A Nation in Full
Within days, America will pass the 300 million mark in population. Behind the numbers, the changes are dramatic. A look at the biggest:
Horace Greeley's 1850s paraphrased proverb of manifest destiny, with a bit of a southern flavor added, still rings true today: "Go West and South, young man, and grow up with the country."
A WAVE OF IMMIGRANTS
FORT WAYNE, IND.-Matthew Schiebel was born just three blocks from Northwood Middle School here in northeastern Fort Wayne, a gritty rust belt city of 220,000 formerly known as a canal and rail gateway to the West. When Schiebel, 41, attended grade school 20 years ago, "we used to think of diversity as black-white," he says. Now Northwood, where Schiebel is principal, is 13 percent Hispanic. Each year the number of students taking classes in English as a second language increases; this year, it's 90 students out of a total of 802. Thirty-two flags hang from the lobby ceiling, each representing a student's ethnicity. Among those added recently: Rwanda, Portugal, and Honduras. The United Hispanic Americans, a community organization, sends four to five tutors to the school twice a week.
The Hoosier State's second-largest city is still overwhelmingly black (16 percent) and white (74 percent). But immigration growth is rapidly transforming Fort Wayne. Since 1990, its Hispanic population has grown about four times to 16,500. With fertility rates tumbling in the 1980s and 1990s (and projected to stay low through 2050), immigration has become the main driver of population growth. Since 2000 alone, there has been a 16 percent rise in the number of immigrants living in American households.
In 1967, at the time of the 200 million mark, the biggest immigration story was about "brain drain" from western Europe to the United States. After President Johnson signed the Immigration and Naturalization Act in 1965 to stop racial and ethnic quotas for new immigrants, and once the Mexican economy tanked in the 1970s, immigration, both legal and illegal, skyrocketed. In Fort Wayne, nearly 80 percent of Hispanics are Mexican. An estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants now live in America, up from 5 million just a decade ago. Prior to the early 1990s, a third of new immigrants came to California, and a full three quarters wound up either there or in just five other states: Illinois, New Jersey, Florida, New York, and Texas. But in the past 15 years, immigrants have spread out. States like Georgia have seen massive increases. Demographers have also noticed a third wave of dispersion to the meatpacking plants in Iowa and Nebraska and to farming, manufacturing, construction, and service-sector jobs in places like Fort Wayne.
When Zulma Prieto moved 16 years ago from Colombia to Goshen, Ind., a farming and RV-manufacturing town an hour west of Fort Wayne, there were only three Hispanic stores in the area. "It was almost a surprise to see someone speak Spanish," she says. There were some migrant farmworkers, but in the early 1990s, the Chamber of Commerce started advertising for workers. "All of a sudden a lot of people started to come," says Prieto, editor of the newspaper El Puente.
Goshen's population is now about 30 percent Hispanic. Los Galanes, a Spanish market with piñatas hanging from the ceiling, sits about 2 miles from one of the first Wal-Marts in the country to provide stables for Amish horse and buggies. Each year, the Mexican consulate in Chicago sends a "mobile consulate" to issue IDs. In Fort Wayne, Sam Hyde, who runs Hyde Brothers Booksellers, can remember the first Mexican restaurant opening 40 years ago at a truck stop. In the past six years, a Mexican restaurant and a bakery opened across from his store on Wells Street, the city's hip arts neighborhood. "The biggest business on this street is wiring money," Hyde says. Mega 102.3, the first Spanish radio station in the area, opened last month with an estimated audience of 50,000.