Former Mayor Sees Country of 'Everybody'

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John Sampier Jr., former mayor of Rogers, Arkansas
John Sampier Jr. (Photo by Leonard Sparks)

ROGERS, Ark. - The previous decade is beginning to fall away from John Sampier Jr.'s memory as the former Rogers mayor focuses on developing environmentally friendly wastewater treatment plants and enjoying time with grandchildren. 

But he thinks it was 1992 when he first recognized a significant Latino presence in Rogers, which sits between Springdale and Bentonville in northwest Arkansas. Then a soccer coach, Sampier was walking toward a practice field when he noticed two teams of young Latinos playing each other.

Salvadoran Builds a Soccer Community

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SPRINGDALE, Ark. - Cesar Aguilar calls the adult soccer league he helped start in 1993 in the nearby town of Rogers the "pulse" of the community.

Cesar Aguilar
Cesar Aguilar (Photo by Leonard Sparks)

He points to the league's growth from eight teams to more than 60. Each team averages about 20 players, he says, making a league a reliable marker of the Latino community's growth in northwest Arkansas.

He has participated in the transformation and watched it progress. Forced to leave war-torn El Salvador in 1985, he landed in Arkansas at 17. Since then, he has married, become a father and U.S. citizen, and seen Latinos flood job-rich northwest Arkansas.

Change Arrived Long Before Immigrants

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SPRINGDALE, Ark. - Mayor Doug Sprouse moved to Springdale when he was 7.

Some of his earliest memories, he says, were running from shop to shop with friends, seeking out the few with air conditioning on hot summer days.

But the area along Emma Street, at the heart of historic downtown, doesn't hold the same allure these days. Many of the shops appear to have been closed for some time, and there's little foot traffic.

Consulate Aids Those in Legal Limbo

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - About 120 people visit the Mexican consulate in the state capital every day, driving for hours from as far as Tulsa, Okla., and Memphis, Tenn.

Some are seeking basic consulate services like help for someone in legal trouble or returning a deceased person to their homeland. Others come to obain a "matricula consular," a form of identification that the Mexican government makes available to Mexican nationals regardless of their immigration status.

(Related video: A conversation with the Mexican Consul for Arkansas, Andres Chao Ebergenyi.)

Sometimes the Answer Is That Simple

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SPRINGDALE, Ark. - Don't overlook the obvious when exploring reasons for the recent Hispanic population explosion in northwest Arkansas, Jose Gomez told me.

Gomez, a campaign organizer for the Reform Immigration for America campaign, says he once found himself laughing while looking into a similar Hispanic population boom in New Hampshire. Professors were undertaking scientific, complex studies to find out why Hispanics were moving there. But he knew the answer when he stopped at a McDonald's employing Hispanics --and still hiring. Starting positions were $12 an hour. Other businesses, Gomez said, had similarly high pay for unskilled positions. The new residents saw a lucrative opportunity in New Hampshire and took it.

A Reporting Assignment is Born

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SPRINGDALE, Ark. -- We arrived in this small city in northwest Arkansas last night, the next step in a journey that began way back in the spring, as we researched our News21 topic. While poring over the Pew Hispanic Center’s Web site, we discovered a 2005 report that documented a surprising demographic shift.

The South had become the fastest-growing region for Latino migration, with Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, North and South Carolina and Tennessee all seeing triple-digit increases in their Latino populations between the 1990 and 2000 censuses.