Growing Hispanic population expected to continue
"This is the official wake-up call," Perry said.
Census figures released this month show Rock County's Hispanic population more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, easily outpacing Hispanic growth statewide.
Wisconsin's booming Hispanic population over the last decade might be the beginning of a trend, as growth continues to spill from Chicago into southeastern parts of the state.
Rene Bue, bilingual services coordinator at Hedberg Public Library, expects that trend to continue.
Chicago by far has more Hispanics than any other city in the Great Lakes region, but the Census indicated many of those residents are moving away from the inner city. That could significantly increase growth in southeastern Wisconsin, where Bue said Hispanics are finding jobs in construction and factories.
"It's definitely (because of) the Chicago region," said Bue, who also is involved with the county's Latino Service Providers Coalition. "A lot of people are tending to move from larger (communities). They're kind of looking away from those major metropolitan cities, and we've definitely seen a lot of that."
Perry said Hispanic families might tend to stay in the Midwest because this part of the United States has not had the fierce debates about immigration that have been common in the western part of the country.
"It's about emotional and physical safety," Perry said. "It's about being somewhere where you're feeling safe and welcome."
Hispanic numbers in Rock County took off during the 1990s. Growth was in the single digits during the 80s, but from 1990 to 2000 it increased 239 percent. The 2010 census revealed it was up 104 percent during the last decade.
Bue said Janesville has done pretty well adjusting to a new culture. Last summer, it provided community surveys in Spanish and has made similar outreach efforts to accommodate the growing number of Hispanic business owners, she said.
Bue acknowledged there likely are a "large number" of Hispanics in Rock County that are undocumented. Still, she believes the census numbers are an accurate reflection of growth here.
"Maybe we can't continue to ignore the trend," Bue said. "It's not going to stop happening overnight. Some people might not be happy about it, but we really need to face reality and start embracing the change and not fighting the change."
The Hispanic population in Walworth County hasn't grown as quickly as Rock County's has in the last decade, but the percentage of Hispanics living in Walworth County is higher. The Hispanic population in Walworth County grew 72 percent since the 2000 census, and it makes up 10.3 percent of the county's total population.
Some service providers are doing better than others when it comes to working with the Hispanic population, Perry said.
"Honestly, I think we're playing catch up," Perry said.
As an example, the Delavan-Darien School District employs about 20 people who are fluent in English and Spanish, said Mike Heine, coordinator of school-community relations for the district.
The district emphasizes the importance of Spanish fluency in its hiring process, although it's far from the only requirement for employment, Heine said.
Of 2,600 students in the district, about 700 are English-language learners, Heine said.
The changing population numbers are part of the globalization that is happening in America and around the world, Perry said. America always has been a nation of many cultures, and activities that might seem foreign today could seem very American in just a few years, Perry said.
"We live in a global society now," Perry said. "The Hispanic population and other populations as well are all coming into the states and changing the dynamic of what we think of as American."