April 16, 2011 | South Carolina Times | Original Article

Hispanics transform state demographics

MELROSE — Duck into a Melrose restaurant for lunch these days, and the menu is more likely to include flautas de pollo than sauerkraut and kielbasa.

Stop at the corner grocery store, and you might pick up some beef foot or dried chili peppers along with the usual carton of milk. Visit the school, and you’ll see students of every color in every classroom. Spend a few minutes at any of these places, and you’ll hear and read Spanish and English.

In the past two decades, Melrose has changed from an overwhelmingly white city with strong German ancestry to a diverse community with a growing Hispanic population.

According to the 2010 census data released last month, the city’s Hispanic population more than doubled in the last decade. Hispanics now make up nearly a quarter of the city’s total population of 3,598.

The influx of Spanish-speaking residents has changed the community in countless ways. But unlike some cities, Melrose hasn’t struggled with painful racial tensions or clashes of culture. That could be linked to a welcoming attitude demonstrated by city and church leaders, as well as efforts to help integrate immigrants into the community.

“We have not had that type of hostility toward each other,” said John Jensen, the city’s police chief.

Melrose isn’t alone in its demographic change. Other Stearns County cities have seen similar increases in Hispanic residents since 2000. Typically, the communities have a large factory that offers employment to immigrants, such as Jennie-O in Melrose. Dairy farms also frequently employ Hispanic workers.

Cold Spring, home of a Gold’n Plump poultry plant, had 40 Hispanic residents a decade ago and now has 287, according to the census bureau. Sauk Centre’s Hispanic residents increased by 800 percent from 21 to 189.

Elsewhere in Central Minnesota, the cities of Long Prairie and Willmar also experienced burgeoning Hispanic populations.

The trend mirrors what’s happening on a state and national scale. Hispanics accounted for more than half of the U.S. population increase over the last decade and crossed a new census milestone: 50 million, or one in six Americans.