Fast-growing Latino and Asian populations are reshaping many Massachusetts cities and towns, fueling the state’s robust growth and changing the face of communities as white residents move elsewhere.
Latinos and Asians are not only bolstering traditional immigrant cities, they also are moving to the suburbs at a faster clip, according to the latest US Census data.
In Lynn, the Latino population grew by 54 percent in the past 10 years, powering a net increase of 10,000 residents for the North Shore city. More than 8,000 non-Hispanic whites departed during that period.
In Hopkinton, the Asian population surged five-fold; in Lexington, it grew 83 percent.
“A lot of what’s happening is new immigrants coming from Asian and Latin American countries are helping revitalize our region and state,” said Luc Schuster, director of Boston Indicators, a research project for the Boston Foundation. “We really would see a contracting local economy if we hadn’t continued to be welcoming to new immigrant communities.”
Since 2010, Massachusetts residents identifying as Hispanic or Latino grew from 627,000 to 887,000, and as Asian from 307,000 to 504,000, according to census figures released last week. Overall, the state’s population grew 7.4 percent, to just over 7 million.
Experts point to better paying, more highly skilled jobs, as well as bigger homes and space for families to grow as major factors drawing Latino and Asian residents into Boston-area suburbs. Several families interviewed by the Globe said the allure of a strong school district and a multicultural community also played key roles.
“The primary criteria we had was to find a place where we could have a culturally diverse neighborhood,” said Jagan Srinivasan, a professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Srinivasan moved to Shrewsbury to teach in 2012 after completing his postdoctoral fellowship at the California Institute of Technology.
“The IT sector towards the Boston area really has been the driving force for the Indian American population to live in places like Shrewsbury,” he said, but “I also wanted our kids to know how it is to experience Hanukkah, how it is to experience Christmas and Halloween.”
Srinivasan credits his wife, Snehalata Kadam, for finding Shrewsbury, whose Asian population increased by 3,900, or 73 percent, over the past decade. Kadam was drawn to the area after a quick Google search for “India society near Worcester” yielded the India Society of Worcester on Shrewsbury’s Main Street.
“I’m away from my country, but here I have a group of people that are very similar to us. We can celebrate festivals together, we can go out on picnics together, so it’s very inclusive,” said Srinivasan, who is now the society’s vice president.
Access to a slice of home was also important for Kwok Chuen Lee, 61, who quit his job as an engineer in Hong Kong and immigrated to Massachusetts in 2011 to “start from nothing” so his three daughters could pursue a better education in the United States.
Lee first arrived in Quincy before moving the family to Braintree six months later, eventually finding a steady job as an insurance salesman. He said Braintree was ideal for his family because the neighborhood was a bit quieter but is an easy drive to Quincy, with its thriving Chinese community — and shopping and food options both for him and for his “Americanized” daughters, who “prefer burgers and BBQ.”
Srinivasan said the influx of East and South Asian residents to his area was felt throughout the community, in everything from school holidays to the construction of new religious centers.
“When we came here, there was only one Indian temple, close to Ashland, in Massachusetts. Now there are 11 other temples in the vicinity,” he said. “And because the school district is observing an increase of the Asian American population, our schools now recognize Diwali, the [Hindu] Festival of Lights, as a major holiday.”
In Revere, the state’s fastest-growing city, the overall population surged by 20 percent to more than 62,000, growing twice as fast as Boston. In the past decade, Revere’s Latino population nearly doubled and now accounts for 37 percent of the total population.
“New people means new ideas, new perspectives, and new energy, and it’s my job to say, ‘OK, how do we tap into that?’” said Mayor Brian M. Arrigo, who was born and raised in Revere.
It was “the whiter parts of the city” that saw the most dramatic increases in Latino population over the last decade, he said. “Latinos have branched into neighborhoods that have been viewed as more affluent, with bigger yards, bigger homes, not in the more urbanized neighborhoods around Shirley Avenue.”
The Latinos moving to Revere in the last decade largely have hailed from Colombia, Brazil, and El Salvador, bringing evident cultural changes with them, Arrigo said. It’s the Colombian restaurant on Shirley Avenue that opened in fall 2019, teetered during the pandemic, and is now back on its feet. It’s the new taco shop thriving at Revere Beach. It’s no longer assuming everyone speaks English, and it means providing city information in several languages.
The influx of Latin American and Asian populations is also evident in historically diverse communities, many of which have flourished over the past 10 years.
Already a hub for Vietnamese immigrants, the Fields Corner neighborhood of Dorchester is seeing its population expand, even as many other Asian residents head south to Randolph and other suburbs easily accessible by bus and train.
“What we often see in the formation of ethnic enclaves is that you move to where your friends are, where there’s a central social aspect, and then that place creates a reputation,” said Lisette Le, executive director of community outreach organization VietAID.
The stories the census data tell “will be more or less the same” nationwide, said Fabian Torres-Ardila, associate director of the Gastón Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “A decrease of white residents in many areas compensated by an increase in Latinos and Asians.”
Take Lynn, for example, where the Latino population increased from 29,000 to 44,500 and the white population decreased by about 8,400. Without Latinos, Lynn would have lost thousands of people, Torres-Ardila said.
New Bedford is similar; so is Chicopee, he said.
A familiar trend to demographers focused on the Latino community, the rise of immigration is also a “principle explanation” for the state’s increasing Asian population, according to Paul Watanabe, director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
Asian immigration was “essentially curtailed from 1924 to 1965,” creating “a lot of pent-up demand for Asian immigrants to come to the United States,” primarily from China, Watanabe said.
In Massachusetts, immigration patterns from Asia largely have followed family paths, with migrating families drawn to where their relatives already have settled, Watanabe said. But increasingly they are driven by skills-based immigration, especially to wealthier, predominantly white suburbs like Lexington and Hopkinton — where Asian people account for 33 percent and 18 percent of the respective populations.
“These are the scientists, and the doctors, and so forth, that are also attracted to Massachusetts,” Watanabe said.
Why people go where they do involves a convergence of factors, including the location of churches, social service agencies, jobs, and relatives, Watanabe said.
In Hopkinton, one particular gated community has seen an influx of Sikh families, lured in part by a nearby temple and good schools.
For Helen Mai, who first immigrated to Boston’s Chinatown in 2013 from southern China, a desire for an inclusive school district and more living space motivated her to look to the suburbs. Nearly four years ago, Mai and her son traded their crowded apartment for a more spacious home in Quincy.
Mai said she is grateful to still be surrounded by other Chinese families, and for how accepting her non-Asian neighbors have been of her family. In Quincy, Mai’s son, 15, receives the personalized care he needs for his ADHD in school. Alongside other Asian parents, Mai is also pushing to introduce Chinese-language interpreters into the school district to facilitate better interactions between families and faculty.
“The way they treat me here, I don’t feel different,” she said. “In Boston, I was not involved in the community or the school district, but here they really want me to be involved. I feel like I am a part of them.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the Asian populations of Lexington and Hopkinton.
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