Take a good look at the scope and breadth of the ethnic and racial diversity in Northern Virginia, where students from up to 200 countries populate local schools.
The three fast-growing Virginia counties nestled near the nation’s capital — Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William — are at the leading edge of a diversity explosion sweeping the USA. Hundreds of thousands of Hispanics and Asians have moved to the area since the 1990s and account for 32% of the 1.8 million people in the three counties, triple the number in 1990. Blacks account for another 12%, and multirace residents, 1%.
But this rapid growth in diversity hasn’t arrived without consequences or controversy. Residents have been grappling with everything from a controversial policy to stop illegal immigration in Prince William to a housing squeeze that has pushed thousands of minority families out of Arlington. Fairfax wrestles with finding the funds to teach ever more students who are poorer and need added language training.
“People were not ready and did not know how to handle the change,” says Qian Cai, director of the Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia. “But you have to know change is coming, so be prepared and plan for it. … As the white population ages, the younger generation will be multicultural, multiracial. That is just a demographic fact.”
On the plus side, multiethnic families are boosting the regional economy by buying homes, opening businesses and shopping locally. They bring a richness of language, tradition and food that are evident in local shopping centers where African fufu — pounded yams, cassava or plaintains — can be had alongside Salvadoran pupusas —corn or rice tortillas stuffed with cheese, meat and beans — and Vietnamese pho, a noodle soup.
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