Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Getting to know the Whittier Neighborhood

After holding three community meetings, visiting four public schools and a couple of after-school programs, we're beginning to understand the remarkable international character of the Whittier Neighborhood. This is a part of Sioux Falls so rich in cultural diversity that nearly one hundred different languages are spoken here.  In fact, it has been referred to, by the NPR radio program The World, as the 'Ellis Island of the Great Plains.' 

Dave presenting at a community meeting
Just visit Whittier Middle School, named for the early American poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier, to see classrooms filled with young people from many countries of Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Central America, and descendents of much earlier immigrants from Norway, Sweden, and Germany. Or walk along 10th street to see a constellation of grocers, coffeeshops and restaurants specifically oriented to new residents from around the globe.

Whittier is a working-class neighborhood, just 'across the tracks' east of downtown, with a long tradition of welcoming new immigrants. It is also, as we've heard from many residents, the 'caring neighborhood' in that it is here where those without a place to sleep or money for food can find assistance from a host of charitable organizations. 

Listening to folks here made me think about how most, but importantly not all, of present day Sioux Falls residents come from families that immigrated to the U.S at one time. Those that did not immigrate like the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota are often referred to in the past tense, an unfortunate oversight since Native Americans from these and other tribes are alive and well here in Sioux Falls.

Drawing workshop at the Multicultural center
Highlighting and celebrating the vitality of this global, blue collar  neighborhood is our task. By creating a mural that resonates with the chorus of a hundred languages, we hope to bring a new cultural landmark to the city that recognizes immigrants old and new while honoring those who have lived here all along.

No comments:

Post a Comment