This month, March of 2014, California will quietly break a population history, with Latinos surpassing whites as the state’s largest racial or ethnic group. Latinos become the single largest racial or ethnic group in California at 39.9% of the population. Whites now come in second at 38.8%. Looking ahead, demographers say the state’s Latino population will grow and increase relative to whites and other ethnic groups.

This demographic milestone, of course,  has been preceded by decades of population growth in the state’s Latino population, both because of immigration from Latin America and the homegrown growth of Hispanic families already living in the state. As California’s Hispanic population continues to grow, experts say it will have enormous implications for politics, economics and culture, especially as California’s white population shrinks and gets older relative to Latinos.

In the story below, we take a wider view of California’s population story, exploring how the state, over the past century, went from being a bastion of white demographic dominance to what it is today, a polyglot place of races and ethnicities where no one group dominates.

Since, at the end of the day, demographics is largely about babies, we start our story with a new California infant.

 

The rate of growth in California's Latino population is starting to slow. Population experts say that's become a decrease in immigration, both legal and illegal, from Mexico and Central America and Latino families in this country choosing to have fewer children. (Photo by Saul Gonzalez)

The rate of growth in California’s Latino population is starting to slow. Population experts say that’s become a decrease in immigration, both legal and illegal, from Mexico and Central America and Latino families in this country choosing to have fewer children. (Photo by Saul Gonzalez)

Heidi Kent is the executive director of South Los Angeles health projects, which supporst new parents and their children at centers across south Los Angeles County. She and her staff have seen California's demographic changes play out in the population they serve. "When I first started in 1980, it was probably a much larger percentage of African-American families, and then over the years the Latino population has grown," says Kent. (Photo by Saul Gonzalez)

Heidi Kent is the executive director of South Los Angeles health projects, which supporst new parents and their children at centers across south Los Angeles County. She and her staff have seen California’s demographic changes play out in the population they serve. “When I first started in 1980, it was probably a much larger percentage of African-American families, and then over the years the Latino population has grown,” says Kent. (Photo by Saul Gonzalez)

As California's Latino population grows, experts predict their influence will be increasingly felt at the ballot box and the number of Latinos elected to office. But many note that Latino political participation still doesn't match their numbers. (Photo by Saul Gonzalez)

As California’s Latino population grows, experts predict their influence will be increasingly felt at the ballot box and the number of Latinos elected to office. But many note that Latino political participation still doesn’t match their numbers. (Photo by Saul Gonzalez)

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