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As Hispanics embrace life in U.S., some prefer to limit family size

ATLANTA — Yolanda Lucena removes seeds from dark red chile peppers, her 5-year-old son, Ignacio, rushes into their home. He brandishes the daily behavior sheet, which has a blue circle for excellent behavior. Lucena smiles widely. She kisses her kindergartner on the cheek. She checks on her sleeping 1-month-old, Arnoldo, swaddled in a Superman fleece blanket. Both of her boys are content. And so is she. Her family is "completa."

"I think two children is enough," 32-year-old Lucena said in Spanish as she prepared mole, a classic Mexican dish made with unsweetened chocolate, cinnamon and spices. "I actually put off having our second child for a long time. I kept telling my husband, let's wait one more year."

Faced with a kitchen counter strewn with bills — from calling long-distance to Mexico, to heating their home, to generous meals, to diapers and toys — each additional child strains the family's budget. And delays Lucena's dream of opening a small business.

Lucena and her husband, Ignacio Araujo — who moved to Norcross, Georgia from the coastal state of Guerrero, Mexico, about five years ago — are breaking a long tradition of big families. Lucena is one of six children. Her husband is one of 14.

Newly arriving Hispanics have long outpaced the fertility rates of other ethnic groups, helping them become the country's largest minority. In recent years, however, the typical Hispanic family is shrinking — fast. The change emerges as more established Hispanics resist some of the social and religious pressures of their homelands.

They are carving a new way of life here — one characterized by fewer children.

"Only her," Alicia Jimenez, a stay-at-home mom, said about her 19-month-old daughter, Noemi Aylin, dressed in a pink velour pantsuit. They were in the waiting room at the Norcross, Ga.-based prenatal and pediatric clinic La Clínica de la Mamá. "We want to be able to support her well."

Ed Cota, chief executive officer of La Clínica de la Mamá, has a local radio program called "El Doctor Está en Casa," or "The Doctor's in the House." He estimates that a third of the questions he receives are related to birth control.

Bigger than average

Hispanics still have bigger families on average, with a national average of 3.87 people per Hispanic family. The national average for all families is 3.19.

And in Georgia, the average Hispanic family size is larger than other states with more established Hispanic immigrant populations, such as California. In fact, Georgia ranks fourth in the country for the largest Hispanic family size — 4.14 people on average, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of U.S. Census Bureau figures.

Still, many experts believe that as second-generation Hispanics in Georgia plan their families, they will be more likely to keep their family size small as they wrestle with many of the challenges of the American lifestyle: dual-income households, the high cost of day care and the drive for a financially comfortable life. Many postpone marriage until they are well into their 20s, and they are more educated.

"As the second generation starts to Americanize, they finally understand they have rights and choices and they don't have to have six kids because the husband says so," Cota said.

They are also more open to birth control — a move that puts them at odds with the Roman Catholic Church.

Read more at: Middle Town Journal

By HELENA OLIVIERO

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