In long-predicted shift, California Latinos outnumber whites

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The long-expected moment when Latinos surpassed whites as California's largest racial or ethnic group has come and gone.

Hispanic Californians began to narrowly outnumber white Californians sometime in the first half of 2014, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released in late June.

At the Dia de Pesca restaurant in San Jose, co-owner Xavier Sanchez savors the chance to share his passion for food. "I call it the path of the heart. If you follow the path of the heart, then you know when you're doing right, you feel good in your heart," he said.

Sanchez was born in Whittier, but moved to San Jose at the age four. He eventually graduated from San Jose State later in life, then served in the Army and became one of San Jose's first Latino firefighters.

He's proud of his heritage and was inspired to open his restaurant after growing up in his father's cantina. "From my father, I learned to work hard and to be honest," Sanchez said.

Sanchez is one of the many who have contributed to the cultural fabric of the South Bay.

According to recent data available, the state had at least 14.99 million Latinos compared with about 14.92 million non-Hispanic whites as of July 1, 2014. Together, the two groups make up nearly 80 percent of the state's population.

Ron Gonzales, the first Hispanic to serve as mayor of San Jose since statehood says it's all about perspective. "Just having sheer numbers doesn't matter, if we're not engaged in all aspects of our society, whether it's jobs, housing, politics, or civic engagement in general," he said.

Gonzales is now president and CEO of the Hispanic foundation of Silicon Valley and says Latinos are a committed community, one that's worth investing in. "There's a lot of needs within the Hispanic community, but we have a lot of strengths, too," he said.

And regardless of what the numbers say. "We are all Americans, we should all help each other and you don't necessarily have to have blue eyes to be an American," Sanchez said.

Demographers had expected the shift for decades as the state's Hispanic population boomed due to immigration and birth rates.

Many thought it would happen sooner than it did - the California Department of Finance had predicted 2013 - but a slight decline in population pushed it to last year.

"This is sort of the official statistical recognition of something that has been underway for almost an entire generation," Roberto Suro, director of the Toms Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California, told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday.

California joins New Mexico as the second state with a Latino plurality. Hawaii, with its large Asian population, is the third state where whites are not the largest ethnic group.

California saw an immigration boom from Mexico and Central America during the 1980s, a population surge that has since moved to other states, particularly in the Midwest and South.

As that happened, California's Hispanic population has grown more rooted and settled.

Some 70 percent of the state's immigrants, the majority of those Latinos, were living in the U.S. before 2000, a higher rate than any other state, according to 2012 census data.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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