Identifying as multiracial: More than 20 million Latinos identified with more than one race on the 2020 census, up from just 3 million in 2010. Growth in multiracial Latinos comes primarily from those who identify as White and “some other race.”
Krogstad attributes growth in college experience to the growth in U.S.-born Latinos — nearly three Hispanic newborns for every new Hispanic immigrant over the past decade.
“U.S.-born Hispanics generally have higher educational attainment than Hispanic immigrants, and Hispanics are increasingly U.S. born,” he said.
Younger people also help fuel the increase in multiracial identity, said Elizabeth Aranda, an associate dean and sociology professor at the University of South Florida.
“The immigrant generation has a dual frame of reference from their country of origin and their ‘host’ country,” Aranda said, “compared to their U.S. born children who, though exposed to immigrant cultures at home, also come to see themselves as Latinos or Americans in the United States context.”
Marriage between people of different cultural backgrounds in the U.S. also introduces multiple cultures in households, influencing how Hispanic children are raised, she said.
“The key question is whether those who identify by nationality or as Latinos can transcend this diversity and coalesce as one group that stands for social policies that benefit the Hispanic population overall,” Aranda said.
Odette Figueruelo, a World Language Faculty professor at the Hillsborough Community College, said growth across the board in the Hispanic population means Hispanics will grow as a driving force in the culture, the economy and — she hopes — politics.
Figueruelo came to the U.S. at age 15 when her parents moved from Cuba to Spain and then the U.S.
“I’m looking forward to seeing more Hispanics in local and state government leadership roles,” she said. “We need more Hispanic leaders to advocate for the fastest-growing minority.”