HOUSTON (FOX 26) - There's a lot to be proud of in our community and there are some things that need to be improved. But without a doubt, we have become citizens of a diverse city like no other in America... and the whole world is watching to see how we take advantage of this opportunity.
From a single trading post on Buffalo Bayou in the mid-1800’s, Houston has grown to become the nation’s 4th largest city. But what transformed this good ole boy town into the most diverse city in the country?
According to Dr. Stephen Klineberg, Houston’s best known demographer, who’s been looking at local population shifts for nearly 40 years… Anglos from all parts of the country, initially came to Houston for the oil boom… because the jobs were here. But when the boom went bust in the 1980’s the faces of Houston started to change. Klineberg says, "After the oil bust of 1982 35 years ago, the Anglo population stopped growing. And all the growth of this most rapidly growing city in America has been the influx of African Americans, Latinos and Asians. And this biracial, southern city dominated control throughout all of its history by white men, has become the single most ethnically diverse, major metropolitan area in the country."
Today, there are more than 6 million people in the greater Houston area, speaking more than 150 different languages. Because of the influx of immigrants from around the world, there are hundreds of restaurants bringing us new flavors. And, hundreds of businesses that cater to those who choose to live here. Our election ballots are even printed in 4 languages... signaling a change in the diversity in our area. It’s been a gradual transformation… but one that has been increasingly embraced by local residents. Savjit Singh and others agree, "Oh Yes, Houston is a very diverse community. And we see that everywhere and we go places and we see a lot of different people from different faiths, different races, different cultural background.
Sarah Griffin, is an Anglo who loves the diversity in our area. She says of the area, " It’s very diverse. We have a lot of many different people and have many cultures. I think it's awesome. I love living here." Charslynn White also loves what out community has become. She says, "Just everywhere you go, you never know what type of people you run across, or run into what their life experiences are, how they may help you, even if they don't know you."
Dr. Klineberg says, our area’s diversity differs from other cities because we have nearly equal proportions of different ethnic groups that have been here for more than one generation. "Its no longer new immigrants. It's the hundred percent American kids who are the children of the immigrants of 25 to 30 years ago. And that changes everything.
He goes on to say, " So, you become 100% American, but retain your connection to India, or your connection to Mexico, your induction becoming a connection to African, Nigeria, Ghana. And the result is a much more say no now across the planet, as one of the places that we're where the New America has been taking shape."
In less than 10 years, more than a million people have moved here, from literally everywhere in the world… and they've brought with them their lifestyles, their food and their customs... and their spiritual beliefs, according to Dr. Gregory Han, the director of interfaith relations and education at Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston. " But underneath each of those religious traditions, is an incredible amount of diversity. So you could say in the hundreds, or even thousands, but every major religion is represented here in Houston, and in significant numbers and in organized numbers as well.
He goes on to say, "...we're really in an era of come just learn about us, because we're here not just on Let's say, you know, a Friday for Juma prayer Friday night for Shabbat or Sunday for you know, our Saturday and Sundays for a lot of Christian religious communities. But we are your neighbors, we're your coworkers, we're your bosses we're your employees. So, we see you on a regular basis as well. In our daily lives as well. We are your neighbors. So it's not just we're the house of worship down the street. But we're your neighbor down the street and across the street as well.
Much of what Dr. Hahn speaks of was quite evident during funeral services for murdered Harris County Deputy Sandeep Dalihwal… The first to be granted permission to keep his beard and wear a turban on duty… symbolizing his faith as a Sikh. Sukhjinder Singh says, "He brought them here and now we're all connected together."
Many of those who attended the service for Dep. Dalhiwal said that there was a lot of diversity inside the Berry Center. And when they came out, they were just so proud to talk about what they felt while they were inside.
Bhagwant Singh added, " Not only do I see the diversity, but I see everybody all the different communities united as well. And like one of the speakers said earlier, there's there's no better tribute to, to his life of service, than having all the communities... diverse communities united."
And for Savjit Singh, it was a unique experience... " It makes me feel good and makes me feel proud of Sandeep Dalhiwal that even while departing was his providing another service he's serving all during his life. And now in his death also, he's also providing a service which is incredible in my eyes."
Incredible is how some describe how the Houston area has made an incredible change in accommodating new immigrants. In the past, Houston’s economy was based on natural resources… like lumber, cotton, sugar, cattle and oil… all industries that helped the Bayou City flourish economically. But no formal eduation was needed.
Now, Dr. Klienberg says, we live in a Global city, where human resources… knowledge and skills are most important. And according to him, we lack educational commitment for the future. With Only 23 % of Houstonians over age 25 graduating high school, Kleinberg challenges the public, philanthropists and government officials to make improvements in education. He says, " This is where, for better or worse, the American future is being worked out. Exactly what makes, how we manage this and how we deal with this and how we speak to these, these new realities of transcendence into this not just the Houston future... we're talking about this is the American future. No one necessarily would have chosen that no one said, this is Houston's destiny, whether we like it or not to be where all of America will be as the 21st unfolds."
As we continue to celebrate our diversity we urge you to not only reach back to your own culture and traditions. But also to step outside your comfort area. Visit a different house of worship. Try a new ethnic food. Talk to the person that looks different than you. And, together we can learn more about one another and do more to make Houston more diverse and even richer.
Tell us about your culture and share your stories of Houston's diversity FOX26inFocus@foxtv.com