Hispanics and the Global Heartland

Karla and Celia López del Río


Hispanics constitute the majority.

The Heartland continues to experience an influx of Hispanic immigrant workers, as seen in the last decade. Hispanic populations increased more than three times as fast as the national population from 2010 to 2019 (19.2% compared to 6.1%). The fastest growth was in North Dakota (119%) and South Dakota (61%) and seven states saw growth of greater than 30 percent.[i] Overall, the Hispanic population in the Heartland grew roughly 10 percent faster than the rest of the country. In Iowa, over one-third of all immigrants come from Mexico or Central America.

Hispanics are migrating to the Heartland for many different reasons. Some are leaving metro areas like Chicago or Los Angeles for states like Tennessee and Iowa for lower cost of living, affordable housing and for the chance at homeownership at an accessible purchase price.

The multifaceted Hispanic immigrant community parallels the 19th century German and other Northern European immigrants in the Heartland. Like Hispanics, the European wave of immigrants comprised different ethnicities such as European-Germans and Russian-Germans but was lumped into the same identity because they spoke the German language.[ii] German immigrants first began arriving en masse to American port cities like New York, Philadelphia and New Orleans during the 19th century. They then began moving west to become prosperous farmers in the Heartland.

To preserve their culture and language, German immigrants introduced early childhood education with the concept of kindergarten in their German schools.[iii] Similarly, Hispanic immigrants’ influence has led to the creation of an English/Spanish dual-language school program in Omaha, Neb., where 13.9 percent of the population is Latino.[iv] The school program operates in 10 schools with 2,800 students providing Spanish-speaking students and English-speaking students with the opportunity to learn multiculturalism and bilingualism at an early age.[v]

Like the Heartland European immigrants, Mexicans and Mexican Americans have been particularly critical in agriculture, manufacturing and construction, but their upward trajectory has been slowed due to a lack of services. In Tennessee, for example, Hispanic homeownership demand is growing, but Hispanics have difficulty finding Spanish-speaking loan officers or educational resources about credit and the home loan process.[vi]

Luis Garcia is a diversity business specialist for the city of Knoxville and sees Hispanic entrepreneurship stagnating from the lack of resources and a viable network. “I work in the purchasing area for the city. I specialize in finding Latino vendors for all types of city needs, from guns to hats to paper, so I have the task to find these vendors, which is difficult because we are not communicating or collaborating with each other,” Garcia said. “So, creating a network is important. Actually, locally, I am collaborating with other leaders to put together a quick directory that helps us stay connected.”[vii]

Immigration status also plays a strong factor in Hispanics’ economic stability. Undocumented workers often find their opportunities limited to agricultural work and food processing jobs. Those who arrive legally need time to establish work and credit histories, while acquiring English can be a challenge for adults. Yet despite these obstacles, the Hispanic imprint on the region seems certain to grow in the decades ahead and will reprise the role played by past immigrants who shaped and developed the vast region. 

[i] Lydia R. Anderson “Hispanics in the Midwest” Ohio Population New, Center for Family and Demographic Research, April 2016 https://www.bgsu.edu/content/dam/BGSU/college-of-arts-and-sciences/center-for-family-and-demographic-research/documents/OPN/Ohio-Population-News-2016-Hispanics-in-the-Midwest.pdf

[ii] Eleanor L. Turk “Germans in Kansas” Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains, Spring 2005 https://www.kshs.org/publicat/history/2005spring_turk.pdf

[iii] “German Immigration” NBC New Learn, May 1, 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuCf-2idBs4

[iv]Census Bureau, Quick Facts, Omaha City, Nebraska https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/omahacitynebraska/PST045219

[v]Erin Duffy, “ OPS dual-language program caters to students new to English or Spanish” Omaha World Herald, October 16, 2019  https://omaha.com/news/education/ops-dual-language-program-caters-to-students-new-to-english-or-spanish/article_e64c1272-492c-5ad7-aaee-1e6d04692c9b.html

[vi]Brenna McDermott “ Hispanic potential homeowners need better resources” Knox News, October 9, 2019 https://www.knoxnews.com/story/money/business/2019/10/09/hispanic-homeowners-east-tennessee-need-more-real-estate-resources/2343627001/

[vii]Virtual Interview:  Luis Garcia, Diversity Business Specialist at City of Knoxville, Tennessee via Zoom, December 18, 2020