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Fort Bragg a Hub of Diversity

Posted August 11, 2007

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— Cumberland County is home to Fort Bragg. Half of its 49,000 soldiers are deployed. All four brigades of the 82nd Airborne are overseas.

When they’re gone, it appears some of the community’s diversity goes with them.

Cumberland County has an International Folk Festival each year. And there’s good reason. Go to Spring Lake, on the edge of Fort Bragg, and Main Street is a buffet of foreign cuisine – Asian, Jamaican, Mexican.

“Fort Bragg, the Air Force, they bring various cultures and people here. And with those people come their families,” said Valencia Applewhite, who runs the Census Bureau office in Fayetteville.

The office opened in January when the government chose Cumberland and eight surrounding counties as one of two regions in the nation to conduct a dress rehearsal for the 2010 census. Applewhite says in addition to the military presence, the area was selected for its vibrant Hispanic population.

“In the nine-county region, I will say that the Census Bureau believes that the Hispanic population is growing,” she said.

But census numbers released this week show that in Cumberland County, the Latino population dropped 23 percent since 2000. One explanation could be longer troop deployments at Fort Bragg.

A map from Cumberland County's planning department shows the highest concentration of Latinos in the county are at Fort Bragg. Ten percent - or 4800 soldiers - on post are Hispanic.

For service members who have been deployed for more than six months, census takers count them among the overseas population. Latinos say it's not as though they're on a mass exodus to other counties.

“Cumberland County really supports the culture, the Hispanic culture,” said Mirna Rodriguez, who works in the county. “They have Hispanic festivals, and I like that.”

It's not just the Hispanics who are decreasing in number, according to the census. The overall population of Cumberland County has decreased since 2000 by nearly 3,000 residents.