February 17, 2011 | Belleville Times | Original Article

Town's Hispanic Population Nearly Doubles,

Another page of Belleville history was written this month, in Spanish.

After decades upon decades as a predominantly white community, Belleville is now — officially — mostly Hispanic, according to 2010 U.S. Census data released on Feb. 4.

The Census Bureau reports 14,133 Hispanics in Belleville, compared to 13,868 whites.

And, those numbers may not paint the most realistic portrait of Belleville. According to some experts, Belleville's Hispanic head-count is probably higher than noted.

"I'm always curious, especially for New Jersey, how accurate the numbers really are because it was in New Jersey where a Hispanic pastor boycotted the census and encouraged Latino immigrants not to be counted," said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. "How many Latinos in New Jersey listened to such individuals who said not to fill out the census form…. We're missing out on a horrible opportunity for our people to progress."

Another issue concerns undocumented Hispanics not accounted in the census.

New Jersey housed approximately 550,000 illegal Hispanic immigrants in 2010, according to a Pew Hispanic Center report released on Feb. 1. According to the report, 6.2 percent of New Jersey's population is made up of undocumented Hispanics, ranking fifth in the nation. "The reality is that there are several Hispanics who are undocumented," said Fr. Ivan Sciberras of St. Peter's Church in Belleville. Sciberras wrote a master's thesis on pastoral care of newly-arrived Hispanic immigrants, started a Spanish apostolate in Ridgewood, and leads St. Peter's "booming" Spanish apostolate, with weekly Spanish-language services that are standing-room only.

"…And every week, when I stand outside St. Peter's Church before and after mass to greet the people, someone for the Spanish service introduces themselves to me as having just moved into town," Sciberras said.

Of St. Peter's large and growing Hispanic community, Sciberras estimates about 20 percent to be undocumented, he said.

Census boycotts and non-documentation aside, the census still points to substantial growth in Belleville's Hispanic population during the past decade.

In the 2000 census, 8,507 Hispanics were counted in Belleville, compared to 20,669 whites. Since then, Belleville's Hispanic population gained about as many members as the white population lost.

"In the U.S. in general, every Caucasian that dies is replaced by another Caucasian. Every Hispanic that dies is replaced by nine Hispanics," Sciberras said, citing his research.

Noting not only the increase in Belleville's Hispanic population, but also the decline in Belleville's white population, Sciberras said many Italian-Americans, whom he knows, have moved out of Belleville for more affluent communities, particularly in Fairfield and East Hanover. Meanwhile, a number of Belleville's young white people have begun working in New York City, and have moved to Manhattan or Hoboken for an easier commute, Sciberras added.