Fifty years ago, Hispanics made up barely 15% of Santa Ana's population. Mostly farm workers and laborers, they were forced to attend "Mexican" schools, not allowed to eat in certain restaurants, and segregated into five barrios.
Now, according to U.S. Census figures released Monday, they make up 65% of the population, giving Santa Ana by far the highest percentage of Hispanics of any major California city. Los Angeles, the most populous city in California, has the second-highest percentage of Hispanics at 40%, while Anaheim is third highest with 30%.
And where they once were treated as second-class citizens, Latinos today are thriving in Santa Ana. In the once-financially strapped downtown area of the city, shoppers flock to Latino-owned businesses. The colorful Fiesta Marketplace and 4th Street corridor are two of the city's biggest redevelopment success stories. Students with Hispanic surnames make up 83% of the Santa Ana Unified School District, which is headed by a Latino, Rudy Castruita. And while the barrios still exist in the city, Latinos have staked out properties all across Santa Ana.
City officials say they are not surprised by the latest U.S. Census figures. The Hispanic population has more than doubled since the 1980 Census--when Hispanics made up 44% of the population--and the impact has been felt at many levels. But Latino leaders say that despite the large numbers, City Hall still ignores issues that are important to their population.
"We have to educate the Anglo community into knowing that we are the largest part of the population in this city," said Irene Martinez-Griffith, president of the Democratic Chicano Latino Caucus. "It's unfortunate that there's no sensitivity to our population. But we're not going to go away."
Latino activist Rueben Martinez predicts that the city will have at least five Latino City Council members in the future. It currently has two on the seven-member panel.
"We're getting more people registered to vote," said Martinez, a former treasurer of the county's Democratic Party. "People are getting educated and learning that it's important to get elected to office.
Despite the push for City Hall power, there have been setbacks, Martinez said, adding that sometimes Santa Ana officials have instigated measures that hurt the Latino population.
Martinez points to a recently proposed pushcart law that would bar vendors from selling goods anywhere except on certain downtown streets. And at its last meeting, the council outlawed outdoor swap meets that are favored by Latinos.
"The city doesn't want to compromise for the Latino population," Martinez said. "We're not asking for the world, and we're not taking over the city either. But the city is being unfair."
But City Manager David N. Ream said the city does indeed want to work with the Latino community. He says that city officials have helped Latino businesses obtain small loans and rovides bilingual services for residents who do not speak English. Ream says that the city has also maintained a partnership with the Santa Ana Unified School District that emphasizes bilingual education.
"I think the biggest challenge we have for the next decade is to work with the school district," Ream said. "We want to ensure that this predominately young population is brought into the mainstream of American society through a quality education."
Ream says he has also initiated an affirmative action program to hire more minorities in the City Hall work force.
But Councilman John Acosta, one of two Latinos on the council, says there is still a lack of Latinos in the higher echelons of City Hall.
"Ream has not hired anybody in decision-making or executive positions that can really be familiar with or understand the needs of the minority community," Acosta said. "I would like to see someday a city manager, a police chief, a fire chief, or a mayor that represents what is now the majority of the community. I long to be able to see that in my lifetime."
Although the Latino population has the numbers on the census books, it still hasn't grasped its full political powers, Councilman Miguel A. Pulido Jr. says.
"Cultures still clash in Santa Ana, and we have a system that still has to solve issues that are important to the Hispanic community," Pulido said. "But more importantly, we're growing in power, and more and more Latinos are voting. There will be no changes overnight, but in a couple of years, the changes will be here."
Hispanic Portion of Populations in State's Largest Cities
These 1990 census figures reflect significant increases in Hispanic populations in California's top 10 cities.
Santa Ana: 65% Los Angeles: 40% Anaheim: 31% Fresno: 30% San Jose: 27% Long Beach: 24% San Diego: 21% Sacramento: 16% Oakland: 14% San Francisco: 14% Source: Census Bureau SANTA ANA ETHNIC POPULATION CHANGES
1980-'90 % of Total Percent 1990 Population Change Total TOTAL 293,742 +44 100.0 Hispanic 191,383 +111 65.2 Anglo 67,897 -25 23.1 Asian 26,867 +169 9.1 Black 6,454 -19 2.2 Indian 720 N/A 0.3 Other 421 -88 0.1
N/A Comparable 1980 Census data not available Source: U.S. Census Bureau