Taking Stock of the Triangle: How Immigrants Are Transforming the Raleigh Area

By Andrew Soboeiro

From its earliest days, the United States has been defined by immigrants, and the Triangle is no exception. As the Raleigh area has grown in prominence and population, newcomers have flocked here from across the globe to do business, attend school, and participate in the local community. Only by paying attention to the critical role that immigrants and temporary residents are playing can you understand the changing nature of life in North Carolina.

The Origins & Impact of the Triangle’s Immigrants

Immigrants to the Triangle area come from all over the world, with particularly large numbers hailing from:

  • Latin America and the Caribbean: Roughly 42 percent of immigrants in Wake County are from Latin America, as are 56 percent of those in Durham County and 34.4 of those in Orange County. The most common country of origin for Latin American immigrants, and all immigrants, in the Triangle is Mexico, followed by Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Some other countries of origin include Cuba, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica.
  • Asia: Asian American immigrants make up 33.7 percent of immigrants in Wake County, 24.8 percent in Durham County, and 39.5 percent in Orange County. Roughly one quarter of this community is Indian, while another 15 percent are Chinese, 12 percent are Vietnamese, and 12 percent are Filipino. The Triangle also has a number of residents who are Hmong, an ethnic group with origins throughout Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand.
  • Africa: 10.4 precent of Wake County residents, 7.7 percent of Durham County residents, and 4.1 percent of Orange County residents are from Africa. Raleigh alone is home to nearly 55,982 people born in sub-Saharan Africa, including over 1,062 from Nigeria, 1,005 from Kenya, 458 from Somalia, and 245 from Ethiopia.
  • Europe: Europeans make up 10.4 percent of all immigrants in Wake County, 7.7 percent of those in Durham County, and 17.3 percent of those in Orange County. The most common countries of origin for these immigrants are the United Kingdom and Germany; some other nations include Spain, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, France, and Austria.

With so many immigrants from such a wide range of countries and regions, the Triangle’s cultural landscape is changing rapidly. One of the clearest signs of this is language. In the last few decades, the Raleigh area has been transformed from an overwhelmingly English-speaking community to a metropolis where dozens of different languages are spoken on a daily basis. While figures are not available for the Triangle specifically, in North Carolina as a whole, there are one million people who speak a language other than English at home, compared to just over 130,000 in 1980. That includes 638,000 Spanish speakers, 38,000 Hindi speakers, 28,000 French speakers, and 27,000 Chinese speakers.

Besides language, immigrants have had a profound effect on the Triangle’s economy. 14.9 percent of entrepreneurs in the Raleigh area are immigrants. These individuals operate businesses in all industries, with particularly large numbers in laundry, grocery, cosmetics, travel, and food service. Because immigrants in North Carolina are disproportionately likely to have advanced degrees, they are also well represented among the Triangle’s skilled professionals and university faculty.

Finally, immigrants have had a noticeable effect on the Triangle’s cuisine. Among Yelp’s Top 10 Restaurants in Raleigh are the Laotian restaurant Bida Manda and the Lebanese restaurant Aladdin’s Eatery, both founded by immigrants. By boosting the area’s already-delicious culinary scene, these restaurants have helped Raleigh make the Forbes Travel Guide 12 Top Destinations of 2017.

Vigoda Law Firm is committed to providing immigrants and temporary residents the legal status they need to keep transforming the Triangle for the better. For more information, call 919-307-7817 or visit our website today.