In South Shore, the Latin American population is as varied as the communities that comprise the southernmost part of Hillsborough County.
And it's growing.
"The Hispanic population has been growing, there's no question," said Monica Fernandez-Stearns, the secretary at Resurrection Catholic Church in Riverview for the past nine years.
According to U.S. Census Bureau data for South Shore -- Apollo Beach, Gibsonton, Riverview, Ruskin, Sun City Center and Wimauma -- the area's population grew from 57,119 to 142,178 between 2000 and 2010, an increase of almost 150 percent. In that time, South Shore's Hispanic population increased by an eye-popping 249 percent, going from 9,561 to 33,366.
Hispanics accounted for 28 percent of South Shore's total population growth from 2000 to 2010. Today, a little more than 23 percent of South Shore is Hispanic, up from nearly 17 percent in 2000.
"Most of the people I see here seem to come from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, but we have people from Colombia, Peru all over the place," Fernandez-Stearns said. "Although my husband and I are the only people we know from Argentina."
The region's diversity will be on display during Resurrection Catholic's third Multi-Cultural Festival Oct. 14. The event will showcase food, music and traditions from a variety of countries, most of them from Latin America.
Twenty-one percent of Riverview's total population is Hispanic, up from nine percent in 2000, according to the census. Puerto Ricans comprise the largest group of Hispanics in Riverview, accounting for 40 percent of the Spanish-speaking population. Mexicans make up more than 19 percent of Riverview's Hispanic population, while Cubans account for almost 10 percent. Residents from other Central and South American countries form nearly 31 percent of Hispanics in Riverview.
Riverview's total population saw South Shore's biggest increase by far between 2000 and 2010, jumping 490 percent from 12,035 to 71,050.
"We still like Riverview very much, but what we really liked when we first moved here was that it was a small city with nice neighborhoods, and it was very easy to drive around," Fernandez-Stearns said.
That population boom attracted residents and business owners alike to South Shore in the past decade.
"At the time we opened, the area was just growing and growing, and that was a big reason we chose this location," said Larry Power, chef at the Ybor Grille in Ruskin, which opened six years ago. "It slowed down after we moved in, but we still think the area has a lot of promise."
Ruskin's population grew, according to the census, from 8,321 in 2000 to 17,208 in 2010. Hispanics accounted for almost 49 percent of that increase and presently comprise 43 percent of Ruskin's population. Though the majority -- 72 percent -- of Ruskin's Hispanics are of Mexican descent, Power wanted to bring a Cuban flavor to the area.
"It's the food we grew up with in Tampa," said Power.
"Everyone has loved us. Even being in a small town, we still get people coming in and telling us that they didn't know we were here."
Meanwhile, Marcela Estevez, director of student affairs at the Redlands Christian Migrant Association Wimauma Academy, said the biggest change she has noticed is in the types of jobs people are being offered.
"When I arrived here, they all had to do with working in the fields," Estevez said.
"With all the construction and the development in the area, there has been more variety and opportunities."
Seventy-three percent of Wimauma's population is Hispanic, and 88 percent of those people are of Mexican descent.
Estevez is originally from Mexico and has spent 25 years in the United States. She has worked as a liaison to the Mexican community in a variety of positions in Arizona, New York and Georgia, and has spent the last 10 years at the Wimauma academy.
"In the past, we had a lot more people who were coming directly from Mexico," Estevez said. "Most of the people I work with are already from here."
In the coming years, it seems like a significant chunk of South Shore's Hispanic population will also be homegrown.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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