Sunday, August 12, 2007
The Changing Face
When I was a kid I remember being told that one day, far, far in the future everyone will be tan skinned, a dark shade of tan. Because of the races mixing and having children, soon everyone will be a blend of everyone else. I'm not sure if this will happen, but America's face is not what it once was.
A recent article in the Seattle Times states that the face of America is changing. Now one in ten U.S. counties have a population where non-Hispanic Whites are not the majority. Primarily, these counties are in the southwest, the Bible belt, Alaska, and Hawaii; however, there are a few counties in my neck of the woods included in this demographic measurement.
Some of the more experienced teachers with whom I work told me that the current 35% Hispanic population we have at the high school is a new development. In the 1970s and 1980s they said we had a Hispanic population of 5% and under. Our valley's agricultural boom and construction needs have created an influx of seasonal migrant workers and a newly transplanted population from Central America. We are one of the faces changing in America.
I firmly believe in the power and desirability of diversity. I have always known a diverse community, being in the minority for much of my life and always made a better man because of diversity's power.
A new study is now out countering the benefits of diversity on civic life. This study conducted by Harvard's Robert Putnam indicates that almost all "civic measures" decline as diversity increases. Some findings in diverse communities are:
a) "fewer people vote,"
b) "they volunteer less often,"
c) "less is given to charity,"
d) "fewer people work on community projects," and
e) "neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings."
While I can't directly dispute any of the findings or data, I believe the problem at the center of this isn't really diversity. The problems are prejudice and fear. Humans fear what is different or strange. People tend to shy away from what they don't understand.
I see the results of this study, not as a negative, but a positive. We can change if we so desire. Is that not what we teach our children? To be inclusive, accepting, tolerant, and respectful of one another. Adults are not always the best models for the qualities we try to instill in our youth, but we're doing better. We're doing better all the time. Our country is changing and changing for the better. I will continue to lift our lamps beside the golden door.