April 01, 2007

Darfuri in Indiana

Fellow residents of the SB might be interested to know that we have a burgeoning refugee community:

As many as 300 people originally from Darfur are living in Fort Wayne, with others scattered across smaller Indiana cities like Elkhart, South Bend and Goshen. Together, they form one of the largest concentrations of Darfuri in the United States.

Frankly, I'm surprised, and for almost exactly the reasons the article suggests.

Despite Indiana’s reputation among Americans as a monolithic slice of the country, in parts of Africa it is known — mostly by word of mouth — as diverse, welcoming and affordable.

`Monolithic' isn't the term I would use; `homogeneous' is more appropriate. Northern Indiana is populated primarily working-class practicing Catholics of Polish and Irish descent. Deviation from that norm is much more often denominational than racial. What racial diversity we do have is, unsurprisingly, tied closely into class and geographical divisions. Near where a few of my friends live, for example, the difference between the `good' (upper middle class professionals and students, mostly white) and `bad' (much poorer, mostly black) neighbourhoods is a single street.

The politics here are right-of-centre, with the working class background checking the nasty side of American Christianity. But while there's not much support in the air for welfare or affirmative action programs, I can imagine that there's also little conscious racism. And perhaps Fort Wayne -- about two hours away, according to Google -- actually does diversity better than the SB:

Fort Wayne, for instance, has one of the largest populations of Burmese in the United States, and for a city its size — approximately 250,000 residents — it has a considerable international flair, with many families from Vietnam, Congo and Somalia. Seventy-seven languages are spoken in the Fort Wayne public school system.

I seriously doubt any immigrants will read this post. But I hope they do genuinely feel welcome here. If they're coming from a rural lifestyle in their native country, I think Northern Indiana makes a lot more sense than Chicago or New York. As one of my professors put it last week, compared to rural Iowa, the SB is `high civilization'.

1 comment:

Kevin C. said...

It is true that South Bend historically has a large Irish, Polish, (and Hungarian) Catholic population. I'm not so sure it is as homogenous as you make it out to be. Granted, if you take Granger and Notre Dame into the picture, the total area is gentrified. But within South Bend proper, especially on the near-northwest and west side, Polish, Hungarian, Mexican and African-Americans live side-by-side. Granted, it's not as diverse as, say, Toronto, where I live now, but it's certainly no Granger. Where I grew up on the near-northwest side, my neighborhood was composed of about an even number of Blacks and Whites with a few Hispanic families. I would suggest heading west down Western Avenue and exploring a bit. I think you'll find it surprisingly heterogeneous, at least compared with what you've written. The thing is, I'm pretty sure very few Domers live there, if any.