Muliculturalism (Or Lack Of) In The Southwestern U.S.

For the past ten days, I've been exploring the southwestern U.S., with visits to six more states to which I've never previously been. And as a language-lover, one thing has been clear right from the start: speaking Spanish has made this a much more pleasant experience for me.

In St. Louis, after I'd seen all the sights I wanted to see (and a few I didn't want to see!), I ended up at a coffee shop near the campus of the university, where I did some writing while waiting to meet up with one of my readers. It became clear to me that many of the people in that coffee shop were exchange students, including a few from Spain, with whom I spoke for a few minutes, before getting back to writing.

It seems that multiculturalism is becoming quite common on university campuses — probably as an unfortunate result of the American economy, as much as anything else — and I think that's a good sign for cultural integration in the future.

Unfortunately, the rest of St. Louis really didn't give me even the slightest hint of multiculturalism. And afterward, in Little Rock, I don't think I ever even saw a hispanic person anywhere.

Not far away, in Dallas, I was speaking Spanish with the people in the gift shops before I ever even left the airport. And indeed, all of Texas was like that. For the four days I spent between Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio, Spanish was ubiquitous and I found plenty of opportunities to use it. Indeed it was everywhere. In fact, it was so ubiquitous that I just can't imagine how there are so many people in Texas who don't speak Spanish.

In New Mexico, I think I saw more people of hispanic descent than people who were not. It's clear to me why they call it New Mexico, probably because North Mexico would have been too obvious. It was hard to find even a non-hispanic person in New Mexico who didn't speak at least some Spanish. And I actually found that to be a charming trait.

In contrast, there seemed to be a much more clear social segregation in Oklahoma City, but even in spite of this, I was encouraged to see caucasian hotel managers speaking fluent Spanish with hispanic employees. But when I laughed at their joke, they acted surprised that I understood, which tells me that bilinguals are somewhat rare and unexpected there.

Now, upon landing in Kansas City, things already have a more familiar, almost midwestern feel again, with most of the Spanish-speaking people hidden from sight. It's kind of disappointing, and immediately I miss the multicultural openness I felt in Texas and New Mexico.

I remember a more openly diverse society in Las Vegas and Arizona, but I always felt a sense that hispanics were second-class citizens there. But that certainly wasn't the sense I got in Texas or New Mexico, and it was really encouraging to see the more positive face of what cultural integration can look like in the United States.

I only wish the rest of the country could begin to catch up.

Author: Yearlyglot
I'll lead you through a 12 month journey from knowing absolutely nothing about a language to having professional fluency.

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  • Multiculturalism is a great thing and I wish others saw it that way. Some people seem to be really scared of it ( especially in the rural areas, where I can find nowhere to practise because we seem to chase foreigners out the area). Foreigners are not all evil and the vast majority are very pleasant to get on with. For example, when do you see an Indian restaurant with bad service? You don't in England. It always seems to be the English run restaurants with the worse service.I wish I lived in a multicultural area. I'll be able to learn so many new things.

  • "I remember a more openly diverse society in Las Vegas and Arizona, but I always felt a sense that hispanics were second-class citizens there." You sir, are 100% correct. As a person born in raised in Arizona, speaking Spanish and being Latino is both frowned upon. I would say it's like that here, Nevada and now more so in Colorado. The only two states where I've been treated poorly for being Hispanic. And I've been to the South and they were nicer!
    Spanish is very prominent, yet small enough to ignore. Does that make sense? What I mean is, if you didn't speak or care to speak it, you would think that it was barely around. But if you do speak it, you can spend your day surrounded by it.
    The don't call it America the Beautiful for nothing!

  • I think multiculturalism is pretty common in university settings, actually. Even mumble years ago, about 10 percent of the 3000 student campus I attended was foreign. Yeah, a small campus, but the city where i went to school - St. Paul, MN, had similar population percentages at the 7 or so other colleges around town. Most of these kids were there to study English. They were under the perhaps false impression that they were going to learn a neutral accent. As a native Minnesotan, I say... tee hee.Anyway.College kids have more opportunity than any other time in their life to experience so many different cultures, I think.

  • Little Rock was almost entirely white people? I'm shocked :P Dude, it's Arkansas.Nice to hear that about Texas, though, we're a lot more tolerant and open than people think...generally.Cheers,
    Andrew

  • No, there were black people in Little Rock, too. But I didn't see any hispanics, or asians. Actually, it felt like I was in a rerun of Matlock.I was really surprised by Texas. My whole life I have had a bad impression of Texans, based on those who I'd met and those who were famous. But I actually liked almost everyone I met there. (With the exception of suburban Dallas.)

  • Yeah, I know people in schools all over the country who are either foreign or friends with foreigners. On one hand, it's really good to have all that diversity, but on the other hand, it's a bad sign for Americans when we can't afford school but foreigners can...

  • I wish non-English culture could be more open. I was really impressed by how much more comfortable everyone is in Texas and New Mexico. It's definitely not at all like that in Chicago.

  • Hey, I've only lived here for about 3 years now, before that New Orleans and before that Missouri, I wouldn't cut Texas people any slack just because I live here, I wasn't born here or anything. People in Texas are some of the nicest I've ever met, extremely friendly people.

  • "Foreigners are not all evil and the vast majority are very pleasant..."I think that's true of humanity as a whole. The vast majority of all people are pleasant, and not evil. It's a shame that we allow nationalism or racism to cloud that picture.

  • I believe you. As I said, I was really surprised and pleased by Texas.

  • I'm envious that you can travel so freely. I'm in Prague and have been working nonstop for ages, though I do try to study languages and travel when I can.Interesting!

  • The only reason I can travel so freely is that I'm unemployed! :)

  • Hey, I live in New Mexico. Best state in the Union!! Did you eat any green or red chili?

  • You might be right. New Mexico is one of my favorites of all the states I've visited. (46 so far!)I was offered the chili, but I avoid spicy foods generally. :)

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