It's been two years since Carlos Bajana packed up his family from their cramped apartment in northern New Jersey and moved to Vance County.
"I mean look at this. Back in Jersey, I didn't have a backyard. I was living in a box," said Bajana, a 50-year-old Ecuadorian emigrant and Iraq War Army veteran who describes his new calmer and quieter life in Henderson like a dream come true.
"It is a completely different lifestyle," said Bajana. "And I wouldn't change it for nothing. I had a good job, making good money. But the quality of life, the family time, and all wasn't all there."
"And I just told my wife one day, listen, I think it's time for us to go somewhere else."
The Bajanas are not alone. North Carolina's Latino population grew from about 67,000 in 1990 to over 1.1 million in 2020, according to U.S. Census data.
"The number of Latino residents is growing much faster than any other racial or ethnic group in the state," said Nathan Dollar who examines population trends as director of Carolina Demography at UNC Chapel Hill.
"The biggest increases in the share of the population tend to be the more rural counties," said Dollar. "Duplin County is almost a quarter Latino; Sampson County, 21-22 percent; Lee County, 20 percent.
Otto Cedeno is President and CEO of Durham-based Movil Realty. Of the 1,500 homes the firm sold last year, Cedeno says 80 percent went to Latino families -- either already living in North Carolina or just discovering it.
"The majority of buyers are from Mexico, Central America," says Cedeno whose team of bilingual agents has been steering many clients to properties outside of the pricier Triangle.
"Places like Lillington, Dunn, and Henderson. They can get a good house for the money," he said. "What brought them here? I think the quality of life and the people; the warmth of the south."
Cedeno talks a lot about the entrepreneurial spirit he finds in many new Latino North Carolinians. You see it in Carlos Bajana who now already bought and sold one home in Henderson and he's flipping the home he lives in now.
"Moving here has changed my life for the better. And it keeps getting better," said Bajana who intends to stay in North Carolina, although he's not sure where yet. Perhaps, he'll look at Chatham County where Siler City is now 53 percent Hispanic, North Carolina's first majority Latino municipality.