In exploring the differences and similarities in my community of Lakewood, Colorado I have found that the issues surrounding race, ethnic groups, and culture as it pertains to minority groups go unaddressed. Inequities that need to be recognized and dealt with are social distance, the normative approach, social class, and middleman minority issues that impact these minorities. These issues affect business, language, status, class, and education in my community. Looking at demographical information, community members, leadership, and representation show the importance of the issues at hand and the importance of presenting solutions to solving inequalities.
Then and Now, Demographics of Lakewood, CO
Lakewood, Colorado was incorporated in 1969 and had a population of approximately 93,000 people (Community Planning And Development, 2002). In 1970 97% of the ethnic make up was White, while the second largest ethnic group was Hispanic, at 3.5% (Community Planning And Development). United States Census Bureau (2000) shows us that in over 30-years, Lakewood’s White ethnic population was reported at 78.9% with, again, the second largest group being Hispanic at 14.5%. In 30-years, the population of Lakewood increased about 55% to 144,000 (United States Census Bureau). Besides the change in population with Hispanics, other ethnic groups would see little to no change.
Figure 1. A Demographic Comparison.
Figure omitted from text. Please see attached image.
Note. Data from Community Planning And Development, 2002
In looking at demographical maps, they illustrate the concentration of minority groups living on the surrounding edges of Lakewood, which borders the capital city, Denver (Community Planning And Development, 2002). I believe this to be the natural migration patterns of people to suburban areas. The housing prices start to climb but are at lower prices bordering Denver. This area is where I live and although the numbers show little diversity for Lakewood, the concentration of different ethnic groups in this region is Lakewood’s hub for where subordinate groups have migrated.
Being of a White ethnic group, only about half of my neighborhood community members look like me. Those who do compare to my ethnic group tend to be in an older in age. The rest of my neighborhood community seems to consist of members of Hispanic origin. Of this Hispanic group, a large amount of its members are bilingual or Spanish speaking only. In a smaller concentration, Asian minority groups live and run businesses in the surrounding area. The Asian racial group in my community face stereotypes based on the businesses they run, but along with Hispanics, blend well in the community. The concentration levels of minority groups that live inside the Lakewood border could be a result of redlining. The further west of the Denver border you go, the amount of minority groups drastically reduce. Being of a biracial marriage and having biracial children, I do feel comfortable with the surrounding diversity, but not all people belonging to my ethnic group feel the same way.
The majority representation in my community still consists of a White ethnic group. Members in this majority seem to treat people like me as they would other members of this group. However, there have been many occasions where community members have spoken out against the increase in the amount of Hispanic people moving into the neighborhood community. Most of the prejudicial references I have heard stated by members of the community pertain to Mexican Americans. Being that Mexican Americans are the predominate ethnic minority group, most of the comments relate to ethnophaulism and stereotypes. I believe that a mitigating factor for the differences relate to the language barrier that exists between the two groups, as well as the social distance that is maintained by Mexican Americans. Seeing these differences in the culture, many members of the majority group tend to blame the victim for some of the difficulties these minority groups face in our community.
I notice that the children of the different minority groups, Mexican American and Asian American, relate very well to marginality. These children understand and speak English, translate for their parents, and participate in American, Mexican American, or Asian American traditions; finding themselves struggling between tradition and a new culture. As these children get older, I see them helping their parents in the family business or staying home helping with financial obligations.
Social Class and a Dual Labor Market
One status that separates the majority of people in my neighborhood community from the rest of the city community is social class. Like previously stated, the bordering edge of Lakewood and Denver contains neighborhoods with lower housing values and tenants that can barely afford them. The tension between social classes can be seen in the racial profiling that is done while just traveling through communities just west of our neighborhood. The police presence is greater in the nicer communities and they recognize who do not belong in communities based solely on physical features and the condition or year of a vehicle. These differences are seen in the work position held by minority groups in my community as well.
In my community, janitorial positions, house cleaning, lawn care, and other menial jobs are held by a majority of Mexican Americans. Living around these individuals I know that this is not based on just language issues but also because they know these positions are made available for them. Browsing through the classified section of the newspaper, I find these menial jobs advertised and almost all of them end with “Hable Español.” Jobs that offer advancement, benefits, and retirement never have the same inclusive language and are not necessarily high prestige positions, but they are not available for Spanish speakers. This leads to the self-fulfilling prophecy concept because these menial jobs present the greatest chances for successful employment for Mexican Americans, thus creating Lakewood’s dual labor market.
