The Hispanic populations of 218 Oklahoma communities have more than doubled over the past decade, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis of 2010 and 2000Census data.
From the Panhandle city of Guymon to the Little Dixie community of Heavener, Hispanics now comprise a significant and growing portion of the population across the state.
The rapid growth reflects the continuing migration of Mexicans and other Latinos to the United States as well as a comparatively high Hispanic birthrate. It points toward a multicultural future that some Oklahomans consider invigorating, but others find unsettling.
Historically [Hispanics] settled in California, Florida, New York, Texas and Illinois,” said Michelle Mittelstadt, director of communications at the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., research group.
For the last 20 years, however, some Hispanic immigrants have been migrating to new destinations in interior states, Mittelstadt said. What’s happening in Oklahoma is just a piece of the overall pattern of immigration that is occurring nationwide.
Hispanics comprised 9 percent of Oklahoma’s population in 2010, compared with a U.S. average of 16 percent.
The percentages are much higher in some communities, particularly in the Panhandle region and other areas where Hispanics have found employment in farms, meat-packing plants and oil field crews.
Service occupations, management and business and construction and maintenance are the top three occupations of immigrant workers in Oklahoma, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
In Guymon, Hispanics comprised 52 percent of the city’s 11,442 residents in 2010. Other larger cities and towns with big concentrations of Hispanic residents are Watonga, 47 percent; Heavener, 41 percent; and Oakland, 40 percent.
Five cities and towns with unusually large concentrations of Hispanics are Panhandle communities located within minutes of each other: Guymon, Hooker, Optima, Hardesty and Texhoma. Guymon is home to a meat-processing plant and other agricultural production jobs that have drawn Hispanics to Texas County.
The biggest Hispanic headcounts are found in Oklahoma’s largest cities. Oklahoma City tops the list with 110,038 Hispanic residents, followed by Tulsa, 55,266; Lawton, 12,160; Norman, 7,082, and Broken Arrow, 6,378.
Some towns have smaller Hispanic populations, but they’re catching up quickly. In Sayre, the Hispanic headcount increased by 377 percent over 10 years. Other fast-growers are Watonga, up 337 percent; Warr Acres, 171 percent, and Owasso and Mustang, each 166 percent.
Even bigger growth rates are found in little communities such as Helena in Alfalfa County, where the number of Hispanics jumped from eight in 2000 to 105 in 2010, a twelvefold increase.
Former U.S. Census Bureau Director Steve Murdock said the migration of immigrants to rural areas is playing an increasingly important role in minority population growth across the country.
From 2000 to 2010, Murdock said, rural counties grew by 2.2 million people. Of those, 29 percent were non-Hispanic whites, while 54 percent were Hispanics.
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 over several decades, rather than within a few years’ time.
“The rapidity of the growth is the thing that gets people agitated,” Murdock said.“If you have a block of 10 houses and one person moves in, it might not mean too much. But when it’s three or four people and it happens in a short enough time, then all the resistance to change seems to boil up to the top.”
Much of Oklahoma’s Hispanic population growth has occurred in waves over several decades, reflecting an influx of Mexicans seeking higher wages and a better quality of life in America. Some came legally and others illegally.
The 1980 Census reported a total of 57,419 Hispanics living in Oklahoma, or 1.8 percent of the state population.
By 1990, the Hispanic population totaled 86,160, or 2.7 percent of the state total. It grew to 179,304, or 5.2 percent, in 2000, according to the Census Bureau.
The 2010 Hispanic headcount was 332,007, or 8.9 percent of Oklahoma’s 3,751,351 residents, according to the Census Bureau.
Hispanic migration has been affected by federal and state immigration legislation and trade agreements.
In 1986, Ronald Reagan signed into law the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which provided legal status to 2.9 million undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Other significant milestones include the North American Free Trade Agreement signed into law in 1995 and the Illegal Immigration and Immigration Responsibility Act in 1996, both during the Bill Clinton administration.
Passage of the Secure Defense Act during the George W. Bush administration tightened border enforcement, restricting the flow of immigrants into the United States.
State legislation also has played a part. According to the National Council of State Legislatures, 45 states introduced 1,180 bills and resolutions affecting immigrants and refugees in 2010.
In 2007, the Oklahoma Legislature passed HB 1804, which was hailed at the time as the most restrictive immigration legislation in the nation. Since then, several other states have enacted even tougher laws.
About a third of the state’s foreign-born residents are undocumented immigrants, according to MPI. The remaining two-thirds are a combination of U.S. citizens, legal residents or temporary visa holders.
The median annual personal earnings of Oklahoma’s Hispanic residents averaged $18,000 in 2010, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. The 2011 average income of an Oklahoma resident is $37,277 according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Hispanic births make up 23 percent of all the births in Oklahoma according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Thirteen percent of the state’s K-12 students are Hispanic.
Below is data compiled by Juan Sanchez and Katherine Borgerding.
Source: US Census
Staff Writers Juan Sanchez and Warren Vieth contributed to this report.