Hispanic population surges in Tennessee
In Midstate counties, shift is explosive
By JENNIFER BROOKS
The latest census estimate shows Tennessee with the largest Hispanic population in its history — but there probably are thousands more who weren't counted.
A report released today by the U.S. Census Bureau shows there were 194,706 people of Hispanic descent living in Tennessee in 2006. That's a 590 percent increase over the 33,000 Hispanics counted during the 1990 census, but still only about 3 percent of the state's overall population.
In Middle Tennessee, the population shift has been more dramatic: Davidson County had eight times more Hispanic residents in 2006 than it did in 1990, Williamson County had 10 times more and Robertson County saw a 2,000 percent increase.
Nationwide, the minority population topped 100.7 million last year, according to the survey. Hispanics remain the nation's largest minority group, an estimated 44.3 million, or 14.8 percent of the population.
"That, I believe, is an undercount," said Yuri Cunza, chairman of the Nashville Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "If they were missing 30 percent, that would be a conservative estimate."
Estimate is not precise
The population figures are a spitball estimate by federal demographers, using hard numbers from the 2000 census head count along with birth and death data, immigration records, tax returns and other records. It's a system that relies on documents, and that, by its nature, makes it hard to accurately track undocumented workers.
"There's not really any way to know for sure," said census demographer Greg Harper of the people who may have been missed in the 2000 census and estimates that followed.
In Robertson County, for example, the census estimates 3,546 Hispanic residents, but Robertson County Mayor Howard Bradley said the county sheriff estimates the number closer to 7,000 to 10,000 in the fast-growing county of 62,000 people.
"It's been incredibly expensive, as you might imagine," Bradley said. "We have a very, very large number. At our health department, 40 percent of the patients are Hispanic — whether they're documented or not, I don't know."
Change brings tensions
The sudden population shift has led to tensions in the community, and some ugly consequences.
"There tends to be a kind of knee-jerk reaction," Bradley said. "You really feel for those who are here legally. You get the sense that they're facing a backlash."
Thousands of Tennesseans like Cunza, a native of Peru and a U.S. citizen, face that backlash daily.
"People act like all people who are coming here from other places are coming to ruin your city and destroy your life," he said. "We're here for the jobs, like everyone else."
Rural areas draw many
The counties with the fastest-growing Hispanic populations are not necessarily the urban cores. Bedford County, with its poultry plants and Tennessee Walking Horse stables, has a population that is 12 percent Hispanic, according to the 2006 estimates.
Tiny Hamblen County in East Tennessee, where immigrants are drawn to the county's poultry farms and plants, is 10 percent Hispanic. Hispanics make up 7 percent of the population in Warren County, the state's nursery capital.
In Middle Tennessee, Hispanics make up an estimated 7 percent of the population in Davidson County, almost 6 percent of the population in Robertson County, 5 percent in Rutherford and 3.6 percent in Williamson.
In 1990, Hispanics made up less than 1 percent of the population in any of those counties.
Statewide, the largest Hispanic population was in Montgomery County, 3 percent of the county population
Social Engineering by the Left.
I hope these folks vote Conservative.
I used to work in a section of Nashville referred to as Little Mexico. Very true to the name.
I have been to the McDonalds in Cool Springs, uber upscale shopping area, on a Saturday morning and none of the counter help was remotely fluent in English.
And never ask someone at WalMart a question, esp after 10PM, unless you speak spanish.
Oh yes, there are a bunch of new hispanics in middle tennessee.
We are lousy with them.
We have a shortage of Lysol and Raid, please send asap.
I just love to hear those Mexican-southern accents.
It's terrible here.
But, these hispanics DO NOT NEED TO LEARN ENGLISH!!!!
It is all of us Americans that need to learn to speak spanish.
Please Press 1 for English
Press 2 for Spanish
Press 3 for um... nevermind
Dang, I thought I could move from FL to there to get away from it all.
I guess North Dakota or Montana is the next place to look.
Until recently, Tennessee made it very easy for illegals to get a drivers' license. Our state was well known among the illegals across the nation as a place to get "started" with a drivers license. Our local newspapers reported that many would caravan from across the country to get here.
Although I don't know specifically why it was easier to get a license here than most places. I do know that the TN legislators just passed some sort of a law that would make it a lot harder. Wish I could be more specific, but I've just picked up local news reports here and there.