May 20, 2011 | Greenwich Time | Original Article

Census: Growth in Hawaii Hispanics, mixed race

HONOLULU (AP) — When New York City-born Puerto Rican Jose Villa arrived in Hawaii 25 years ago, there were few fellow Latinos.

That's quickly changing, according to U.S. Census demographic data released Thursday that shows a 37.8 percent increase in Hawaii's Hispanic population from 2000 to 2010.

Villa and his wife traveled across the islands last year encouraging Latinos to participate in the Census. They found pockets of Hispanic culture — from Spanish Mass in Kona to Argentine-owned coffee shops on Maui.

"I've seen it grow from almost no community presence," he said. "The Hispanic community here is an emerging market."

According to the Census, there were 120,842 Hispanics in 2010, up from 87,699 in 2000.

Hawaii's diversity is expanding, said University of Hawaii ethnic studies professor Noel Kent.

"We basically had a diverse Asian, Polynesian and European population, but now we have a very strong Latino population," he said. "It's introducing a new cultural variant."

Hawaii and many Latin American countries have a lot in common, including a tropical climate, close-knit families and a culture that respects elders, said Villa, who is president of the Hispanic chamber of commerce called Latin Business Hawaii.

"Respect is very important in the Latino community, and it's also very important in the Asian and Hawaiian communities," he said. "To us, it's very comfortable here."

Hawaii's Latinos are a mix of ex-military, transplants from the mainland and recent immigrants, Villa said, resulting in a more pan-Hispanic community compared to the mainland, where enclaves, or barrios, exist for specific groups.

Not only is Hawaii making strides in diverse groups, but the mixed-race population increased from 21.4 percent in 2000 to 23.6 percent in 2010.

That's a reflection of a culture accepting of interracial marriages, said Sarah Yuan of the University of Hawaii's Center on the Family.

"We have a long history of interracial marriages," she said. "Interracial marriages in general don't cause as many family disputes."

While Hawaii has long been diverse, there's always room for more cultural acceptance, Yuan said. "As a more diverse population we do need to plan our services and be more sensitive to the needs of new immigrants."

Mirroring recent immigration trends, Filipinos surpassed Japanese as Hawaii's largest Asian group, said Acting State Economist Eugene Tian.

"The Japanese have been dominating the Asian group for many, many years," he said. "Now Japanese is the second-largest Asian group."

In 2000, there were 201,764 people who identified themselves as Japanese, which fell to 185,502 in 2010. There were 197,497 Filipinos counted in 2010, up from 170,635 in 2000.

Diversity in general is helpful to the economy, Tian said. He expects Hawaii's tourism industry to draw from the increase in mixed-race and Hispanic populations because they tend to have ties to other countries.