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Within the last two weeks there have been several articles in the Post Dispatch reporting that the St. Louis area, because of its open arms and welcoming attitudes, has become a hub for immigrants. What an opportunity for this region! These new community membersí contributions to our work ethic, to the arts, to the diversity of the St. Louis area cannot be understated. And as the articles pointed out, St. Louis has been far more responsive than other areas in this country in providing resettlement agencies, kinship networks, housing, and education. In a nutshell, we have welcomed immigrants and they have enriched our region.
This city was founded and settled in the 19th century by the English, French traders, and immigrants from Italy, Germany, Bohemia, and Ireland. It was a large center of Roman Catholicism which encouraged both French and Spanish colonization. Following an initial wave of newcomers came the Czech Catholics, German and Russian Jews, the Bosnian, Chinese, Japanese, and many others. The newspaper alluded to the fact that 150 years ago the highest percentage of immigrants in the United States were in St. Louis!
St. Louis is viewed as a safe and hospitable place for refugees. Its housing is reasonable; it is for the most part a tolerant place with little resentment toward these newcomers. And now we have the second largest Bosnian population in the country. Not only has this immigration boosted our population overall but it has brought new restaurants, dance, and music to our attention.
Schools have dramatically changed to meet the challenge of immigrant children. Classrooms are wonderfully varied; curricula have been altered to reflect new student bodies. There are many more diverse pictures in math, science, and literature texts along with great additions in the libraries and new fairy tale selections. Our children are learning to live with one another regardless of their race or ethnic background.
Granted not everything is perfect. Certainly there are problems with finding jobs, getting settled, learning a new language, and working into a community. Schools have had to create additional English-as-a-Second-Language Classes, search for more bilingual teachers, regroup students and extend their curricular offerings to meet student needs.
I would praise the contributions our immigrants have brought to this area: new respect to St. Louis along with a growing awareness of what this city has to offer.
Now, due to our population diversity, we have a growth of wonderful ethnic restaurants ranging from Turkish to Nepalese, to Vietnamese, Chinese, Ethiopian, Italian, German, Bosnian, and French, just to name a few. Our arts reflect this diversity with the Dances of India, the International Folk Dance Association, the Robert Reed Tap Heritage, the St. Louis Cultural Flamenco Society, the Hispanic Festival, the Nigerian Cultural Association, the African Chorus and so much more.
St. Louis in many ways is leading the nation in diversity due to its open arms policy and its willingness to be of important assistance to relocate and welcome those who on the one hand are so grateful to be here but on the other hand make this a far better place to live and work.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Susan Uchitelle is a consultant for the Voluntary Interdistrict Coordinating Council.