Editor's note: The U.S. census distinguishes between racial and ethnic categories. Hispanics are counted under the ethnic categories and may be of any race.In the decade that it took Mansfield to rocket to the fourth-most-populous city in Tarrant County, the once-country town has also become one of the region's biggest melting pots.Mansfield -- population 56,368 in 2010 and undoubtedly bigger still today -- attracted not only thousands of Anglo families to its booming subdivisions but also Asians, blacks and Hispanics in numbers not historically seen in a Tarrant County burg.Among minorities, the growth in Hispanics was the laggard at 143 percent. The number of Asians in Mansfield grew 505 percent. The number of blacks grew 547 percent, according to U.S. census figures released last week.In a city that took decades to live down its hostile response to a desegregation order in the 1950s, it's a rather amazing fact that Mansfield, in the 21st century, is one of the most racially and ethnically mixed cities in Tarrant County."Mansfield, at one time noted for its segregationist policies, has now moved beyond even some larger cities in its diversity," said Michael Evans, pastor of the historic African-American church Bethlehem Baptist and a school board member. "Can you believe it? I get goose bumps thinking about it."While remarkable for the breadth and depth of its racial and ethnic shift, Mansfield was certainly not unusual when results from the 2010 Census were released Thursday.Across Tarrant County, the story was much the same -- cities once overwhelmingly Anglo became less so during the 2000s as minorities moved to suburbs, propelled by rising living standards, remarkable housing offers during the boom period and the lure of better schools."You're seeing a rising middle class among blacks, Hispanics and Asians, and with that comes the desire to own a home," said Michael Moore, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. "They want more square footage, good schools, a yard for the dog. But prices tend to be very high in good neighborhoods in big cities, so often your choice is to go to a suburb."Consider that 1,232 blacks and 3,574 Hispanics lived in Mansfield in 2000. Ten years later, the number was 7,982 and 8,689, accounting for 30 percent of the city's overall population.Asians numbered 2,094 in Mansfield in 2010, exceeded only by the number in Fort Worth, Arlington, Grand Prairie, Euless and Haltom City, all cities known for having Asian enclaves.Elsewhere in the area, the African-American population in Roanoke grew 439 percent. That figure was 141 percent in Keller, 142 percent in Kennedale and 178 percent in Watauga.Among Hispanics, growth in suburbs was similarly robust. The census counted Hispanics across all racial groups.In North Richland Hills, the county's third-largest city, the number of Hispanics went from 5,276 in 2000 to 9,906 a decade later, which means that 15.6 percent of its 63,343 residents are Hispanic.The percentage of Hispanic residents in Saginaw shot up 156 percent; in Burleson, 271 percent.Granted, those percentages are eye-popping in some cases because the minority population in those cities was relatively small to start with, numbering only in the hundreds or low thousands.Although the numbers are significantly smaller, the Asian population in many suburbs also increased markedly. It doubled in Grand Prairie to 11,400, doubled in Colleyville to 1,350 and tripled in Southlake to 1,655.Demographic experts and residents expected the racial and ethnic changes, which were not unique to Tarrant County, said Barbara Becker, the dean of the School of Urban and Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington. But they are a sign of progress to her."One sees this as a very positive indicator that we have made significant progress as a society, where different ethnic groups don't have to be afraid to move into a town or neighborhood where they are not the dominant ethnic group," Becker said. "That's a good thing."Vast changesRick Alvarez remembers moving into a house in north Fort Worth in the mid-2000s, after leaving south Fort Worth, and seeing almost no Hispanics in his children's schools in the Keller district.His son, Martin, was often the only minority on his youth sports teams, Alvarez said. Now a junior at Keller Central High School, Martin has teammates who are Hispanic, black and Asian."I really didn't notice the diversification until they started building more apartment complexes that allowed more people to move into the district," Alvarez said. "Then you could really see it diversifying. I just knew I wanted to get out of south Fort Worth. I knew that once I had kids that probably wasn't going to be a place I wanted to stay. I had heard good things about the Keller schools, and honestly, what attracted us was that it was a predominantly white area."The Keller school district's growth has been nothing if not dramatic during the 2000s, fueled largely by massive growth within Fort Worth.The district opened 20 new schools from 2000 to 2010, including 10 elementary campuses, two middle schools, two intermediate schools, and Central and Timber Creek high schools. Of those schools, 16 are in Fort Worth.During that period, the district's demographics have