CHARLOTTE, N.C.—The Bank of America corporate center and the Duke energy center are the jewels of Charlotte’s skyline. These buildings and many others only went up in the last 25 or so years, when the city started its celebrated transformation. It’s now the second-largest banking center in the U.S., and recovering steadily after the recession. Between 2010 and 2013, the population growth here was second only to Austin, and in the next decade or so Charlotte might become the fastest-growing U.S. city, according to U.N. projections. The patches of new development between the tall buildings downtown confirm this ongoing boom.
Charlotte’s upward economic trajectory since the 1980s has been accompanied, and bolstered, by the mind-boggling growth of its Latino population. A negligible 0.098 percent of the city’s residents were Hispanic back in 1980; that figure was 13.1 percent by 2014. For about three decades, Latino labor has helped build and run the city, Latino entrepreneurs fueled its economy, Latino families have enriched its urban and suburban neighborhoods, and Latino kids have populated the city’s public schools.
The city has noticed the importance of this population and tried to be more welcoming over the past few years. Although a majority of Charlotteans feel their city is welcoming, Hispanic residents are more likely to disagree. One of the biggest obstacles in the city’s efforts to make itself more immigrant-friendly is the North Carolina state legislature, both houses of which were taken over by Republicans in 2010 for the first time since 1870. As city officials and urban scholars are fond of saying, Charlotte is “a blue spot in a deep red state.” And that makes it hard for the city to implement many policies that could help the thousands of Latinos who call Charlotte home.