March 5, 2011 | Fremont Tribune | Original Article

City, state see rise in Hispanic population

Not only are a larger percentage of Nebraskans Hispanic or Latino, but that ethnic group itself has changed in the past two decades.

Nebraska started to feel an insurgence of Hispanics in the 1990s when they moved into the state for jobs at meat packing plants, University of Nebraska at Omaha demographer David Drozd explained.

"In 1990 there were only 223 Hispanics in Dodge County, a very small pool of persons with that ethnicity," Drozd said. "We went from 223 in that Census up to over 1,400 in 2000, that's when the first big growth occurred."

In the two decades since, those workers have put down roots and raised families in the Cornhusker state. Drozd believes that trend will be reflected when age-specific data is released later.

"Initially, it was mostly workers, and then workers either brought family here or started their own families. We are going to see more kids in this next set of data for specifically Hispanics," Drozd said.

Alfredo Velez of Fremont was in the first wave of Hispanic immigrants when he moved from Mexico to Washington at age 20 in 1976.

About a month later he went to North Platte for a packing plant job, then worked at the packing plant in Madison. He moved to Fremont in 1998 and owns the Super Mercado y Carniceria - supermarket and meat market - at the corner of Fourth and D streets.

"When we came (to the United States), me and my friends were single," he said. "We just came to see how it was because we heard they make more money over here and it's a good life. After that I went back to Mexico and got married and I brought my wife and my kids over here."

Two of his four children were born in the United States - one in Nebraska.

"It's a better life over here because this country is rich and in our countries the people in authority, I don't think they do the right things for their people," he said. "They're just trying to get rich themselves, they're not trying to help their people have a better life, go to school, have a better future. They don't think like that."

Hispanics don't just work packing plant jobs anymore, he said.

"People have different views and now they can work anyplace else, like construction," Velez said.

He has relatives who own businesses in Schuyler, Crete and Storm Lake, Iowa.

Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ron Tillery said he doesn't have figures reflecting the number of minority-owned local businesses.

"I look around and I see half a dozen minority-owned businesses in downtown Fremont, and I know there are likely others that are not immediately apparent, construction or service oriented businesses sprinkled throughout the community," Tillery said.

"I think we're seeing a growing number of minority owned businesses in the community," he said.

Recognizing that, Tillery said, the Chamber is making it a priority to get more minority representation on task forces and committees.

Drozd said Hispanics are finding themselves more competitive in a broader job market as their educational levels increase.

"We're moving into this time period where hopefully people will have more options based on their better education than what their parents had," Drozd said.

"We haven't had a chance to analyze this yet, but at the time of the 2000 Census for those Hispanics in Nebraska who were age 25 or older, less than half had a high school diploma," he said. "Now I think we're going to see much higher levels of educational attainment, not only for high school but starting to go into bachelor's degrees as well."