Hispanic population growing here

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By Jesef Williams

Ramon Escamillia says he is living out his dream – right here in Lancaster County.

Escamillia, who was born and raised in Mexico, has been living in Lancaster since 1993. He first came to the United States when he was 12.

Escamillia, now 33, recalls the impoverished conditions his family lived in while in Mexico. He says his goal was to one day move to the United States.

“America was the thing,” he said. “That was the dream – to come to the U.S.”

Escamillia’s move to Lancaster is representative of a continuing trend, as the county has seen a surge in its Hispanic population in the present decade.

From 2000 to 2007, Lancaster County had the 25th fastest-growing Hispanic population in the country, according to an October study by the Pew Hispanic Center, a group that examines national Hispanic population trends.

The rankings were based on the counties that had at least 1,000 Hispanics in 2007, said Richard Fry, who authored the study.

Lancaster was the only county in the Carolinas to make the top 25. Frederick and Culpeper counties in Virginia were ranked No. 1 and 2, respectively.

All but eight of the top-25 counties are in the Southeast.

Neighboring York County ranked 33rd for growth during that seven-year period. The other South Carolina counties to crack the top 100 were Dorchester, Horry, Lexington, Jasper and Greenville.

The numbers

The study listed Lancaster County’s 2007 Hispanic population at 2,453, a 151 percent increase from 2000. The numbers are based on U.S. Census Bureau county population estimates.

Sal Estrada, who runs the Multi-Cultural Information Center in Lancaster, believes the numbers for this county are underestimated.

Estrada thinks Pew’s data only reflects between one-fourth and one-third of the true Hispanic population. He says some local Hispanic residents choose not to complete Census questionnaires in fear that the information may lead to their deportation.

“It’s a cultural thing,” Estrada said. “A trust thing.”

‘Lancaster just feels right’

Estrada moved from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, to Chicago and then to Lancaster, where he’s been for 15 years.

During that time, he says the trend has shifted from Hispanics locating in big cities to moving to more rural areas.

Jobs in construction and farming make Lancaster County a hot target, along with it’s proximity to the mountains and beaches, Estrada says.

Likewise, Escamillia believes many Hispanics – like other groups – move to Lancaster County to experience a small-town feel, away from big city life.

 He says living in a smaller community helps when you’re trying to transition from another country’s culture and lifestyle.

And Lancaster County is large enough to support a business endeavor, according to Escamillia, who’s a manager at La Chalupa Mexican restaurant in Lancaster. He’s worked there since his family opened it 12 years ago.

“There’s less traffic and you’re still close to a big city,” Escamillia said.

“Lancaster just feels right,” he said.

Contact reporter Jesef Williams at jwilliams@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1152