Norman’s Hispanic population grew more rapidly in the past decade than the city’s overall population, and those in the community expect the growth to only continue in the coming years.

According to Census Bureau records, the city’s Hispanic population grew from 7,082 to 11,827 from 2010 to 2020. The city as a whole grew from 110,925 to 128,026.

The Hispanic community’s growth rate was 67% over the decade — 52% higher than the city’s overall growth, data indicate. Hispanic residents, as of 2020, make up 9% of the city’s population, up from 6% in 2010.

The numbers are even higher in Norman Public Schools — the student body was 16.3% Hispanic in the 2020-2021 school year, according to records.

The population trend in Norman is a microcosm of a larger one in Oklahoma. The state’s Hispanic population grew a full three percentage points to 11.9% in the decade, data show.

Even with the population increase, some still believe the numbers are undercounted.

Otto Orellana, a Guatemalan immigrant who moved to Norman from the Los Angeles area in the mid-2000s with his wife Saidy, said first-generation Hispanic immigrants often choose not to report because they’re fearful immigration officers will arrest them if they report in the census. Saidy Orellana also said indigenous people from Latin American countries may only identify as such in the census, bringing the numbers down.

Whether or not they report, thousands of Hispanic residents now lead all walks of life in Norman.

“The majority [of people] have been welcoming, have made us feel accepted, so when we feel safe, accepted and celebrated for our differences, that’s a place that you want to go to and give your best,” Saidy Orellana said.

Reasons for coming, reasons for staying

Otto Orellana said a community like Norman is attractive for first-generation Hispanic immigrants from Latin America.

The relatively modest crime rate and pace of life offer a stark contrast to many countries in Central and South America under the thumb of civil war or drug violence, he said.

“When you move to Norman, oh my god — this is incredible,” he said. “Many people say this is the heaven in the earth.”

The Orellanas moved to Norman because there were no Hispanic churches in the city. They founded Iglesia Pueblo de Dios, which Otto Orellana pastors.

When they first moved, their children stood out in their mostly-white schools, Saidy Orellana said. While Hispanic students are now well-represented in NPS’ student population, only 1.75% of teachers in the district were Hispanic as of December 2020, records show.

The Orellanas’ story is similar to that of Jonathan Quinonez, who moved to Pauls Valley from the Los Angeles area in 1999 with his father. Like the Orellanas, Quinonez’ father moved to the area to be a pastor.

Quinonez said he was one of only two Hispanic students in his graduating class of 2006.

“It was different, because in [Southern] California, everyone speaks Spanish,” Quinonez said. Hispanics residents are now the largest ethnic demographic in California, data show.

Quinonez and Otto Orellana have both noticed Hispanic residents moving away from California due to the lower cost of living in other parts of the country. Both said it’s easier, in other parts of the country, for them to achieve the “American dream” of a career and homeownership for themselves and their families, something Quinonez said is instilled in immigrants.

Since they moved to Oklahoma, the Orellanas and Quinonez have both seen an increase in the Hispanic population. Otto Orellana said there are now five or six Hispanic churches in Norman.

When it comes to relocating, Quinonez said it “takes one person” for others to follow in their steps.

“One family member has been here, has told their family, ‘Hey, cost of living is cheap here. You can buy five houses with what your house costs over there,’” he said.

When they get to Norman, Hispanic residents work in every profession, Otto Orellana said.

Cinthya Allen, Norman’s chief diversity and equity officer, said entrepreneurship is prominent among the Hispanic population as well. Quinonez said there are two Hispanic stores in the city he sees clients from at his Farmer’s Insurance office.

At his office, Quinonez said he has seen more Spanish-speaking clients as the Hispanic population has grown.

“Just being a resident of Norman and seeing more and more businesses open up, restaurants open up, that are of Latino background or cuisine, it’s just interesting,” Allen said.

Allen, who has lived in Norman for 21 years after moving to Oklahoma City from Mexico, said she stayed in the city after attending the University of Oklahoma. She said there’s an international student presence at OU that makes it welcoming for Hispanic students.

The university also affords careers for Hispanic youth, Otto Orellana said.

“Norman brings the best opportunities,” he said.

‘A more inclusive space that draws people’

When asked how much he expects the Hispanic population to grow over the next decade, Otto Orellana said he sees it possibly doubling.

As the city’s Hispanic population has grown, the city and the services in the community have also become more accommodating. The city and NPS websites can be translated into Spanish, and the school district has bilingual staff at sites with the highest need, NPS communications director Wes Moody said. NPS also has Hispanic family nights periodically, Moody said.

But the community needs to continue to become more accommodating as the population grows, Saidy Orellana said. She said she’d like NPS to have a parent orientation night in Spanish.

Allen said her office is looking at how to expand “opportunity awareness” for facets of city life like entrepreneurship and civic engagement for the Hispanic population and others.

“It’s different elements like that that creates a more inclusive space that draws people,” Allen said.

“The purpose of it is not just to know the numbers, but it’s to implement these ways to improve the lives of these communities,” Saidy Orellana said.

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