Hennessey ranks among the top 10 hot spots of Hispanic population growth in Oklahoma, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by Oklahoma Watch.
Among all Oklahoma cities and towns with more than 1,000 residents, Hennessey had the ninth-highest Hispanic population in percentage terms.
The 2010 population survey determined that 28 percent of Hennessey’s 2,131 residents were Hispanics. The 599 Hispanics counted by Census workers included a combination of U.S. citizens, legal residents and undocumented immigrants.
The No. 1 hot spot ranking went to Guymon, where Hispanics accounted for 52 percent of the city’s 11,442 residents. Watonga was No. 2, at 47 percent.
Other top 10 Hispanic communities were Heavener, 41 percent; Oakland, 40 percent; Hooker, 34 percent; Madill, 33 percent, Hollis, 32 percent, Boise City, 28 percent, and Clinton, 28 percent.
Those figures far exceed the statewide average of 9 percent. Hispanics accounted for 332,007 of Oklahoma’s 3.8 million residents in 2010. Nationwide, Hispanics made up 16 percent of the U.S. population.
Former U.S. Census Bureau Director Steve Murdock said the migration of immigrants to rural areas such as Kingfisher County is playing an increasingly important role in population growth across the country.
From 2000 to 2010, Murdock said, rural counties grew by 2.2 million people. Of those, 54% were Hispanics. Only 21% were non-Hispanic whites.
Murdock, now a sociology professor at Rice University in Houston, said small-town assimilation seems to work best when the growth of immigrant populations occurs gradually, rather than within a few years’ time.
That appears to have been the case in Hennessey, where immigration from Mexico began during the 1970s and continued over several decades.
“The rapidity of the growth is the thing that gets people agitated,” Murdock said.
Jerry Kammer, senior research fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., said education and family values also play critical roles in assimilation.
“A big factor is how well the children are doing,” Kammer said. “If the kids are becoming good students, if they’re integrating well into the community, if they’re not dropping out, if you don’t have gang formation, if the teenage pregnancy rate is within modest limits, people tend to be much more welcoming.”
That, too, appears to be true in Hennessey, where three Hispanics were valedictorians of the Hennessey High School graduating class of 2012, and several Hispanic players helped the Eagles secure two consecutive state football championships.
“If the kids are completing school and they’re on an upward track, wonderful,” Kammer said. “That’s what we want. That’s what we pray for.”
Oklahoma Watch researchers Juan Sanchez and Katherine Borgerding contributed to this report.