August 17, 2006

Hispanics show ‘upward mobility’ as numbers soar


The number of Hispanics in El Paso County is growing rapidly — that’s apparent to anyone who gazes out the window on a ride through southeast Colorado Springs.

This week, the U.S. Census Bureau issued new research that quantifies the increase.

Hispanics in 2005 made up about one in eight El Paso County residents. The population here went from 58,401 to 70,312 during the first half of this decade, an increase of 20 percent.

That’s the fastest increase of any local racial or ethnic group, and it reflects a trend playing out nationally. The census figures say the national Hispanic population increased nearly 19

percent to 41.9 million people.

In Colorado Springs, the rise of Hispanics shows up in grocery stores, video rental shops, churches and other outlets catering to Hispanics. It’s increasingly common to hear people speaking Spanish, and there’s high demand for English classes from people seeking to learn the language.

Mexican immigrants in particular are transforming some neighborhoods and retail areas in the southeast part of Colorado Springs, said José Barrera, a college professor who has studied Hispanic history in the Pikes Peak region.

El Paso County Hispanics are generally more likely to live in poverty than the rest of the population, but Barrera said he sees signs of progress.

“There’s a lot of movement, there’s upward mobility economically I think, here,” Barrera said. “People don’t tend to get stuck in a low-income ghetto situation. This is the workings not of social policy or government policy or anything like that . . . this is the workings of good, old capitalism. This is the free market.”

Hispanics make up an estimated 12.8 percent of the population in El Paso County, compared with 19.5 percent statewide. Other counties have much higher proportions of Hispanics, including Adams and Denver (35 percent), and Pueblo (39 percent).

The census figures for El Paso County don’t break out the portion of new Hispanic residents who are immigrants to this country.

The figures don’t distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants and are supposed to include both groups. The Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington think tank, estimates Colorado’s population of illegal immigrants at 225,000 to 275,000, the majority of them from Mexico.

Barrera said he suspects that immigrants make up a large portion of the growing population in El Paso County, but many Hispanics are moving here from other counties and states, as well.

“This is a mecca for a lot of people from all over the country, so Hispanic people move here for the same reasons that whites move here,” he said.