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Hispanic, Asian populations are fastest growing minorities

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DORAVILLE, Ga. (AP) — Still leery of his near-flawless English, Jose Quintana is among an increasing number of Hispanics drawn to this Atlanta suburb by a tight community of helpful immigrants.

"You know, 17 people can come here together, live together, look out for each other. We help each other," said Quintana, a Salvadorean who moved to Georgia six months ago from Rochester, N.Y., to live with his sister. "No English? They'll help you. It's a community."

Census Bureau estimates released Wednesday show that increases in the nation's two fastest-growing minority populations — Hispanics and Asians — are beginning to spur growth in nontraditional immigrant destinations such as northern Georgia.

Between July 1, 1990, and July 1, 1999, the nation's Asian and Pacific Islander population grew 43 percent to 10.8 million, and the Hispanic population grew 38.8 percent to 31.3 million, the Census estimates show. These are the last such estimates to be released before detailed Census 2000 results come out next year.

California, Texas and New York — the three most populous states — still have the highest numbers of minorities, but Nevada, Georgia and North Carolina experienced the biggest percent increases, Census analyst Larry Sink said.

In northern Georgia, a construction boom along with abundant jobs at poultry processing and carpet-making plants have caused Hispanic immigration to surge.

Doraville sits on the edge of Gwinnett County, which saw its Hispanic population surge 215.6 percent in the 90s to 26,731. Another metro Atlanta county, Cobb, had a 158.9 percent jump to 24,350. Similar increases were seen among Asians, up 180.7 percent to 28,793 in Gwinnett and up 135.7 percent to 18,758 in Cobb.

Nationally, the white population increased 7.3 percent between 1990 and 1999 to 224.6 million. Blacks remained the largest minority group, experiencing a 13.8 percent spike during the same period to 34.8 million, while the American Indian and Alaska Native population increased 15.5 percent to 2.3 million.

Nevada's 50 percent population growth led all states during the '90s. Its Asian population rose 123.7 percent to 88,208, the largest such increase in the nation, while its Hispanic population rose 144.6 percent to 304,364. Hispanics can be of any race.

California had the biggest Hispanic population, with 10.4 million. Arkansas, meanwhile, had the largest percentage growth among Hispanics, increasing 170.3 percent to 53,729 in the 90s.

New jobs in construction, food processing and textile industries make Georgia attractive to immigrants, said Robert Giacomini, director of research for the state's data center.

In interviews Tuesday, many Atlanta-area immigrants said an abundance of jobs with decent wages had lured them to one of the country's fastest-growing cities. Some, including Fernando Lopez, said they moved from Texas after hearing friends say that construction work paid better in Georgia.

"It's the money," said Lopez, rubbing his fingers together to signify cash, who moved to suburban Atlanta last year from Houston.

The population changes can be seen in small ways: It's possible, for example, to buy a daily Chinese newspaper at the Buford Highway Farmers Market, a Korean-owned grocery with a majority Hispanic clientele.

Charlie Yan, a manager of the Farmers Market, said Koreans flock to Gwinnett County for the same reason so many others have moved to Atlanta in recent years — "a lot of trees, fresh air and the schools are OK."

Graciela Lopez Blancarte moved to Norcross, a neighboring Gwinnett County suburb, from Mexico two years ago looking for work. She doesn't speak English, but cleans houses and has found no shortage of jobs.

"It's a good place to live," she said.

On the Net:

Census Bureau: www.census.gov