February 25, 2011 | Mail Tribune | Original Article

Sharp increase in Latino population

The number of Latino residents in Jackson County has nearly doubled since 2000 and now makes up nearly 11 percent of the county's population, according to additional U.S. Census data released Thursday.

The officially recorded Latino population grew by more than 79 percent, from 12,126 in 2000 to 21,745 in 2010. Meanwhile, the total county population grew by 12 percent from 181,269 in 2000 to 203,206 in 2010.

Uriel Castillo, general manager of El Gallo Mexican Supermarket on Medford's West Main Street, said he's not surprised by the figures.

"When we started 13 years ago, we were the only Mexican market," Castillo said. "Right now, there are eight or nine others."

He said the Latino community has expanded because of both immigration and growing families. They tend to congregate in the West Medford area, he said.

"We have a lot of customers who don't drive," Castillo said. "Our location is good for them because it's only a five-minute walk."

Some arrivals, such as Myra and Miguel Hernandez of Medford, continue to work in Southern Oregon's agriculture industry.

The couple and their two sons, Atlay, 4, and Gabriel, 5, moved to Medford six months ago from California to be closer to Myra's brother and sister.

Jackson County's census figures reflected similar growth statewide. Overall, Latinos made up 11.7 percent of the state population in 2010 and grew by 63.5 percent since 2000.

Whites remain the county's most numerous ethnic group at 88.7 percent. The county's Native Americans, blacks, Asians and Pacific Islanders each still make up 1 percent or less.

The Census Bureau made a concerted effort to reach more minority residents of the country after an estimated 3.3 million people were not counted in the 2000 census. More than half of those believed to have been missed were Latino or African-American.

The last decade has brought a surge in political and civic activity among Jackson County's Latinos. Latino leaders held a summit more than a year ago aimed at improving Latino education outcomes. That resulted in the formation of a Latino Advisory Committee that meets monthly with the superintendent in the Medford School District, where 21 percent of the district's 12,500 pupils are Latino.

Earlier this year, the Medford School Board appointed Medford attorney Marlene Rocio Yesquen, making her its only Latino member. Last month, the district held its first-ever budget forum entirely in Spanish.

Spanish also is the most popular second-language to study at Jackson County high schools.

Castillo said in the past decade, he's observed more interaction between whites and Latinos. His customer base has been growing, among both Latinos and whites. About 30 to 40 percent of El Gallo's customers are white compared to 10 percent in 2000, he said.

Latinos and the others visit the store to buy authentic Mexican cuisine, from freshly-made tortillas to Mexican chorizo sausage to colorful payaso (clown) cookies.