I know I’ve shown you all maps of data before, but I’m going to do it again. If you know me, you know that I loves me some data. In this blog post, we’re going to look at this map in detail. The map is the brainchild of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. They did something very neat. They took the 2010 Census data and overlaid it on a Google map, color-coding each data point by race reported on the census form. It is certainly much prettier than anything the Census Bureau itself has come up with.
One of the things that stood out to me when I looked at the map is that people of difference “races” do tend to stick together. I write “Race” in quotes because, as a scientist, I see everyone as being from the human race. I find that our differences are cultural and ethnic, rather than racial. There are plenty of Hispanics like me in the United States, but we are different within that “race” and even within our individual cultures. Certainly, I don’t identify myself with the Cuban culture or the Puerto Rican culture, and much of my Mexican culture is “washed out” in the American culture because I’ve been here so long. That, and I got through high school, college, and grad school… And I’m now going into a doctoral program. (Remind me to one day tell you why getting out of high school alone was a huge deal.)
My brother told me to read “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum. It is an interesting treatise on whether we should encourage “mixing” of the “races” or whether we should encourage “unity” within those “races.” The author makes an interesting case for both mixing and unity (a kind of benign segregation). My brother told me to read this book at a time when I was to appear at a town hall on race relations in the town where I am living now. The comments section of the local newspaper became filled with trolls, people who were commenting in a very negative way. Some of them asserted that I was an illegal alien because, you know, all Mexicans are here illegally. Others unfoundedly accused me of some serious things, but all that’s not worth rehashing at this time.
As I was sitting at home tonight, looking at this map, something stuck out at me that was very interesting, and very “visceral.” First, let’s look at the legend for the dots you’ll see on the map:
Now, let’s look at where I grew up:
This is the city of El Paso, Texas. I was born across the river from there in Juarez, Mexico. I lived in Juarez up until I was ten years old. After that, my parents sent me to school in El Paso. As you can see, I felt right at home there from a cultural/racial perspective. Most of the people in El Paso are Hispanic, and most of them are either from Mexico or the children and grandchildren of Mexicans. Though I had to learn English, everything else was pretty much the same. People looked the same, and we celebrated the same holidays like Cinco de Mayo and September 16th (Mexican Independence Day).
After high school, not much changed. I stayed in El Paso and went to the University of Texas at El Paso. It was after college that I ventured east. In fact, I had not been anywhere more to the east than Houston, Texas. However, while in college, my mother and brother moved up to Nebraska, to this little town:
Trust me, it wasn’t that Hispanic back in 1998. Back then, few Hispanics lived in Lexington, most of them working at the local meatpacking plant. Many of them were from Central America, with a few sprinkled in from Puerto Rico and Cuba, and some Mexicans. Now, as you can see in the map above, the town has a lot of Hispanics living in it. However, if you zoom out on the map, you see that adjacent towns are mostly White.
After college, I moved to this little town in Pennsylvania:
Like then, the 2010 data shows us that the town is about 97% White. Talk about a fish out of water; I felt like I had stepped on to another planet. Sure, I knew the language, and I was educated here in the States, but the culture in that town was so, so, so much different than it was in El Paso. It goes without saying that I experienced some culture shock. People looked at me funny. Store clerks pointed at the total amount on their registers instead of telling me the price. A cop pulled me over, waited some time for a translator, and then got mad at me for speaking English when he thought I needed a translator.
A few years went by and I got into the MPH (Master of Public Health) program at the George Washington University in Washington, DC. This was my second culture clash. I went from mostly Hispanic El Paso, Texas, to mostly White Pennsylvania, to school (while still living in PA) in mostly Black Washington, DC. Still, as Black as that city is, people on the train commuting in with me, and most of the students taking classes with me were White or Asian. There were a few of us Hispanic kids in there, and a few African-American Blacks. There were also a few African Blacks… And they didn’t mingle much with the African-American kids. Remember that whole culture thing? It’s more than skin-deep.
Once the MPH was done, I got the job at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. That job took me to Baltimore, another city that is very Black:
And, as you know, I will be working on my DrPH in Baltimore. I’ll report my observations on the cultural and racial makeup of the school, but, from what I’ve seen so far, there are more Whites, some Asians, some Blacks (American born and African), and very few Hispanics. I’m going to be in the minority… For more reasons than the color of my skin, my place of birth, or how much money I (don’t) make. So who will I sit with in the cafeteria?
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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