Those minorities that choose not to take these menial positions and avoid glass ceiling or glass wall positions have gone into business for themselves. They do not look like they are getting rich doing it, but me and many other White ethnic group members frequent the diverse restaurants and establishments operated by minority group members. Not only do these establishments create a familiar community for the minority groups, but the prices for their products helps everyone in the community that is a part of the same social class. I have never been turned down from a meal at any of these establishments regardless of my cultural background or ethnic group.
Community Leaders View
I interviewed a Lakewood community leader, Reverend Matt Shaw. Reverend Shaw has been in pastoral roles throughout Colorado and Lakewood, and has provided voluntary work as a coach for a small Lakewood High school football team. According to Reverend Shaw (personal communication, November 29, 2007), the biggest issues surrounding racial inequities in Lakewood is negative sentiment towards Hispanic groups, specifically Mexican Americans. Reverend Shaw stated that the best way to solve this problem is to live by and show example to those who are intolerant. Mr. Shaw stated that language barriers can present problems for employment and communication, but he feels that even though no community elected representatives look or belong to this racial group, all minority group interests are supported in the community because they are presented with the equal opportunity of the majority. I believe that this feeling is widespread throughout the leadership of Lakewood. I can relate with the concept that even though leaders of a community may not represent the minority by tradition or looks, they can still serve interest by empathizing with struggles and treating people as people regardless of color or race. The problem with this is that some of the people that are representatives of Lakewood may have no knowledge of the traditions, language, and cultural heritage that is important to the minority group members and the representatives could also be the same individuals that share in the negative sentiment towards the minority groups. In my community, prejudice and discrimination are dealt with by the normative approach; promote tolerance and make it a term for society and it will encourage the acceptance of minority group members. The leadership in my community represents White ethnic groups like me. They are in a different social class, but look and display no similarities to the minority groups in Lakewood. The community leaders’ view is one of ethnocentrism. I say this because outside of major holidays that relate to minorities, the only celebrations you will find are those that relate to the White ethnic heritage of Lakewood. These viewpoints only promote one way of life.
The representation of my community supports higher social class of the White ethnic majority. The news media represents my ethnic group as well as the leaderships. Some members in that same media group share the same heritage of minority groups in the form of a last name or skin color, but they represent a minority group member that has been through the assimilation process. Once again I believe this all leads back to how prejudice and discrimination is dealt with in my community, the normative approach. Another representation in my community that falls short is in education. The elementary school in my community shows the concentration of minorities in my community and how little community representatives concentrate on its success. Stein elementary school, our neighborhood community elementary school, ranked low for overall academics for the state of Colorado (Jefferson County School District, 2006). The Jefferson County School District also shows us that 74.5% of the students are on free or reduced lunch. According to the demographics given to us by The Jefferson County School District, out of 565 students, 73.5% are of Hispanic origin with 17.2% of students belonging to a White ethnic background. This school is one grade away from the lowest “unacceptable” rating. Here is an area that is not being represented and not supporting the interest of minorities.
Solving Inequities and Conclusion
My community faces inequities such as a dual labor market, poor representation of minorities and social class, social distance issues, racism, and prejudice. I would encourage the election of a representative that was a member of a minority group in my community to help with understanding of cultural traditions and methods. I would set up centers that held free language classes so that those who could not, could learn English. I would print material on learning about the minority groups in the community: what the cultural backgrounds are, what the common languages are, values, traditions, religious beliefs, and foods. This would help educate those in the community that misunderstand the minority groups in the community and would help dissolve the normative approach. I would create a minority work force program that helped educate, train, and place minority group members in more meaningful jobs with opportunities for advancement.
Members of my community are just like me; we may have physical differences, cultural differences, language differences, and many other differences. However, we all live together in a community that can be changed and represented well if we can bond together and learn about one another. This is my community and I want to make a difference.
Community Planning And Development. (2002). 2000 Census Lakewood Summary. Retrieved November 28, 2007, from http://www.lakewood.org/CP/strategicplan/SPpdf/census2000.pdf
Jefferson County School District. (2006). Stein Elementary School Accountability Report 2005-2006. Retrieved November 28, 2007, from http://jeffcoweb.jeffco.k12.co.us/profiles/accountability/elem/stein.pdf
United States Census Bureau. (2000). Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000. Retrieved November 28, 2007, from http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/QTTable?_bm=y&-qr_name=DEC_2000_SF1_U_DP1&-ds_name=DEC_2000_SF1_U&-_lang=en&-geo_id=16000US0843000