Junot Díaz's characters have a strong link back to their home country, the Dominican Republic, as they make northern New Jersey (aka North Jersey) their new home. These Dominican-American communities have a strong presence in Díaz's writing, even if specific cities or neighborhoods are not always referred to by name. Due to the same socio-economic factors that affect his characters - the jobs they find, the homes they live in - the real-life demographics of New Jersey are starting to shift.
According to an article in the New York Times that reported statistics from the 2010 US Census, the non-Hispanic white population in the state decreased by over 300,000 to approximately 5.2 million, which researcher Tim Evans says is remarkable: "these are pretty astounding changes. It's another sign that New Jersey is on a similar path to California in terms of becoming majority-minority."
The state's most populated areas, such as Paterson, saw "something of a black exodus from 2000 to 2010; the total population dropped 11.2 percent in Irvington and 8 percent in East Orange, both places that are predominantly black. At the same time, the cities became much more heavily Hispanic." (Note: according to the OMB, "Hispanic" is defined as people of "Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.")
The article continues: "Over all, the population of New Jersey grew 4.5 percent, to nearly 8.8 million people, but that was far behind the 9.7 percent national growth rate... The Asian population jumped 51 percent, to more than 700,000, or 8.2 percent of the total, while the number of Hispanics climbed 39 percent, to more than 1.5 million, or 17.7 percent. The black population changed little, at 1.1 million, or 12.8 percent. The ethnic shifts could presage altered economic and political patterns, though financial and voting power can lag decades behind a rise in raw numbers."
If the stories in Díaz's collection are any indication, economic factors such as employment opportunities, cost of living, and ever-increasing rent prices (both in New York and New Jersey) play a large part in determining where people decide to relocate.
For more information, take a look at the New York Times' compelling visual of the demographic shifts in New Jersey, based on the 2010 US Census.
This article was originally published in September 2012, and has been updated for the
September 2013 paperback release.
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