Latino population booming in California San Joaquin Valley

The San Joaquin Valley has one of the largest Latino populations in the country -- and it's growing rapidly, according to a Pew Hispanic Center report released Thursday.

The center, which researches trends among Latinos, found California has the largest Latino population in the country. Most California Latinos live in Los Angeles and throughout the San Joaquin Valley, where their cultural and commercial influence is apparent. Latino leaders hope recognizing the population shift will encourage Latinos to become more engaged in a community that increasingly reflects the face they see in the mirror.

The study also found Latino population growth this decade stems more from reproduction than immigration.

Balvino Irizarry, president of the Modesto-based Hispanic Leadership Council, wasn't surprised.

"They came for jobs local people don't seem to be willing to do. Once you get here, there's no incentive to go back. So you settle and raise your family here," he said. "It's harder and more expensive to immigrate now."

Much of the Latino population growth this decade has been in small and midsized towns and suburbs, a change, according to the report, which is based on U.S. Census Bureau estimates. It's unclear why, said author Richard Fry, a senior research associate at the Pew Hispanic Center.

"We just know they pursue vigorous labor markets," Fry said.

Stanislaus County's Latino population grew by 41 percent from 2000 to 2007. San Joaquin and Sacramento counties also have some of the fastest Latino population growth rates. Most other counties with fast Latino population growth rates mentioned in the report began with comparatively small La-tino populations.

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