Hispanic population rises quickly

2010 Census figures reveal that number of Latinos in Clark County nearly doubled in past decade

By Erin Middlewood, Columbian special projects reporter

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The big jump in Clark County’s Hispanic population comes as no surprise to the Rev. Armando Perez.

About 900 people attend his Spanish-language Mass at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church each Sunday.

St. John is one of five Catholic churches in Vancouver, and the archdiocese 25 years ago tapped it to provide ministry to Hispanics, the fastest-growing minority group in Clark County.

“There’s been this boom,” Perez said.

Clark County grew about 23 percent over the past decade to reach a population of 425,363 in 2010, according to U.S. Census figures released last week. The Hispanic population grew even quicker. It nearly doubled to reach 7.4 percent, or 32,166 residents, up from 4.7 percent, or 16,248, in 2000. Statewide, Hispanics account for 11.2 percent of the population.

Hispanics in Clark County

Percent of Hispanic population in Clark County cities:

Vancouver - 10.36%

Battle Ground - 6.54%

Camas - 4.08%

Washougal - 5.34%

Ridgefield - 5.14%

Woodland - 16.55%

Yacolt - 2.11%

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau

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By comparison, Clark County’s population of Asians grew from 11,095 to 17,504, from 3.21 to 4.12 percent; the number of blacks grew from 5,813 to 8,426, or from 1.68 percent to 1.98 percent; and the number of American Indians and Alaskan Natives grew from 2,910 to 3,625, or .84 percent to .85 percent of the county’s total population.

As population growth among Hispanics outpaces that of other minority groups, they have become targets of discrimination, said Rosalba Pitkin, a member of the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs and a program coordinator at Clark College.

The question of whether a Hispanic person was born here is quick to crop up, she and others said. The Census Bureau won’t release data detailing the number of foreign-born Clark County residents for several months.

“Right now, the Latinos feel persecuted,” she said. “People assume all Latinos are undocumented.”

That’s hardly the case, she and others said. Perez himself was among the Hispanics who moved to Clark County since the last census. Born in California, Perez moved from Seattle to become pastor at St. John eight years ago. He celebrates one Spanish-language Mass a week, as well as pastoral counseling in Spanish. But the church also offers English classes to help Spanish speakers gain a more solid footing in the community.

Vancouver schools, too, have expanded services for Spanish-language speakers. The district’s English Language Learner program serves 2,020 students, most native Spanish speakers, about 20 percent more than just five years ago. The district also offers programs to help these students’ parents learn English.

“We just welcome all of our English language learners,” said Karla Schlosser, an administrator for the district’s special services. “We are really excited about outreach we’re doing for family involvement.”

Susana Serna is also among those who have responded to the growing Hispanic population’s demand for services. Serna, a family nurse practitioner, opened Clinica de Salud Familiar (Family Health Clinic) in 2005. At the Hazel Dell clinic, she offers appointments for a flat fee of $55 and does not accept insurance.

Her patients may be low-income, but they’re getting by, she said.

“These are people who are working two or three jobs. They are not destitute. But their standard of living is very different,” Serna said. “They’re living in an apartment, and they might have another family living with them. They pool their money. Their kids are fed, they have health care and pretty good clothes, but it’s not a standard of living most Americans would be satisfied with.”

Yet that does not describe all of Clark County’s Latinos, as evidenced by Perez, Pitkin and Serna. The Hispanic population encompasses great diversity.

“Vancouver benefits from having these wonderful, faithful, family-oriented people here,” Perez said. “Some, like in any community, are here for the wrong reasons. But as a whole, we benefit more than not.”

Erin Middlewood: 360-735-4541; erin.middlewood@columbian.com.