LITTLE ROCK — Despite rapidly growing numbers, Hispanics are largely absent from government offices in Arkansas, a situation that some are working to change.

LITTLE ROCK — Despite rapidly growing numbers, Hispanics are largely absent from government offices in Arkansas, a situation that some are working to change.

“There is no legislator, no mayor,” said Angela Schnuerle, chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Hispanic Caucus.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the Hispanic population in Arkansas doubled between 2000 and 2010, going from 3.2 percent to 6.4 percent. That 6.4 percent figure represents 186,050 people, of whom about 44,000 turned out to vote in the November 2010 general election, or 5.6 percent of the total number who voted.

The Hispanic voter turnout is likely to explode in the near future, according to Schnuerle.

“The most interesting demographic is the kids, the schoolchildren that are American citizens, because about 90 percent of the children are born here,” she said. “And they’re coming of age to vote.”

Schnuerle said her organization is working hard to recruit candidates, especially for offices at the local level.

“At the city council level, at the school board level, we need to encourage these folks, because those are levels (where) they can make a difference,” she said.

The largest concentration of Hispanics in the state is in the northwest corner, home to large employers like Bentonville-based Walmart and Springdale-based Tyson Foods. A total of 65,741 Hispanics live in Benton and Washington counties, where Bentonville and Springdale, respectively, are located.

As it must every 10 years, the state Board of Apportionment redrew legislative district lines last year in accordance with the latest Census data. The process did not result in any Hispanic-majority districts, but it did produce a handful of districts with Hispanic populations of more than 25 percent.

One of those is Senate District 7 in Washington County, which has a 29.5 percent total Hispanic population and a 24.3 percent population of voting-age Hispanics.

Diana Gonzales Worthen of Springdale, the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, announced as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the District 7 Senate seat on Jan. 14. Sen. Bill Pritchard, R-Elkins, and Rep. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, are seeking the Republican nomination.

Gonzales Worthen, 50, who runs a program at the University of Arkansas that provides professional development to teachers, is making her second bid for a legislative seat. She sought the Democratic nomination for House District 89 in 2006 and lost to Jim House of Fayetteville, who went on to win the general election.

She said she believes Hispanic Americans are becoming increasingly comfortable with the political process.

“We have now a group of people who have been actively involved, for example, with voter registration, and (everything) from voter registration to participating in campaigns and now considering running for office. I think it’s just steps,” she said.

Charles Cervantes, former state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, said many Hispanic immigrants are reluctant to vote.

“The old mentality of the Latinos from Mexico or Nicaragua or somewhere like that, they don’t want to vote because they believe that the system is corrupt, like their country,” he said. “They always say, ‘I don’t want to because of Mexico,’ and I say, ‘This is not Mexico. This is the United States. Here we vote and it does make a difference.’”

Cervantes said he does not expect last year’s redistricting to have much impact on Hispanic representation in the Legislature, because what is required is “a generational change.”

“You can feel it in (the younger generation) that they want to move it forward for themselves, be involved politically. That’s the generation that we’re going to concentrate on,” he said.

“I tell everybody, ‘Give it another 10 years. In another 10 years we’ll have plenty to pick from.’”