By DAVID OLSON
Latinos now outnumber all other racial and ethnic groups in San Bernardino County, making it the second-biggest county in the nation with a Hispanic majority, newly released census data shows.
The U.S. Census Bureau's long-expected designation of the county as majority-Hispanic reflects a decades-long shift of the Inland area from overwhelmingly white to a region with a concentration of Latinos equal to that of Los Angeles.
San Bernardino County was 26.7 percent Latino in 1990. As of July 1, 2012, it was 50.5 percent Hispanic, U.S. Census Bureau estimates found.
Miami-Dade County in Florida is the only other county with a population over 2 million that has a Hispanic majority.
San Bernardino County's Latino population nearly tripled between 1990 and 2012, from 378,582 in 1990 to 1,050,372 in 2012.
"This is an indication of where the rest of the counties in Southern California -- and parts of the United States -- are headed in the future," said Karthick Ramakrishnan, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Riverside.
The Census Bureau's population estimates, released Wednesday, are based on information such as birth, death and tax records.
Los Angeles County's 4.8 million Hispanics, 48 percent of that county's population, are by far the nation's largest Latino community.
As San Bernardino County's Latino population has soared, its white population has been falling for years. There were 200,000 fewer whites in San Bernardino County in 2012 than there were in 1990 -- even though the county's overall population rose by 660,000.
The racial and ethnic change in some San Bernardino County cities has been dramatic. In 1990, 45 percent of Rialto's residents were white. In 2010, fewer than 13 percent were, according to an analysis Johnson did of census data. The Latino share of Rialto's population rose from just over 31 percent to nearly 68 percent.
A similar ethnic shift has occurred in neighboring San Bernardino.
Yet many residents of San Bernardino and other parts of the Inland area are from families who have spent generations in the Inland region, in some cases dating back to when California was part of Mexico.
Mitla Caf� on the historically Latino and black Westside of San Bernardino is a favorite meeting place for Hispanic residents with deep roots in the region.
Joseph Humildad, 78, grew up the son of Mexican immigrants in what he described as "a little village" that sat in what is now eastern Highland.
"My parents and most of the (Hispanic) people came to work in the orange groves," Humildad recalled as he sat waiting for his lunch with three generations of his family at Mitla.
Seared in Humildad's memory is the day when he was playing with a white girl and her mother yanked her away, saying, "'I don't want you playing with a Mexican.' "
It was an era when Latinos faced legalized segregation and were all but politically powerless.
Today, Latinos' growing numbers have helped transform the Inland region's politics from solidly Republican red to competitive purple.
San Bernardino County's Latino-majority milestone will make elected officials listen more carefully to Latino concerns, said Arnulfo De La Cruz, California director for Mi Familia Vota, a six-state Latino voter-registration group that has its state headquarters in Riverside.
"There is power in numbers," he said.
But, he said, the extent of that power depends on how many of those Latinos register to vote. The younger-than-average Latino population means many Hispanics aren't old enough to vote. Others are undocumented immigrants or legal U.S. residents who can't vote because they are not citizens. Mi Familia Vota and other groups have organized citizenship drives.
Even though Latinos are now a majority of San Bernardino County's residents, a much smaller proportion of the elected officials throughout the county are Latino, said Emilio Amaya, executive director of the San Bernardino Community Service Center, an immigrant-assistance group.
In some parts of the Inland area, that has led to a lack of attention to the needs of Latinos, especially Spanish-speaking residents who in some cities have trouble accessing many government services because of a lack of Spanish-language materials, Amaya said
"For us, this is an opportunity and a challenge," he said. "If we don't participate in the decision-making process, having a demographic majority won't really mean anything."
Source: The Republic