For years, minority population increases have transformed Baltimore's inner suburbs. Now, that growth is reaching into such extended areas as Harford County, diversifying a relatively homogeneous jurisdiction.
Between 2000 and 2006, Harford County's minority population increased quickly while the rate of growth of its white population slowed, according to data released today by the U.S. Census. The trend is true for the entire Baltimore region, whose growth is being fueled by minorities.
In Harford County, the black population rose by 9,261, nearly 43 percent, while the white population increased just 5 percent, by 9,905.
Driving that change are people such as Kenneth Telsee Sr., who retired from the Army in 2004 knowing exactly where he wanted his family to live - Aberdeen.
Telsee first came to Harford County in 1991 when he was stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
"The location was great in a sense that we could drive two to four hours to get to major cities," he said. "We didn't have hustle and bustle. ... We liked the school system and the area."
Telsee was reassigned in 1993, but the family longed to return to the small-town atmosphere in Harford County.
"We really like the area - Harford County and Aberdeen," he said. "We've planted."
Nationwide, minorities are driving population growth not just in the suburbs, but also in the exurbs and even rural areas, said Mark Mather, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington think tank.
"I think what it's pointing to is Latinos and other minority groups are interested in the same types of amenities that have attracted whites to the suburbs in the past - lower cost of housing, better schools and job opportunities, and it's safer," said Mather, noting that suburbs of New York, Washington and Atlanta showed patterns of minority growth similar to Baltimore's.
Around the country, such population shifts beg for a re-evaluation of the word minority. The nonwhite population is now the majority in nearly one in every 10 counties in the nation, according to the new census figures, which are estimates from 2006 based on births, deaths and immigration.
While such a demographic change is unlikely to occur right away in the Baltimore area - with the exception of Baltimore City, which is predominantly black - change is coming.
Telsee, who is the senior pastor at True Joy Ministries, a mostly African-American congregation, said he has noticed more African-Americans buying homes in his neighborhood.
"It really has a diversity to the area," he said. "You have your have and have-nots, and you have wealthy Caucasians here. Whatever barriers that were here before are starting to break. From my standpoint, they're more accepting to people coming in."
In Maryland, rising immigration, minority migration from other states, and whites leaving for outer suburbs and Pennsylvania contribute to the shift, said Mark Goldstein, an economist at the state Department of Planning.
Statewide, the minority population, which is defined as anyone other than non-Hispanic whites, grew from 38 percent in 2000 to 42 percent in 2006.
Such demographic shifts have made Baltimore County one of the most diverse jurisdictions in the state.
As Baltimore County's white population decreased by about 25,000 between 2000 and 2006, the Latino, black and Asian populations all increased. Latinos alone increased 52 percent, to 21,004, during this period.
"It's a consistent trend. It's not astronomical, but it's steady," said Dunbar Brooks, manager of data development for the Baltimore Metropolitan Council.
Brooks is also chairman of the county's Ethnic Diversity Advisory Council, which recommends strategies to the county executive for building bridges among communities.
"As long as the Asian and Latino populations keep moving in and there is lots of new housing, I don't see that dissipating anytime soon," he said.
Brooks, who was recently elected president of the State Board of Education, said Baltimore County's school enrollment is now about half-minority, half-white.
"The prospect is that sometime in the next couple of years, it will become a majority-minority system," he said.
Organizers at Baltimore's nonprofit Education Based Latino Outreach responded to the expanding Latino population in Baltimore County by launching an afterschool program at Deep Creek Middle School in Middle River in January.
"These are kids who are immigrants but have been through elementary school here and know the language," said Judy Rivera, a middle school teacher who tutors at the program. "We help them gain confidence."
Rivera, a native New Yorker whose parents were born in Puerto Rico, said that since she moved to Baltimore County four years ago, she has seen many Latino families plant roots in the county.
"Some of them used to rent in the city, but once they have kids they see that it's easier to have their own home," she said.
Some advocates for immigrants say they think the census figures vastly underestimate the Latino community.
About 15,000 Latinos called Baltimore City home in 2006, an increase of about 4,000 since 2000, according to the census.
"That's impossible," said Angelo Solera, a Baltimore activist. In recent years, city leaders challenged census data saying overall population figures are too low. In turn, the Census Bureau has revised estimates.
Solera said that not only is the Latino community growing, it is maturing politically. Solera is a member of a group of Latino supporters of City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. for mayor. Another group of Latino supporters exists for Mayor Sheila Dixon.
"I think people have realized that we are growing, but since we don't have political representation and power, we need to be involved in the political system," Solera said.
The influx of minorities is also changing counties such as Howard, which has long been known as a destination for Asian immigrants.
Sue Song, former president of the Korean American Association of Howard County, said newer immigrants are less likely to isolate themselves in enclaves.
"Even though they are newcomers, they have a sense what to expect," she said. "They have more of a desire to become acculturated."
That means a growing demand for English classes and how to navigate the immigration system to become a citizen.
Said Song: "They want to plant roots."