GEORGETOWN — 2020 U.S. census results are in, and the category that saw huge growth both nationwide and in Delaware is Hispanic/Latino.
More than 1 in 10 Delawareans are of that ethnicity, standing at 104,290 based on 2020 census data — up from 73,221 in the 2010 collection and from 37,277 in 2000.
So what does that mean?
For starters, it’s a plus for policy change, said Dr. Jennifer Fuqua, executive director of La Esperanza, a multiservice agency whose mission is to integrate Latino individuals and their families into the community through advocacy, education and support.
“The information and data present as part of the census data will take time for us to really sort through,” she said. “I think it will give us a lot of insight over the next year about how policy change can be implemented and how people can justify and recommend what kind of changes should happen in order to meet the needs of this population.”
Speaking as director of La Plaza, a business-development program with ties to Delaware’s Hispanics, Mary Dupont agreed that the state must begin to change some of its public policies.
“Up until this year, the state did not have funding for English language learners. That means (for) kids in the public schools who don’t speak English, who come from Latino families or maybe they just got here, there was no program,” she said. “With things changing the way they are in education, we just need to make more accommodations. We need to accept the fact that Latinos are here to stay. Many of them are immigrants. They need help with English language, in schools, in health care.”
Javier Torrijos, chairman of the Delaware Hispanic Commission, agreed.
“English learners in the state of Delaware, that population continues to grow, and it’s a reflection of our very young population, where the average age is (about) 26,” he said. “If you look at the educational system and just the English learner program, you can see that there is tremendous growth. I know that the governor has allocated funding for English learners in the state of Delaware. It is just part of a reflection of what the U.S. census data is showing.”
More opportunities with bigger growth
Mr. Torrijos said state services should be growing as the Hispanic population does.
“As we disseminate information, it is important for the state to also realize that, … as that population continues to grow, then there is a need for services — whether it is education, housing, transportation — and the need for interpreters and a need for, really, a language-access plan that can accommodate the Spanish-speaking individuals,” he said.
There was no surprise about the boost in the Hispanic population in Delaware.
“I think that the growth of the Hispanic population has been growing very, very strongly in Delaware for as far as I can recall, even the last census where the growth was quite phenomenal back in 2010, compared to 2000,” said Mr. Torrijos. “We have always known that there has been growth in the Hispanic population, but it’s obviously confirmed by the latest 2020 U.S. census.”
Dr. Fuqua added that signs of that growth have been evident.
“There is a lot that I think we can take from this,” she said. “It is what we knew, but now, it has been confirmed. The evidence is already present, especially in schools, that there has been a huge increase over the last 10 years. The schools are where it is seen most immediately, since the census only gets done every 10 years.”
One of Ms. Dupont’s takes on the latest data is that it, unfortunately, does not accurately reflect the true picture.
“A lot of the Latinos that we’ve been trying to work with really want to stay under the radar. Even the business owners, they don’t want to rock the boat. They want to keep their head down. If they are undocumented, they don’t want to like go out and stand on the rooftops and announce,” said Ms. Dupont, also a member of the Delaware Hispanic Commission.
“They just want to keep their heads down, mind their own business and feed their family. The fact that they counted and (that) the numbers of Latinos have increased so drastically in the census — what that means is you can automatically add like 10% to that number that hasn’t been counted. Those are the ones keeping their heads down.”
Dr. Fuqua agreed.
“It is certainly not surprising what it showed in the census, and I believe that it is probably an undercount. It probably doesn’t actually reflect the true numbers that may be present of what folks may be identifying themselves as Latino or Hispanic,” she said.
Some wary to be counted
Mr. Torrijos said he couldn’t accurately guess the percentage of Latino participants in last year’s census.
“I don’t have a good gauge, but I know that voting and registering for the U.S. census was a big push as we rolled out a program called ‘Votamos,’ which in English is ‘vote,’” he said. “That was really a big push. But we don’t really have any numbers that could tell us if this was a success rate.”
In June 2019, the divided U.S. Supreme Court blocked an attempt by the Trump administration to include a citizenship question — “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” — in the 2020 census, ruling that it violated federal law.
“I do remember that there was a lot of fear of registering for the census because, at one time, the U.S. census was going to put (that) question in there. Thank God that was turned down at the federal level,” Mr. Torrijos said. “We were able to encourage people and tell them their information is protected. There is nothing that gets out there. Even if you are an undocumented individual, it is important for you to register, regardless of your status here in the United States.”
Due to immigration issues, there is a historic trend of apprehension to participate in the census among Hispanics, the largest racial/ethnic minority group in the U.S. Latino culture, Ms. Dupont stressed, is one of seclusion and staying under the radar.
“They just want to mind their own business and have a place for their family to live and go to school and have some comfort. They want their children to be able to prosper and benefit from the resources that are available to them in this country,” she said.
“Historically, they have been way undercounted. They are not filling out the census. They are not responding to requests to fill it out. Honestly, whatever is reported, to me, it’s important. It’s the only data we can legitimately use. But what it also tells me is there is many, many more that haven’t been counted.”
