When William Rodriguez moved to Norwood in 1993, he worried the town was not diverse. He had grown up in New York and Boston, and worked for Latino advocacy groups.
“That was my first hesitancy to move into Norwood,” said Rodriguez. “Then as I got acquainted and started contributing to the community fabric, started interacting, meeting other families of color, I started getting more comfortable.”
Twenty years later, he said, “Norwood has progressed.” In recent years, the number of Latinos in town grew dramatically: Between 2000 and 2010, Latinos in Norwood increased by 159 percent, to 1,227, or more than 4 percent of the population.
Still, Rodriguez, chairman and assistant professor of the juvenile justice and youth advocacy department at Wheelock College, said he would like to see more Latinos teaching in the town’s schools and serving in town government.
“What we need to do is translate these numbers into a larger voice,” he said.
Between 2000 and 2010 nearly every community in the state saw its Latino population increase — from tiny Tolland, on the Connecticut border (where the number of Latinos rose from five to six) to Boston, which added 22,828 Latinos (a 27 percent increase). Only six communities out of 351 in the state had Latino populations that stayed the same, and in just 12, Latino populations fell.
Statewide, Latinos increased about 46 percent during the same decade, as total population rose just 3 percent. The increase reflects what is happening — and what is projected to continue — in the rest of the country, said Phil Granberry, research associate at The Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
“There’s a demographic shift going on,” he said. “And we’re not [even] an immigrant destination place for Latinos.”
Many areas of Bristol and Plymouth counties saw smaller increases in Latino populations than elsewhere outside Boston. But some communities still saw surges. In Fall River, the Latino population more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, to 6,562, or 7.4 percent of the population. In Stoughton, too, the population jumped from 419 to 876. And in Randolph, the Latino population doubled, to 2,057 in 2010.
In Bristol County, Granberry said, newer Latino immigrants are arriving mainly from Central America. Networks are important for immigrants, so once these immigrants are settled, more from Central America may arrive in the future.
Around the state, cities and towns are beginning to change with their populations. In Salem, the city recently announced it would hire a part-time Latino affairs coordinator to help foster connections between Latinos and city government. In North Andover, the children’s room of the library began stocking books like “Buenas Noches Luna” — Good Night Moon — and other Spanish or bilingual titles. In Marlborough, the senior center has started English and exercise classes designed for Brazilians who live in the community.
In Attleboro, Francisco Amaya and his family, who moved to town from El Salvador, opened a restaurant, Papagallo, in 2011 with a menu that includes food from their home country. Amaya came to Attleboro in 2008, and now sees many other Central Americans in town. Although Latinos only make up about 6.3 percent of Attleboro’s population, the total number of Latinos increased by 53 percent between 2000 and 2010, to 2,765.
“I think it’s a lot of people speaking Spanish in Attleboro,” said Amaya, who attends a Seventh-day Adventist Church in town with Spanish services.
When employees at the Marlborough Senior Center looked around a few years ago, they realized that the people who were showing up at the Blue Plate Lunches and weekly cribbage games did not look like the community outside its doors.
In their city, the Latino population had nearly doubled between 2000 and 2010, to 4,174 people who identified themselves as Latino in the US Census — almost 11 percent of the city. Actual numbers were likely even higher, since Marlborough has a large Brazilian population, and many Brazilians in Massachusetts do not identify themselves as Latino to census-takers, researchers say.
“We knew our community is comprised of a lot of Portuguese families,” said Jennifer Claro, the senior center’s executive director. “We knew there were a lot of seniors that we weren’t seeing in our center.
So the center added some classes. Now every Tuesday and Thursday morning, Brazilians come to the center to learn English. On those same nights, they exercise in Zumba classes. In the fall, the center will begin offering computer classes geared toward Latino seniors. At the center’s first Portuguese festival a few weeks ago, more than 100 people turned out.
“I think now if you came into our center, you’d just see a better reflection of what our population is comprised of,” Claro said.
The Point, which has long attracted Salem’s newest immigrants, is now home to much of the city’s growing Latino population, which has settled in this district of small shops and apartment blocks not far from Salem Harbor. The number of Latinos in Salem increased by about 42 percent, to 6,465, between 2000 and 2010, according to the US Census.
In the decades since Latinos began to move to The Point, relations with City Hall have often been tenuous at best. But now the Latino Leadership Coalition meets monthly with Mayor Kimberley Driscoll. Last year, Salem Education Foundation began publishing the city’s first bilingual newspaper.
“The moment is finally coming when the city is recognizing that it is a community that is growing,” said Rosario Ubiera-Minaya, executive director of the Salem Education Foundation, who moved to The Point from the Dominican Republic when she was 16. “It’s a community that is vital to the city.”
Salem, despite its significant Latino population, is still a largely white city. About 76 percent of residents identified themselves as white and non-Latino in 2010. The Point was once home to earlier immigrants, especially French-Canadians.
The Point covers 144 acres and includes 4,100 people, according to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. Immigrants have settled here partly because the rents are lower than in other parts of the city.
Lucy Corchado’s family came to The Point from Puerto Rico in the 1960s, one of the first Latino families to settle there.
“It’s always mostly like they start out in The Point neighborhood because they see the bodegas,” Corchado said. “Then slowly but surely, depending on their economic situation, they own their own homes.”
Corchado served two terms on Salem’s City Council, a rare Latino voice in city government. Now, she said, she hopes the Latino affairs coordinator will help herald the concerns of the residents of The Point.
“The hope is this person will be able to bridge the gap that exists between Latinos and City Hall,” she said. “There’s not that much diversity in City Hall.”
Ubiera-Minaya, who graduated from Salem public schools and Salem State University, said previous city administrations in Salem did not understand the needs of the Latino community. At the same time, she said, Latinos distanced themselves from city government.
“Historically, we’ve been discriminated against, and just not welcomed, looked at as a problem,” she said. “Baby steps, but it’s finally coming together. It’s been a long, long time.”Kathleen Burge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KathleenBurge.