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Influx of Immigrants Changing City--Again : Demographics: Longtime Pomonans, many of them Latinos, adjust to a surge in newcomers from Mexico.


POMONA — When 74-year-old community newspaper publisher Candelario J. Mendoza was a boy in Pomona, he was relegated to the segregated seats of theater balconies and could only swim at the public pool on Mondays.

Things have changed.

The city's Latino population exploded by 139% in the 1980s, and Mendoza's little paper gradually metamorphosed from an English-language weekly to all-Spanish. Today, the Pomona Unified School District is more than 60% Latino, and voters last month ushered in a Latino-majority City Council.

A central part of the transformation, however, has taken place within the Latino community itself: Second- and third-generation Mexican-Americans once dominated Pomona's civic landscape, but recent Mexican immigrants have surpassed them in numbers, community leaders say.

With the dramatic changes have come growing pains. Some longtime Pomonans of Mexican descent harbor resentments against their newcomer neighbors, and Latino activists fear a broader backlash of anti-immigrant sentiment.

Most civic leaders agree on one point: Pomona offers a glimpse at the changes sweeping many California suburban communities as citizens and immigrants alike steer clear of troubled urban centers.

Rather than following the overused routes to Los Angeles and Santa Ana, Mexican immigrants are coming directly to Pomona and neighboring San Bernardino County communities, following family and friends, and hoping to avoid the overcrowding, high crime and shrinking job opportunities of the inner city.

"There aren't the massive numbers of people here as in Los Angeles," said a young man named Martin, 27, as he munched on seasoned ears of corn outside a Pomona market recently with his wife, Frances, and 1 1/2-year-old son, Antonio. The couple asked that their last name not be published.

"And there isn't as much crime. Yes, it exists, but not as much as in Los Angeles. Where I live, it's very calm," added the father of five, who moved straight to Pomona from Mexico's central Pacific coast state of Nayarit three years ago. Antonio's siblings include twin girls and two other boys.

Like many of Pomona's recent arrivals, Martin was lured by a network of family--mostly cousins--who settled in the eastern Los Angeles County city and sent back word of opportunity.

Others, like 23-year-old Marisela--a single mother of three selling the ears of corn garnished with cheese and chili pepper from a pushcart--came because the city's Latino atmosphere held the promise of work.

After spending six months in Mira Loma in Riverside County, where the Mexico City native said only housework was available, she headed for Pomona a year ago on the recommendation of a female friend.

According to 1990 census figures, about 49% of Pomona's 67,900 Latinos were not born in the United States. The proportion is probably even higher because illegal immigrants tend to avoid participating in the census. And many new arrivals, such as Marisela, have made Pomona their home since the census was taken.

Throughout Pomona, tell-tale signs of the changes abound. Outside a Mexican bakery, several blocks from Marisela's corn cart, 45-year-old Maria Salinas huddles over a collection of Mexican cassette tapes, hoping to make a little money to help with the family's expenses.

Two years ago, debilitated by arthritis, Salinas journeyed to Pomona from her small town in the Mexican state of Guerrero to join her son.

"Pomona has become a point of entry," said Councilman Tomas Ursua, who will face Planning Commissioner Eddie Cortez in a mayoral runoff later this month. "Los Angeles and Santa Ana used to be the primary points. Now you're finding auxiliary nodal points--Pomona, San Bernardino, Ontario--because another generation has already settled here."

"If you go to (the Mexican state of) Jalisco--Pomona and Ontario--people know where (they are) now. That is very important, in the sense that people are beginning to recognize this area," added Fabian Nunez, a mortgage broker in Pomona who used to head that city's One Stop Immigration and Educational Center.

"Before, it was just Los Angeles."

For years, Cristina Carrizosa--a 30-year resident newly elected to the City Council--was hard-pressed to find fellow Pomonans from her home state of Nayarit. Today, so many have come that even the quebradita-- a dance craze born from the beat of Nayarit music--is hot in Pomona, she said.

"The second and third generation is very minimal at this point. It's becoming more and more first generation," said Carrizosa, a bilingual resource specialist at Pomona's Philadelphia Elementary School.

In Carrizosa's school alone, about 700 of the roughly 1,200 students are receiving instruction in English as a second language, she said. Although Pomona also receives a steady trickle of immigrants from Asia and the Middle East, the overwhelming majority are Latino.

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