Santa Ana No. 1 in Spanish

Population: Census Bureau says 74% of city's residents speak the language, highest in the nation. Anaheim, L.A., Riverside also in top 10

Santa Ana has the highest concentration of Spanish- speaking residents in the nation, with about 15% of those 18 to 64 speaking no English–nearly four times the California average, according to Census Bureau estimates released today.

Spanish is so much a part of life in Santa Ana that 74% of the city’s residents speak it, according to the government’s Supplementary Survey, a detailed 40-question form sent out last year to 700,000 households in 1,203 U.S. counties.

Anaheim comes in fourth, with 42.8% of its population speaking Spanish at home, behind El Paso (69.5%) and Miami (66%). Los Angeles, at 42.2%, is fifth. Riverside has the nation’s eighth-highest percentage of Spanish speakers, at 33.2%. The national average is 10.5%. California has the highest percentage of people who speak languages other than English, 39%, according to the survey. New Mexico comes in second, with 35.5%, followed by Texas with 32%. The national average is 17.6%.

America’s most English-dependent state is West Virginia, where only 2.2% of residents speak another language.

Because the sample is relatively small, some city or state rankings fall within the statistical margin of error.

The Census Bureau tested the Supplementary Survey for the first time in 2000. The agency is asking Congress for funds to repeat it each year starting in 2003, to provide a constantly updated version of the sort of social, demographic, economic and housing information now gathered only once a decade in the census long form. Long-form data on language use from Census 2000 are still being processed.

When all languages are counted, 83.6% of Santa Ana’s population speaks a language other than English–another nationwide high, according to the survey. Eight percent of Santa Ana residents speak an Asian or Pacific Island language, a reflection of a growing Vietnamese population.

The concentration of Spanish speakers without English skills may be particularly high in Santa Ana because so many of its Mexican immigrants are males who arrive alone, said Nativo Lopez, executive director of Hermandad Mexicana Nacional of Santa Ana, a Latino civil rights organization.

“There are multiple tenants occupying small apartments. Because the rents are relatively high, they live together,” Lopez said. “The language of discourse is their first language. They’re not around people speaking English.”

Once immigrants decide to stay in Santa Ana, they bring their families and often take language classes, he said.

In all, 14,000 people are enrolled in English as a second language classes, offered at more than 95 sites in the city, said Rita Cepeda, president of Santa Ana College, which helps run the courses.

When immigrants’ families arrive and their children enroll in school, language skills often improve, said Lopez, who also is a school board member. Parents learn from their children and find out about the language classes.

All but one member of the city’s school board is Latino, Lopez said. It helps, he said, in a school district known for having the highest percentage of non-English speaking students in the state. Board meetings include translation services–allowing those without English to ask questions and hear debate.

The City Council, which has three Latino representatives, holds meetings in English only, with no translation services. For more than a decade, Latino activists have been trying to change that.

“The thing is, about half the people here are not citizens. Latinos aren’t the majority of the voters. They cannot make their numbers felt at the polling place,” Lopez said. “The city has changed forever. You don’t need a census count to realize that. But a lot of people here–people in power– still refuse to recognize it.”

Comments are closed.