Over the past 20 years, the United States has experienced a profound demographic shift. Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, economic instability in Mexico and domestic demand for low-wage agricultural labor fueled the influx of predominantly male Mexican immigrants. By the late 1990s, increasing U.S. labor demands led to dramatic increases in the overall number of Latino immigrants. As demand spread beyond agriculture into industries such as light construction and food service, the ratio of male to female Latino immigrants reached parity. By 2000, census data officially recognized Latinos as the largest minority group in the United States. From 2000 to 2010, Latinos accounted for more than 50 percent of the nation’s population growth.
Today, growth of the Latino community represents a nationwide trend no longer confined to border states, rural America or traditional urban centers. This phenomenon is clearly evidenced in South Philadelphia, where the number of Latino immigrants has risen from 6,220 in 2000 to an estimated 30,000 at present. Of Latino immigrants in Philadelphia, an overwhelming majority originate from Mexico, few are documented, and most lack English proficiency. Working in low-paying jobs, lacking health care benefits and facing linguistic and cultural barriers, a high percentage of this population exists precariously with respect to health. Despite these obvious challenges, the South Philadelphia Latino community abounds with robust, rapidly growing, and hardworking families.