The land of corn and prairie increasingly is becoming home to Latinos, whose population in Nebraska is expected to triple by 2050, according to an analysis that looks at Census data.
The Midwestern state had a Latino population of 167,405, the 2010 Census found. But the analysis by the University of Nebraska expects that number to rise to 538,941 by the year 2050, bringing the Latino share of the total population from 9 percent to 24 percent, said the National Public Radio station in the state.
The growing presence of Latinos in Nebraska, a state not normally linked with the community, is microcosmic of the nationwide dispersal of Hispanics from primarily urban areas in coastal and border states to suburbs and rural areas of the country.
“It means that Hispanics and Latinos are the main engine of population growth not only in the country and in the state,” the NPR story quoted Lissette Aliaga-Linares, a research associate in the UNO Office of Latino/Latin American Studies, as saying about the study.
Among factors contributing to the growth of Latinos in Nebraska are the decline in the number of white non-Hispanics, which is expected to continue between now and 2050, and the steady migration of Latinos to the state.
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Some of the reasons Latinos have migrated to Nebraska and other states where they were virtually invisible just a generation ago are jobs and lower cost of living, safer communities and good schools, the story said.
Then there is also chain migration – the tendency of relatives and friends to follow immigrants in areas where they’ve settled, experts said.
“So going forward, it’s not going to be immigration necessarily that drives Hispanic/Latino growth, but natural change,” according to David Drozd, research coordinator for the UNO Center for Public Affairs Research, NPR said.
“So while in the 1990s we had people coming here and then maybe later on brought their spouses and things like that after the initial wave of coming here for jobs, now people are having families and you have people born in the early 1990s hitting age 20, 25 and starting their own families," he said. "So the births being so much higher than the deaths will take the population of Hispanic/Latino higher into the future.”
Though they may be chasing a better life in America’s heartland, many Latinos find that being a key part of a changing demographic can elicit resistance and resentment by long-time residents.
Nebraska and Arizona are the only two states in the country that do not allow undocumented immigrants who are accepted into a federal program that defers deportation for two years to obtain a driver’s license.
And in 2010, roughly 57 percent of voters from the Nebraska town of Fremont who turned up at the polls approved an ordinance that bans undocumented immigrants from renting there. The measure catapulted the city into the national spotlight and spurred comparisons with Arizona and other cities embroiled in the debate over immigration regulations.
Fremont, about 35 miles northwest of Omaha, has seen its Hispanic population surge in the past two decades, largely due to the jobs available at two meatpacking plants just outside the city. Census data show the number of Hispanics soared from 165 in 1990 to 3,149 in 2010.
Members of a Latino family, the Ramirezes, that settled in Nebraska described in the NPR story the mix of pleasure and pain that being in the state has brought them.
“We’ve followed the American dream, in spite of all the barriers,” said Marty Ramirez, the son of a Mexican immigrant and a university counselor.
He and his wife, Connie, are parents to seven children, all of whom are college graduates.
Ramirez, who earned a doctorate in psychology, said he’s been the target of racism.
“This is not going to go away. I don’t care what people think or believe,” Ramirez said. “So we need to take a step back and begin to have some dialogue of the reality of what’s really going on. It’s not a Mexican thing, it’s a human phenomenon, a human being issue that at times is very difficult to talk about.”
Ramirez said that more needs to be done in Nebraska to address the needs and issues in the Latino community.
“The business world gets it,” Ramirez said. “The educational world gets it. The political world is getting it. Religion, some are getting it and some don’t.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.