David Schultz, Arlington Connection, December 3, 2008
THE STATISTICS back up Creedon’s [Father Gerry Creedon of St. Charles Catholic Church in Arlington] anecdotal evidence. According to a recent Pew Hispanic Center Report, Arlington’s Latino population has decreased by eight percent from 2000 to 2007. In that same time period, the Latino population of Fairfax County grew by 28 percent and the Latino populations of Loudoun and Prince William nearly tripled. The Latino community in Prince William County is now one of the top 25 fastest growing for any county in the United States, according to the report. “Northern Virginia . . . clearly is the fastest growing area for Latinos,” Pew Hispanic Center researcher Richard Fry said.
And yet, as this regional population boom has occurred, Arlington’s Latino community has been on the wane. Fry said that a major reason for this phenomenon is the high cost of housing in Arlington. “It’s widely acknowledged that, relative to the outer counties, Arlington housing costs got pretty pricey,” he said. “There’s a number of apartment communities in South Arlington that literally were leveled . . . and more upscale housing was built.”
Fry also said that there were many more construction industry jobs available in the rapidly developing outer suburbs than in Arlington. “Construction is a major area where Latinos work,” he said.
Audrey Singer is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and has done extensive research into the Washington area’s Latino community. She said that these population trends run counter to the perception of Arlington as a “landing place for newcomers coming into the country. … Arlington has changed a lot over the last 10, 15 years.”
PARADOXICALLY, Arlington’s Latino community has grown in visibility as its numbers have declined. Dozens of amateur soccer teams with predominantly Latino players have sprung up throughout the county. The local Bolivian community has established a folkloric dance troupe that performs annually at Arlington’s Neighborhood Day parade.
And Arlington’s Latino community has become politically powerful over the last eight years as well. County Board Member Walter Tejada (D) and School Board Member-elect Emma Violand-Sanchez became Arlington’s first Latino elected officials. In 2006, Gov. Tim Kaine (D) appointed Arlington resident Alfonso Lopez as the state’s top lobbyist in Washington D.C. And last year, the Arlington County Board unanimously passed a pro-immigrant resolution amid illegal immigrant crackdowns in neighboring jurisdictions.
THESE POPULATION trends may be beginning to change, however, due to the collapsing economies and anti-illegal immigrant policies of some of the outer suburbs.
“There’s been some movement back to Arlington recently,” Singer said. “Arlington is a welcoming place for immigrants. I know the County government has worked hard to maintain that image. . . . With housing prices and gas prices, people are starting to value living more densely but closer to the core.”