When Sister Margaret Smyth first started organizing Spanish-language Masses in Riverhead in 1997, just five people showed up. Now it is standing room only at St. John the Evangelist Church, with close to 1,000 people packing the pews and filling the aisles every Sunday.
"Now you can't move in the church," said Smyth, who heads the Hispanic Apostolate of the North Fork. Another Spanish Mass that didn't exist in Greenport when she arrived now attracts 200 to 300 people on Saturday nights, she added.
Hispanics jumped from 10.5 percent of Suffolk's population in 2000 to 13 percent today, while in Nassau they went from 10 percent to 12 percent, according to the survey's estimates. Asian populations also grew, accounting for 3 percent of Suffolk's population, up from 2.5 percent a decade ago, and rising from 4.8 percent to 7 percent of Nassau's.
"It reflects what is happening across the nation," said Luis Valenzuela, head of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance.
In East Hampton Town, Hispanics now make up nearly 20 percent of the population. Many work in landscaping, construction and restaurants and hotels in the tourism industry.
In some places the growth has been especially striking.
In the Springs section of East Hampton, for instance, Hispanics increased from 4.6 percent of the population in 1990 to 34.6 percent today. That's an increase of more than 750 percent, according to Seth Forman of the Long Island Planning Commission, who analyzed the data going back 20 years.
In nearby Montauk, the population almost doubled from 9.9 percent to 19.4 percent since 1990. In Greenport on the North Fork, Hispanics grew from 4 percent of the population in 1990 to 28.9 percent today. That's more than a seven-fold increase.
But even places not generally thought of as Latino strongholds saw significant increases. Medford, for instance, went from 8.2 percent of the population to 16.3 percent in two decades.
Nassau was not exempt from the growth: New Cassel's Hispanics went from 20.1 percent of the population to 47.3 percent since 1990, to cite one example.
Smyth said one aspect of the growth she has noticed is that the Latino community is settling in and becoming part of mainstream society. They are buying homes, opening businesses and sending their children off to college, she said.