California has long been recognized as one of the most diverse states in the country. But in many communities, this has not lead to to a rich, multicultural environment. Instead, it has created a type of cultural segregation that undermines the very concept of cultural diversity.
The Associated Press reports the following in the California City of Watsonville:
Spanish is spoken in most homes and businesses in town, and one out of five households is linguistically isolated, meaning no one over 14 speaks English.
Rising immigration hasn’t made Watsonville more diverse; it is a community heading toward racial isolation, a growing phenomenon in a state that offers one possible look at how the nation may change as non-Hispanic whites become a minority in the coming months.
Now keep in mind, this is not a phenomenon that is unique to the Latino community. The same can be observed in the Asian, East Indian and Slavic communities.
How can this be? Well, there was once a time when those who immigrated to the US made it a priority to assimilate to the culture of their new country. Learning English was a priority. Individual responsibility and economic opportunity were inexplicably linked.
But today, we foster an environment that discourages immigrants from becoming American. We entice them to live here. We offer a wealth of benefits to those who come here (legally or illegally). So, we have created a situation that encourages them to maintain their own separate identity which is largely affiliated with the country of their origin. So, instead of being “Mexican Americans” they tend to be more like “Mexicans in America” or instead of “Chinese Americans” they tend to be “Chinese in America.”
“For me, downtown Watsonville is like being in a small Mexican town,” said Oscar Rios, who was Watsonville’s first Latino mayor. “Everyone speaks Spanish. The restaurants are Mexican. It’s got a very different feel than a traditional American town.”
This by the way, is not their fault. We have created this problem ourselves. We have created an environment that accommodates lack of assimilation.
Walking past downtown’s historic Victorians, Nahara doesn’t notice that almost every sign is exclusively in Spanish, from the barber shop, “Cortes de Pelo,” to dress shop notices asking patrons to not bring in food or drink: “Por favor, no pase con comida o bebida.”
At the courthouse on the corner, interpreters are at work in all four courtrooms, helping judges and lawyers communicate with clients dealing with everything from divorce settlements to murder charges. At the public library, laughter, stories and music ring out from Bilingual Toddler Time.
***LET ME BE CLEAR***
I believe that diversity is good. It is one of the key things that makes our country the greatest place to live in the world. No where else can people from so many different countries, cultures and religions live together is peace and prosperity. I also believe that it is important for each of us keep our cultural heritage close to our hearts and never forget where we came from. It should be a vital part of who we are. But it should not be the sole determiner of who we are.
As a man of African & Italian decent who has grown up in America, the rich cultures of my parents informs my perspectives and values. But so does my background as an American, a Christian and a man. I am further enriched by the cultural backgrounds and experiences of those around me. All of these things combined create my unique “American Experience”.
But as we seek to isolate and separate ourselves from the rest of American culture, we defy one of the very pillars of American strength, true cultural diversity.