When Fernando Molina left central Mexico to move to Illinois, he was searching for affordable housing, job opportunities and established Hispanic neighborhoods with grocery stores, bakeries and clothing shops.
He didn't head for Chicago, a well-known magnet for Mexicans pondering the journey north. Instead, he settled in Aurora, about 40 miles to the west.
"It's like Mexico inside the United States," said Molina, 37, a social worker who has lived in the U.S. for more than a decade and now assists other immigrant families. "You can find everything in the stores."
Over the last decade, tens of thousands of others have followed his path to Aurora — more than 35,000 of about 55,000 new residents between 2000 and 2010 were Hispanic. The city, which is now 40 percent Hispanic, has surpassed Rockford to become Illinois' second-largest city.
The trend of immigrants heading directly to American suburbs instead of starting in a major city intensified from 2000 to 2010 — and was one factor in Illinois' 32.5 percent increase in Hispanic population in that period, according to recently released U.S. Census data.
Demographers say they aren't just seeing it around Chicago. The same thing is happening around other major cities that have long been entry points for immigrants, such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Even as the steep growth of the Hispanic population in Chicago tapered off, the arrival of Hispanics helped make Kendall County west of Aurora the fastest growing county in the U.S. for several years during the decade.
For many Hispanics in northern Illinois, Aurora supplanted Chicago as a cultural hub, and the growth has transformed smaller and smaller towns. READ MORE