Salvadoran-Americans are now the fourth-largest Latino group in the United States, according to 2010 census figures released Thursday.
Those whose roots extend to El Salvador, one of the smallest and densest countries in the Western Hemisphere, now number more than 1.6 million in the United States, and nearly half reside in California. The latest tally means that Salvadoran-Americans have surpassed Dominican-Americans in number and are swiftly gaining on Cuban-Americans.
Those who hope the higher numbers translate into the political and economic influence reached by Mexican-Americans in California and Caribbean Latinos elsewhere say they still have work to do.
"Numbers give you a certain kind of power, but of course, you have to transfer that quantity of numbers into quality," said Ramon Cardona, a Salvadoran immigrant and director of Richmond's Centro Latino Cuzcatlan. "One big advantage that Cubanos have is a lot of them came from the elite powers in Cuba, they knew how to run systems, how to run private enterprise and government institutions. In the case of Salvadorans, that was not the case. We had to forge and educate ourselves here, underground. That takes a couple generations to get the know-how and move into those kind of ranks."
The nation's 31.8 million Mexican-Americans continue to outnumber all other Latino groups, at 63 percent of the total Latino population. Following them are roughly 4.6 million Puerto Ricans, 1.8 million Cubans, 1.6 million Salvadorans and 1 million Guatemalans.
The fact that the nation's Salvadoran community remains smaller than its Cuban community was a surprise to some demographers tracking various surveys; they expected the Salvadoran population to be higher.
"Estimates going into the census suggested there were more Salvadorans than Cubans," said Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center. "The census shows it's the other way around, but they are very close." READ MORE