shifted.The biggest difference in the past decade was in Hispanic students, who composed 8.7 percent of the student body in 2000-01 and are now 18.2 percent.The percentage of African-American students grew from 4.2 percent to 7.6 percent.The percentage of Anglo students has dropped from 81.5 percent to 63.4 percent.The demographic changes are even more stark in the Birdville school district, which covers seven cities, including Haltom City, North Richland Hills and part of Watauga.The district's percentage of Hispanic students doubled, from 17.1 percent to 36.8 percent. Birdville's African-American student population increased from 3.9 percent to 6.6 percent, which means that the population of minorities in those cities tends to be younger with school-age children."BISD has seen a definite change in their demographics since the last census," spokesman Mark Thomas said."However, we don't see that as a negative. It better reflects for our students what life is like outside the walls of the school building."The Mansfield school district has been changing dramatically in the last decade, absorbing growth and working with some of the challenges that diversity presents, such as creating a Newcomer Center to help the growing number of immigrant students.In 2000, Mansfield had 14,888 students, 70 percent of whom were Anglo, and the district had one high school.By the 2009-10 school year, enrollment had more than doubled to 31,614, and it was a minority-majority district, with Anglos making up only 44 percent, according to the most recent state data available. It now has four high schools and a career tech center.'Bang for their buck'Experts cite a variety of reasons for the changing face of suburbs -- aging housing stock in some areas that makes them more affordable, transplants from other areas of the country who are new to North Texas, the favorable reputation of suburban school systems, and a growing middle class among minorities that puts a larger house within reach.Becker said some of it is also probably due to "gentrification" of older, inner-city neighborhoods that often pushes low-income families farther from the core of Fort Worth."The vast majority, though, are moving to these areas to get more bang for their buck," Becker said."If they want or need more square footage, they start getting further away from the urban cores. As income levels rise, you're going to continue to see these shifts occur."Census tracts in north Fort Worth that were mostly Anglo 10 years ago have seen double-digit increases in minority populations.North Richland Hills Mayor Oscar Trevino, one of the few minority mayors in Tarrant County, moved to his city in 1982 and first ran for office in 1999."When I first ran, we were probably 10 percent minority," Trevino said. "But I didn't run as a minority. I speak fluent Spanish, but it's not about being a Hispanic elected official as much as it is about being an elected official who knows everyone has the same basic needs."He said North Richland Hills has made some changes in how it operates, such as ensuring that bilingual people are available to police. But there have been few changes, he said, despite the demographic shifts.That's because, he said, the city has no such thing as "an African-American neighborhood or Hispanic neighborhood.""They're moving into a neighborhood," he said. "You don't see Hispanic schools. They're all mixed in with everyone else. The minority population wants the same thing that all folks in the suburbs want -- a quality education, a good quality of life, and safety and security."A common bondOf course, the changes don't just affect public education. One can also see them in places of worship.Evans, who has lived in Mansfield since 1989, said his church has more than tripled in members since 2000.Many of them are from California and the Midwest and have no idea about Mansfield's past -- nor do they much care."It is to a point now where most people of all colors and genders believe that diversity is a good thing," he said. "We all agree that we want good schools, clean neighborhoods and low crime. That's our common bond, regardless of the hue of our skin."In Euless, the percentage of Asians shot up 61 percent and now tops 5,300 in a city with a total population of 46,000.As proof of the growing numbers in that city, the Nepali Cultural and Spiritual Center is leading an effort to build two temples -- one for Hindus and one for Buddhists -- and a community center on Euless Boulevard."We got the land last year, and now we've got all the design and architectural work," said Murali Adhikari, a volunteer with the center. "This year we're doing the funding, collecting money to complete the project. We hope to break ground sometime this year."Adhikari said that an estimated 2,000 Nepalis live in Northeast Tarrant County, many of them in Euless, lured by the cost of living and convenient commutes to Fort Worth, Dallas and Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.But at a certain point, he said, it is because their friends moved there."There are many Nepali here, and that makes it more attractive for other Nepali," he said. "They want to follow their own culture."
Staff writers Eva-Marie Ayala, Jessamy Brown and Terry Evans contributed to this report.