Arizona Republic
September 6, 2006

Author: Lynh Bui

In the past five years, minorities have become the majority in Phoenix and Tucson. But what is being treated as a phenomenon for Arizona's two largest cities has been the case in Avondale and Tolleson for some time.

About 66.5 percent of Avondale residents reported being an ethnic minority, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures. That's up from nearly 56 percent five years earlier.

Among Arizona's major cities, Avondale experienced one of the largest gains in the minority population from 2000 to 2005.

That population will continue to rise with the continued rapid growth in the southwest Valley, Avondale spokeswoman Pier Simeri said.

"As the new homes are coming up and people are coming in, you see a lot of folks coming in from California," Simeri said. "You're starting to see the change in the make-up in our community, schools, grocery stores and restaurants."

About 58 percent of Avondale's population claim Latino heritage, partially a result of the southwest Valley's rural history.

With Goodyear Farms labor camps, Southwest Cotton Co. and the numerous vegetable crops that used to grow in the area, "It was a prosperous place for migrant workers," said Luz Jimenez, Avondale's community health worker.

Jimenez, who is bilingual, started working for the city about nine months ago. Part of her job is to reach out to the Hispanic community in Avondale.

The 25-year-old has lived in Avondale for 14 years. Growing up, Jimenez said, she remembers seeing mostly Hispanics in the community. Evidence of the city's historical Latino roots still appear on Western Avenue with the road's concentration of Mexican restaurants and Hispanic-owned businesses.

Goodyear and Buckeye don't have minority-majority populations, but Tolleson has more than two-thirds of its residents reporting Latino ancestry in the 2000 census.

Hispanics aren't the only minority demographic rising in the southwest Valley.

There have been slight increases in the number of Blacks and Asians in the region.

Oanh Nguyen owns Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant, which opened in July in Avondale. Nguyen and her husband, Steve, moved their family from California to Buckeye in 2004.

Nguyen said she sees a lot of Vietnamese customers frequenting her restaurant for spring rolls or bowls of rice noodles.

Many of her Asian customers work in or own nail salons in the area, she said.

Nguyen said her family moved to the southwest Valley for a lot of the same reasons anyone, regardless of race, would.

"The houses here were more affordable than in California," she said in Vietnamese, "and we got more space."

CAPTION: Tammy Lam and 3-year-old daughter Karen eat lunch at Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant in Avondale. The southwest Valley has seen a slight increase in the number of Asians between 2000 and 2005.
Edition: Final Chaser
Section: VALLEY & State
Page: B5

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Record Number: pho149343363