‘Better job overall’ needed
Given the growth reflected in the census data, which factors in to the distribution of billions of federal dollars, Mr. Torrijos is hopeful it will trigger change for the better.
“There are definitely needs there for business loans from the Small Business Administration, the Delaware Division of Small Business. There are a lot of needs as the Latino population continues to grow,” he said. “One of the things that we did was we really encouraged our communities to register for the census to make sure that they are counted, so that federal dollars can flow to the communities, into the state of Delaware, for the many services that are needed throughout the state. It starts from housing, business loans, educational funding and so forth.”
The large Hispanic numbers should signal change at the state level to better serve those individuals, Ms. Dupont said.
“We really need to do a better job overall as a state and as a society, looking at how can we be more inclusive, more accommodating? Because the reality is, it’s like a boomerang when we do that. It turns around,” she continued.
Dr. Fuqua said schools should see the greatest changes as policies are updated, but other services also need work.
“The biggest impact that people will see and feel in the receiving society is in schools, but obviously, also, there is a great need for culturally competent services in multiple languages that reflect the diversity of the Hispanic community,” she said.
“So whether it is a combination of Spanish or local dialect, … there is a great diversity there. We have to kind of be able to embrace that and look at that and think about how we want change (in) how we do things, whether that is through business development in the private sector — like La Plaza, which La Esperanza is a partner (for) — or providing human services, social services and health services and what that means.”
Released Aug. 13, census data shows that Sussex and New Castle counties experienced the largest Hispanic/Latino population gains in the state. Sussex jumped from 8.6% in 2010 to 11.3% in 2020, while New Castle increased from 8.7% to 11.1%. Statewide, Delaware’s Hispanic population increased from 8.2% in 2010 to 10.5%.
“If you look at Sussex County, for example, in the Georgetown area, there is just a booming growth of businesses right there along Race Street. If you go to Wilmington, … along Fourth Street, the Latin American Community Center up there, there is just tremendous growth everywhere,” Mr. Torrijos said. “So there are needs there that definitely need to be addressed, and the state is taking steps to address that. But I think, also, as business grows in Delaware, so is the business in the Hispanic population.”
Dr. Fuqua offered another angle.
“The other part of the story here is people come to Delaware with a variety of statuses,” she said. “When we are talking about the growth of the Hispanic community, we’re not necessarily talking about undocumented people. We’re talking about a variety of different people, who have a variety of different ways that they come here. Many of whom, especially those who have been here for a while, have already taken that pathway to citizenship. We have a lot of citizens who count themselves as Hispanic.”
In Delaware, the Black/African American population increased, as well, but at a slower rate, from 20.8% to 21.5% over the 2010-20 period, according to census data.
Nationwide, the Hispanic share of the U.S. population grew to 18.7%, up from 16.3% in 2010.
Meanwhile, the percentage of Delaware’s White population decreased, from 65.3% in 2010 to 58.6% in 2020.
“And it is only going to keep getting more and more (diverse) over time,” Ms. Dupont said. “We’re never going to be like, … ‘Make America White Again.’ That isn’t happening. Demographics are changing. Whites have less children. It is an older population. You have more immigrants coming here.”
In 2019, Dr. Fuqua and Dr. April Veness, both professors at the University of Delaware, compiled a comprehensive study on perspectives of the Latino population in Sussex County. The report, published by the Delaware Community Foundation, addressed national origin, immigration status, accomplishments, socioeconomic position, integration, housing, education and diversity, among other issues.
It stated that, in 2018, Latinos in Sussex County contributed nearly $50 million in federal and state income taxes.
“When we did the study two years ago, I think the thing that we found was that there was a great deal of diversity among those who count themselves as Hispanic or Latino,” Dr. Fuqua said. “So it’s not just folks from Guatemala and Mexico — although they are the highest number in terms of population — but there are folks from all over Central and South America who are coming to the United States and coming to Delaware.”
Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, is Delaware’s first Hispanic state senator. He immigrated to the United States with his parents at age 3, 40 years ago.
He said, with the booming Latino population in Delaware, it’s important that those individuals and families have the resources they need, including opportunities in schools, employment and health care.
“As Latinos continue to come to Delaware and those opportunities continue to be available, we’re going to see that pipeline continue and the Latino community continue to grow in the First State and continue to have the positive impact that it has,” Sen. Lopez said.
“Just like they did for the Italian American community over the course of the last 100 years, you’re seeing that happen now with the Hispanic community. They still speak a different language, but you start to see them own and operate businesses. You start to see them being part of a larger community. That economic doorway that Hispanics are starting to go through now is making a tremendous impact, just like it did over 100 years ago when the Italian migration took place.”
He added that he is thrilled to see Hispanic residents thriving in the First State.
“As someone who has grown up here in Delaware, when I was a kid, I would see a small number of Latino- and Hispanic-owned businesses. And now, 30 years later, as a reflection of the strong work ethic and family values that the Hispanic community has, we have seen such a tremendous increase, not just in Latinos that have moved to Delaware to come to work but that have started businesses and themselves become employers.”