More Latinos opting out of  barrios  
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 21, 2005

Valley ethnic areas still thrive despite rising assimilation

Yvonne Wingett

When Juan Gonzalez's family abandoned a life in Michoacan, Mexico, for one in Arizona, they didn't move into barrios that reminded them of home.

Instead, the Gonzalezes moved into a neighborhood with manicured lawns, quiet streets and good schools, where they could quickly grasp English and make American friends.

From 1990 to 2000, a majority of Hispanics nationwide have followed the Gonzalezes' lead, choosing to live outside Hispanic-concentrated neighborhoods, according to a new national study by the Pew Hispanic Center.

More than 20 million, or 57 percent, of the nation's native-born and immigrant Hispanics live in areas where they are not the majority.

That's up from 39 percent in 1990, according to the Pew analysis.

The study contradicts a commonly held notion that Latinos tend to cluster in Hispanic neighborhoods, holding on to language, culture and political beliefs, researchers said.

In addition, it shows Latinos are more likely to have non-Hispanic neighbors and speak only English if they live outside the ethnic communities.

"Latinos are incorporating themselves into the fabric of American life," research associate Sonya Tafoya said.

In Arizona, about 699,000, or 54 percent, of Latinos lived in non-Hispanic neighborhoods in 2000, slightly below the national average. They are mostly bilingual and English-speakers, with higher incomes and lower poverty rates than Latinos living in ethnic enclaves. The percentage for 1990 was unavailable.

Although the assimilation trend is clear, it doesn't mean that Hispanic communities aren't flourishing.

 Located mostly in south and west Phoenix, they continue to grow most likely due to immigration from Mexico. More than 500,000 Hispanics moved to Arizona from 1990 to 2000.

Hispanic-majority neighborhoods are often the first home of new immigrants, where living close to relatives and a familiar culture is important. 

Those who scatter

A decade ago, the Gonzalezes were one of the first Latino families to settle in a neighborhood near 44th Street and Indian School Road. Arcadia's reputation as a quality neighborhood with quality schools lured them.

"My family looked different," said Juan Gonzalez, a 19-year-old landscaper.

"But we were looking for a home with a good school district."

Arizona's growing economy has generated jobs and opportunity for many

Hispanics, which is partly driving the dispersal, researchers said.

"It's clear that people who are better off are more likely to live scattered," said Roberto Suro, director of Washington's Pew. "There are fewer upscale opportunities to live in the barrio."

Hispanics including Conchita Raíces-Kollmann moved to a custom Tempe community for its property values and central location. She's one of a few Hispanics in the neighborhood near Warner and McClintock roads but says that doesn't prevent her from staying close to her Latin roots.

"The more assimilated the Hispanic becomes, the more they're going to gravitate to living in other neighborhoods," said Raíces-Kollmann, 47, owner of a Spanish-language advertising agency. "My husband is Anglo. Not that I don't think he would fit in a predominately Hispanic community . . . but I just gravitated here."

Those who cluster

Others gravitate to the Valley's ethnic enclaves.

It's easier to establish new lives among people who understand Spanish dialects, the significance of the Virgin of Guadalupe and fixations with telenovelas.

Of Arizona Hispanics who live in Hispanic-dominant areas, 56 percent are foreign-born; 41 percent of U.S.-born Hispanics live in those areas.

Again, Arizona's proximity to the border accounts for the numbers.

"(But) it's a mistake to think of these places as isolated ethnic enclaves where not a word of English is spoken and people are ghetto-ized and cut off rom American realities," said Suro, of Pew. "Turns out that a great many immigrants are living with a lot of native-born, non-Spanish-speaking Americans and are going through a sink-or-swim assimilation."

Some might say Nancy Espinoza is sinking, but she doesn't.

Reunification with her older sister three years ago drew the 24-year-old to a heavily immigrant neighborhood near 25th Street and McDowell Road. Espinoza can't speak English and says she doesn't need to.

After all, her close-knit community is just like her native ranch town in Michoacan, Mexico, with its dirt lots, thumping norteña music and nearby Wal-Mart.

Espinoza shares a small cinderblock apartment complex with other immigrants who speak her language, know her country and her culture. Some might call it an ethnic ghetto. She happily calls it home.

"I have my stores, I have my family, I have my job," said Espinoza, watching her 3-year-old daughter pedal around a dirt parking lot with parked cars with Mexican license plates.

"There are more Mexicans that live here. Good people that remind me of  home."

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-4712.