Census data on growing diversity already borne out in NJ’s libraries, food markets

Hispanics, Asians grew the most in the 2020 census. Activists praise work to get them counted
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New Jersey’s growing population of Latinos and Asians can be seen on main streets and in grocery stores and libraries, where the demand for ethnic foods and language-specific books has also been on the rise.

Details released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau show New Jersey’s population grew over the last decade, boosted by sizeable increases in diverse populations. That growth, as well as the rising number of people now living in the state’s urban areas, reflected population trends across the country and reported in the first figures from the 2020 count of the American people.

In New Jersey, most of the population growth was in Hispanics, whose numbers rose 29% from the last count, and Asians, up 31%. Non-Hispanic whites declined by almost 8%.

In Edgewater, where the Asian population grew from 4,084 in 2010 to 5,079 in 2020, patrons enrolling in English as a Second Language courses are mostly from Japan or Korea, said Susan Price the ESL coordinator at the town library. She said the demand for books in Japanese and Korean has also grown in the past decade.

“We have more of a Korean collection than we do Japanese, although our Japanese collection has increased quite a bit, but our Korean collection is quite extensive,’’ Price said.

In Palisades Park, Mayor Christopher Chung, who is Korean, said when he walks into stores and coffee shops around town he also notices the changing face of the region. Besides the Korean and Latino residents in Palisades Park, he has also noticed more residents and shoppers who are Black, Arabic and of Indian ancestry.

Reaching out to diverse groups

“There is a definite need to reach out to these communities because the numbers speak for themselves,’’ Chung said. “It’s evident that the different ethnic groups are rising and something that we have to look at, and I look forward to working with other groups and meeting with their community leaders.”

The increase in the state’s diversity has broad implications in a number of areas, both for the redrawing of its congressional and legislative districts and for how schools and local governments assist residents.

The city of Paterson worked to make sure its official numbers accurately reflected the size of the city and the various people who live there. Now home to about 160,000 people, Paterson cracks a threshold for increased federal aid.

To show how important that is, Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh pointed to his city’s large growth in Latino residents. Thursday’s numbers put that increase at more than 17% and has been impacting classrooms, where more students with Dominican backgrounds have been registering. Sayegh said some of those students were newly arrived from the Dominican Republic, but others were from families who were priced out of New York and relocated to Paterson.

“We saw an incredible increase in the population, and we thought if we don’t capture this, once again we are not going to receive the resources we need,” he added.

Rev. Bolivar Flores, vice president of the Latino Coalition of Pastors and Ministers of New Jersey, said he was pleased with the officially recorded higher numbers in the Hispanic population.

Reluctance to fill out forms

His group, an independent collection of Christian leaders across many denominations, faced challenges in convincing Latino community members to fill out the census form, Flores said. Some were undocumented and felt uncomfortable sharing information, so faith leaders visited people at their homes to help them fill out the form. They also urged their parishioners to participate during weekly service.

“It was hard work, but with the numbers we are seeing today, it brings me satisfaction that the work was achieved,’’ Flores said.

Other activists praised the work done to get an accurate count.

“Despite the Trump administration’s best efforts to undermine, terrorize and undercount immigrants and communities of color in the 2020 census, the data — while likely incomplete — shows that Black, Latinx and Asian populations in New Jersey have grown in historic proportions. We demanded to be counted and to have our humanity recognized. Now, we urge our elected officials to reckon with our nearing majority: We deserve respect and dignity,” said Rosa Huitzilin Lopez of Make the Road New Jersey, a grassroots organization involved in all aspects of immigrant life.

Andrea Castaneda, director of marketing at Family Food Distributors in Kearny, which distributes food products that cater to the Latino community to supermarkets in New Jersey and other states, said the demand for foods from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras has grown in New Jersey in the past decade.

“Central Americans I believe have grown a lot in this area in the last few years,’’ she said. “I feel that the largest ethnic group that we have used to be Salvadorans and Guatemalans, but Hondurans have grown as well because I have brands that I carry that I see are growing because of it.”

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