For generations, the story of the small rural town of the Great Plains, including the dusty tabletop landscape of western Kansas, has been one of exodus — of businesses closing, classrooms shrinking and, year after year, communities withering as fewer people arrive than leave and as fewer are born than are buried. That flight continues, but another demographic trend has breathed new life into the region.
Hispanics are arriving in numbers large enough to offset or even exceed the decline in the white population in many places. In the process, these new residents are reopening shuttered storefronts with Mexican groceries, filling the schools with children whose first language is Spanish and, for now at least, extending the lives of communities that seemed to be staggering toward the grave.
That demographic shift, seen in the findings of the 2010 census, has not been uniformly welcomed in places where steadiness and tradition are seen as central charms of rural life. Some longtime residents of Ulysses, where the population of 6,161 is now about half Hispanic, grumble over the cultural differences and say they feel like strangers in their hometown. But the alternative, community leaders warn, is unacceptable.
“We’re either going to change or we’re going to die,” said Thadd Kistler, a lifelong resident who recently stepped down as mayor. “This is Ulysses now, this is the United States now, this immigration is happening and the communities that are extending a hand are going to survive.”
“The face of small towns is changing dramatically as a result,” said Robert Wuthnow, a Kansas-born Princeton professor who studied the Hispanic influx for his book “Remaking the Heartland: Middle America since the 1950s.” “The question is: Is this going to save these small towns?”
At the same time, the San Diego Union-Tribune was reporting on the growth in Southern California of Hispanic supermarkets.
About 1 in 3 San Diego residents is Hispanic, up from around 1 in 4 a decade ago, according to 2010 census data. The U.S. Hispanic food and beverage market is $7 billion and is expected to reach $10 billion in 2014, according to market research by Rockville, Md.-based Packaged Facts.
Supermarket operators want a share of that spending. In San Diego County alone, at least a dozen Latin supermarkets have popped up in the past decade, sometimes in space vacated by mainstream supermarkets. The store operators include , , and