Forty years ago, Spokane invited the entire world to a celebration at Expo ’74. Two weeks ago, children traveled through an international village in Riverfront Park as part of the 20th annual Unity in the Community celebration. They picked up school supplies, but not before learning more about cultural traditions in other countries.
And now Spokane is in the midst of a monthlong fiesta to highlight the cultural heritage of the growing Latino population. To kick off the party, Spokane Mayor David Condon announced Monday that San Luis Potosi, Mexico, is the newest sister city of Spokane.
To cynics, this may seem to be nothing more than multicultural mumbo-jumbo, but it really does matter when a community shows that it is open to people of varied backgrounds.
Insular communities stagnate. Diverse communities thrive. Plus, there are the culinary benefits of, say, enchiladas potosinas and Ukrainian kolaches.
Fiesta Spokane has a calendar filled with events that can be found at fiestaspokane.org. A black tie fundraiser takes place at the Spokane Convention Center on Sept. 13 to raise money for college scholarships to regional universities. On Sept. 20, the Gondola Meadow in Riverfront Park will come alive with music and dancing by Latino performers. The smells of traditional cooking will fill the air. Families can enjoy a carnival atmosphere while learning more about Latino culture. A film series featuring Latino directors and actors also runs throughout the month.
While the Inland Northwest is somewhat secluded, it is not unaffected by the demographic shifts in America. Between 1990 and 2010, Washington’s Latino population increased by 352 percent, according to census figures. About 23,000 people in Spokane County are Latino, or about 5 percent of the population. Nearby Adams and Franklin counties are now majority Latino. This trend is expected to continue because the Latino population is generally younger and is more apt to have children.
This celebration of Latino heritage couldn’t come at a better time, given the ugly debate that has erupted over immigration reform. Stale arguments and tired stereotypes have resurfaced. September’s events should help educate the public. Those who participate will be enriched, rather than inflamed.
And it’s not just people from Mexico and Central America who are moving to the Inland Northwest. More than 55 languages are now represented. About half the children in the Spokane Public Schools district are identified as multicultural. Aside from English, the most common primary language spoken at homes is Russian, followed by Marshallese.
That’s right: About 2,000 to 3,000 people from Marshall, a tiny Pacific island nation, have moved to Spokane in recent years. That’s just one of the surprises people learn when they begin to examine the changing makeup of the city.
This isn’t the same old Spokane, and there’s nothing wrong with that.