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.Continued...