Latinos living in California now outnumber the state’s white people. A recent census report says that as of July 1, 2014, California had 14.99 million Latino residents and 14.92 million white residents.
The last time California had more Latinos than whites was in 1848. That was the year gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill northeast of Sacramento.
At that time, there were only about 8,000 Latinos in California, maybe 100,000 Native Americans and a handful of white Americans. But the discovery of gold soon brought a stampede of gold seekers. Between 1849 and 1855, California’s white American population exploded to about 300,000.
In 1850, California became the 31st state. Today, it’s the most populous, with more than 38 million people.
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Soon after California became a state, white Americans acquired much of its land. In 1857, James Blackburn, Daniel Blackburn and Lazare Godchaux bought 26,000 acres of former San Miguel Mission land for $8,000. They bought it from Petronilo Rios. He was a rancher and businessman who had once been a sergeant in the Mexican Army. Family members later said he thought he was just leasing the land to the three Americans. Templeton and Paso Robles now sit on some of that land.
But some white Californians have attempted to honor the state’s Latino past. They retained many place names, such as San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. And when we drive on Highway 101, we see life-size replicas of mission bells at regular intervals. They might remind us we’re driving near the route of El Camino Real — the trail that connected the California Missions.
The Latino population of California grew slowly until the mid-1960s. A steady tide of job-seekers from Mexico became the biggest flood of immigration the United States had ever seen. It lasted about 40 years and stopped between 2005 and 2010. Those 40 years of migration increased the Latino population of the United States by about 12 million. Many were undocumented and ended up in California.
Net migration from Mexico is now zero, according to a Pew Research report this week, but California’s Latino population will probably continue growing faster than its white population thanks to higher birth rates. The mean age of Latino Californians is about 27, while the mean age for white Californians is about 44. Younger people tend to have more kids.
But so what? If we provide good educations and opportunities for all, California will continue to prosper.