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Census: Hays County has 2nd-fastest-growing Latino population in state

When the Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos first opened in 2010, the nonprofit community organization offered about five classes in Mexican folkloric ballet, mariachi and other arts. Seven years later, the center offers three times as many programs, has doubled its classroom capacities — and still has waiting lists.

“We’re really jockeying for space because more people want to bring programs to the center than we have space,” President Ruben Becerra said.

The surge in interest at the Centro is just one manifestation of a countywide trend reflected in Census Bureau numbers released Thursday: Hays County had the second-fastest-growing Hispanic population in the state from 2010 to 2016, among counties with at least 50,000 people.

INTERACTIVE: A demographic deep dive of Texas

The county, which saw a 40.7 percent surge in Hispanics over those years, was beat out only by Randall County near Amarillo. Also making the top 10 were Comal County (34.47 percent growth among Hispanics) and Williamson County (30.24 percent).

More broadly, the census numbers show, Central Texas counties are becoming more diverse, led largely by younger generations made up of higher minority populations.

ONE AUSTIN, MUCHAS COMUNIDADES: Austin’s Hispanics are no longer just one community

The number of white people in Central Texas counties is still going up too, but in most counties the number of Hispanic and Asian people is growing even faster.

As the greater Austin area continues to experience sprawl and more people are priced out of the urban core, outlying suburbs like Hays County will capture more of the overall growth, said Ryan Robinson, Austin’s city demographer. That often affects minorities who tend to skew lower income, he said.

“(Hays County is) a good fit for the surging Hispanic middle class in Central Texas: lots of reasonably priced housing, good schools and pretty good access to Travis County and the employment core of the metro area,” Robinson said.

Over at the Centro in San Marcos, which is also home to the Ofelia T. Vasquez Mexican American Culture Museum, Becerra said interest in Hispanic heritage, arts and other community programs, classes and events is at an all-time high. Even just walking around town he notices the change. “I walk by and hear more Spanish speaking, and I think it’s good to embrace variety and diversity,” he said.

Noting that the center is open to people of all backgrounds, Becerra said the growing Hispanic population in Hays County lends even more importance to the center’s goal “to work together for a stronger, more accepting and robust future.”

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The trend was also no surprise to Alejandro Góngora, director for bilingual, English as a second language and migrant programs for the Hays Consolidated Independent School District. The district has been watching the growth for years and has been administering such programs since the early 2000s to keep up with it.

In 2012, the district had 2,481 students participating in English as a second language and dual-language immersion programs, he said. Now, that’s risen to 3,083, the majority of whom are Hispanic.

The district overall has seen its Hispanic population bump up from about 58 percent in 2010 to 64 percent in 2016.

That’s a plus for all students, Góngora said, because it increases opportunity for bilingualism, a major goal for the district, which offers dual-language instruction in certain subject areas for certain grades.

“We are very much driven by the fact we want all our students to be bilingual, biliteral and bicultural,” he said. “The research is very clear on the benefits, whether it’s economically, cognitively (or) socially.”

ACROSS THE STATE: Census numbers probably underestimated Hispanic voter turnout

The census numbers show other Central Texas counties are also becoming more diverse, primarily from growth among Hispanics and younger generations.

“It’s not hard to see the diversity and changes in Austin,” said Matt Glazer, executive director of the Austin Young Chamber of Commerce. “Companies have an opportunity now to be on the cutting edge (by hiring a diverse workforce).” He said he hopes that businesses respond to these trends.

RELATED: For last decade, police had more whites, fewer Hispanics than Austin has

The Hispanic population has also grown considerably in Bastrop County to now account for nearly 37 percent of the population, up from nearly 33 percent in 2010. The change is noticeable to longtime resident Gilbert Cervantes, who could count on two hands the number of Hispanic classmates he had when graduating from Bastrop High School in 1967.

Now, the Bastrop Independent School District population is made up of 64 percent Hispanic students. And ensuring they get a good education will be key to the community’s future, Cervantes said.

“We need to get qualified (Hispanics) in leadership positions,” he said. “The only we’re going to get that done is through education. Kids have to get an education.”

SILENT MAJORITY: Analysis finds lack of Hispanic representation in local government

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