Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this article included a photo caption that misstated the name of a Wheaton neighborhood. The neighborhood is Glenmont Forest, not Glenwood Forest. This version has been updated.

Wheaton neighborhood is the face of Montgomery's shift to majority minority

Mary and Ed Williford have lived in Glenmont Forest, in Wheaton, since 1974 and have seen great changes in their neighborhood.
Mary and Ed Williford have lived in Glenmont Forest, in Wheaton, since 1974 and have seen great changes in their neighborhood. (Matt Mcclain)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ed and Mary Williford had everything they ever wanted in a neighborhood when they moved with their two small children into the two-bedroom, one-bath house on Judson Road in Wheaton in 1974.

They knew everyone up and down the block. Their kids played touch football and baseball with friends in the grassy median strip. And they spent long, easy afternoons sitting out on their front porch, chatting with neighbors who had become as close as family.

From the time the tidy Cape Cods, ranchers and split-levels were hastily built in the 1950s to house the exploding ranks of federal workers and World War II veterans, the people who lived in their Glenmont Forest neighborhood typified Montgomery County: Everyone was white and middle class.

Now, more than five decades later, the matchbox homes look largely the same. But the neighborhood has changed greatly.

Up and down Judson Road, mail is delivered to residents with such names as Garcia, Arroyo and Flores. Glenmont Forest is now 61 percent Hispanic and 20 percent non-Hispanic white. Soccer is what the children play nowadays in the median.

The significant shifts that have remade Wheaton are underway in much of Montgomery County. A Washington suburb that was once synonymous with white, well-educated affluence has become a majority minority county, census data released last week show.

In the past 10 years, Montgomery's Hispanic population has jumped 64 percent. Hispanics now outnumber African Americans for the first time.

Wheaton is about 40 percent Hispanic, giving it the greatest Hispanic concentration in Montgomery. But the fastest growth took place on the other side of the county in Germantown, where the Hispanic population nearly tripled in 10 years.

During the past decade, the county's white population fell nearly 8 percent, reflecting a trend throughout Maryland. In 2010, 40,000 fewer non-Hispanic whites lived in Montgomery County than in 2000.

In Glenmont Forest, the shift has been far more dramatic. Its white population plummeted 41 percent in the past decade. Nearby Highland Elementary School is now majority Hispanic, with more than two-thirds of its children taking special English language instruction and a similar proportion qualifying for free and reduced meals for families in need. Only 4 percent of the students are white.

The Willifords have watched it all from the picture window of their living room. "We've outlasted a lot of people," said Mary, 65.

The sweeping changes have led to tensions. Some of the new arrivals have rented out basements, back bedrooms and attics. At one point, front yards were jammed with cars, and construction trucks were parked on narrow streets. The grassy medians often got treated as dumps, collecting beer bottles, dirty diapers and fast-food trash that longtime residents still spend their weekends picking up.

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