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.

Only North Carolina bested Arkansas’ increase of 337 percent. Latino migration to northwest Arkansas -- home to Wal-Mart and big poultry companies like Tyson Foods -- and other areas of the state swelled the number of Latinos from almost 20,000 in 1990 to about 87,000 10 years later. The state’s estimated 2008 Latino population of 160,000 represents a seven-fold increase over 1990.

View Map of Arkansas Trip in a larger map

The two of us, Will Skowronski and Leonard Sparks, will spend this week crisscrossing northwest Arkansas to understand how the growing Hispanic population and the existing community are interacting. What are the effects of such a dramatic change in an area that until recently wasn’t an immigrant destination? Why have Hispanics chosen to make this area their home? How is the Hispanic population treated? Do they have a political voice to ensure their interests are heard?

We scheduled interviews with community leaders throughout the week to find the answers to these questions. We will also speak with residents, old and new, to hear their points of view. Along the way, we will share our experiences on this blog using pictures and short videos to try and give a view of this changing community. We will also compile our findings into a print story once we return to College Park next week.