'Fast but positive' change
Business signs in Spanish have started to pop up in a number of Iowa cities, promoting eateries, night clubs and grocery stores to a booming Hispanic population.
That's nothing new to Storm Lakers. A new Census study released this month shows Buena Vista county with the largest percentage of Hispanics in its total population in Iowa, at 15.9 percent.
The county is far from alone. The number of Hispanics in Wapello County grew by 108 percent from 2000 to 2003 - the nation's highest rate of growth.
County Supervisor Steve Siegel said the Latino residents have been a boon for his community.
"It's kept our population up, helped us with school enrollment figures and money from the state," he said. "There's additional people living here and buying houses and buying groceries."
Iowa's population grew by 0.6 percent from 2000 to 2003. More than half of the state's new residents during that three-year period were Hispanic. The Latino population grew by 12.1 percent to make up 3.1 percent of Iowa's population.
Mayor Dale Uehling said the booming Hispanic community hasn't heaped extra duties on local authorities and hasn't been isolated in "Hispanic ghettos" as has happened in other larger metropolitan areas.
"We have a number of different elementary schools and have Hispanic children in nearly all of those schools," he said. "For things happening this fast, things have been quite positive."
Jorge Arellano, 31, a local business owner and father of two, said many residents have made extra efforts to overcome language barriers. "The teachers are learning Spanish so they can communicate with the little kids who don't speak English," he said.
"People...are learning more about different cultures," he said recently during a busy lunch hour at his brightly colored restaurant. "We've been doing good. It's a small town, people get to know you better."
Census figures show that Polk County, where the Iowa capital of Des Moines is located, had the state's highest Latino population with 19,296. Many of the other top 20 counties with Hispanic populations of more than 1,000 that had a high percentage growth of Hispanic residents were in Georgia and Virginia.