Once again, Germantown MD has made the short list of most diverse cities in the nation, this year coming in at #1 based on a carefully calculated amalgam of ethnic, ethno-racial, linguistic, and birthplace diversity (See Rating HERE). No one who lives here doubts it: many cities have an enormous number of people of color but it’s oftentimes dominated by one ethnic group that has taken over. In Germantown, there are lots of Asians, lots of Africans, lots of Latinos, and still lots of Caucasians – hence the high rating. Diversity brings many advantages as well as challenges. Among the advantages is a sneak preview of the future of America many other cities in the U.S. are only eyeing from afar.
As impressive as this title may be, it’s important to point out that this status is not likely to last.
It would be nice to think of this diversity as static, having achieved a well-mixed ‘salad bowl’ that will last for years to come. But that’s not how the trends are pointing. While the Asian, White, and African populations of Germantown are in fact steady or slightly declining, the Latino population will continue to grow and soon take over as the majority population of this small city.
This trend may or may not be welcome by current residents, especially those of non-Latino background. It will change the demographic makeup, the cultural milieu, and everything in between: which restaurants open and which close, which businesses will thrive and which won’t, what high school graduating classes will look like, who will eventually represent this town at the county and state levels, and so on and so forth. Whether they like it or not, Asian, African, and White residents will be in the minority. Maybe a very small minority eventually.
There are usually two responses when your own people start to become a minority in an area: 1) leave; or 2) stay and desperately try to maintain control over the direction of the city so you don’t feel so out of place. Thousands in Central Montgomery County have exercised option #1 for years, moving to Frederick, and now Hagerstown or beyond to find homes where they don’t feel out of place. Usually a town’s ethnic makeup is not cited as a reason for leaving. But color factors into the equation much more than most folks want to admit.
And thousands more have exercised option #2, skillfully navigating the halls of power to influence the sort of high-level governmental decisions that might help maintain one’s favored way of life. I know this route well: as a white male, finding my way into such halls is not difficult. Since the ethnic group that has been in this area the longest – Caucasian – continues to wield the most power, I fit very easily into these halls; why, it feels like I belong there! As a native, I want Montgomery County to continue to be one of the wealthiest counties in the country. As a homeowner, I get tickled to see the cost of real estate rise. As someone who is already settled in a home for the long run, I like the idea of preserving the agricultural reserve for farmland rather than urban development. As a resident whose personal connection to this land goes back 50+ years, I long to preserve history, cultural traditions, and events that tie me back to a past dominated by my people.
In short, while I like diversity, I don’t want to give up a culture carved out over centuries by my ethnic group. I am well aware that African Americans have lived here just as long as other Europeans; unfortunately, their culture was marginalized from the get-go.
Leave or stay? Our own American history books give us ample examples of both. In our heritage, we have Protestant believers leaving England’s shores to escape the majority Catholic or Anglican populations as well as plantation owners in the South vastly outnumbered by their slave workers yet containing their culture and freedom under the shackles of a colonist’s rule book.
Is there an Option #3? Some 2,500 years ago, the prophet Jeremiah gave one to exiled Jews whose nation and heritage had just been destroyed and who were carted off to the Babylonian empire to become a conquered minority in a foreign land:
“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29: 5 – 7)
What is option #3? Neither leave nor stay and cling to the past. Rather, embrace your new reality. Come to terms with the fact that you are a minority, you don’t have a majority say anymore, you won’t be able to control your city’s destiny, you can’t define its culture, and you may have little or no civic power. But recognize that you can still bless your city, no matter who runs it.
This takes humility, vulnerability, and adaptability. It is not easy to accept the idea that simply because of one’s cultural background one’s footprint in one’s home city will shrink. Much within my soul wants to resist a non-native culture that will impress itself upon my world and possibly do so unapologetically. Staying and embracing will mean giving up certain favorite watering holes (think: the Green Turtle, Flaming Pit), annual traditions (think: the Germantown Oktoberfest), and trends that have seemed normative. It will mean learning to like new tastes and traditions that have been heretofore foreign to me.
I can resent it or I can embrace it. If I choose the latter, I can revel in all the additions to my world brought by new cultures: chicken from Peru, pupusas from El Salvador, the indomitable spirit of determination exhibited by our immigrants, a talent for enjoying the moment, and so much more!
Good things happen when we accept reality, even if it feels like we’re losing our home. Staying in place isn’t for everyone. But for those who choose to stay: lean into the change. It may not be easy, but then again, a whole new world is in store!
Anne saysFebruary 28, 2023 at 2:30 am
Wise words. Embracing the evolving present and the future!!