The diversity of a diverse city

“We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.”- Maya Angelou

Forbes magazine’s methodology in determining America’s Most Miserable Cities includes factors such as unemployment, tax rates, median home price, foreclosure rates and even the weather. All, except the last one (the weather is just fine here, thank you), are problems we have, to be sure, but they are difficulties that the most of the rest of the country has as well. Forbes focused on the numbers, but one element it overlooked is a city’s population. The people of Stockton, more specifically the diversity of the people who make up Stockton, is one the city’s greatest strengths. It colors the fabric of our society in both tangible and intangible ways.

When the Record was owned by the Gannett, there was company-wide edict issued by the corporate office to have more minorities reflected in our photos, stories and sources. Stockton was (and still is) so diverse that our local coverage didn’t need much changing at all.

Several years ago I got a call from a reporter who worked at paper in Northwestern Indiana. A former co-worker of mine who now worked at his paper suggested that he call me. Apparently his town was undergoing some pretty heavy racial tension, and he was working on a story that focused on how other communities around the country dealt with their problems. He described the things that went on there from institutional stereotyping to outright open racial hatred and wanted to know what it was like here. I told him Stockton wasn’t a utopia and like all cities our size we have our problems, but the only examples of racial strife I could think of paled in comparison with his town. Stockton is an incredibly diverse city, and we mostly get along pretty well. People here, in both good times and bad, make an effort to reach out and try to learn about and understand each other. We take pride in each other’s cultures and accomplishments, from Dallas Braden’s perfect game for the Oakland A’s to Jose Hernandez’s reaching outer space aboard the space shuttle.

There’s even a sort of “cross-pollination” between groups. Hockey is traditionally considered a sport that appeals mostly to white fans. But whenever I cover a Stockton Thunder game, the most popular sport in town, there are many blacks, Latinos and Asians in the audience as well. I’ve seen local Japanese Taiko drum groups with white and African-American members playing along side the Asian members. Recently I shot sushi chefs at a popular local Japanese restaurant, one Asian the other two Latino. What’s most impressive is that no one seems to care. The minority hockey fans aren’t any less vociferous in the support of the Thunder. Nobody complained about the music being inferior because the Taiko group wasn’t all-Japanese. Nor did anyone think the sushi was any less tasty or authentic because of the ethnicity of the chefs. Everyone seems to understand that the different cultures, separately or intergrated, are a part of the rich history and ethos of our city.

In science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin’s book “The Lathe of Heaven,” main character George Orr’s dreams alter reality. Ambitious psychiatrist William Haber finds out and seeks to use Orr’s abilities to change the world. It becomes sort of a story of unintended consequences. At one point in the book, Haber instructs Orr to rid the world of racism through his dreams. The next morning everyone’s skin is uniformly a light gray. In Stockton, while we strive to treat everyone with fairness and equality, we don’t deny that people are different, and we celebrate those differences. It’s part of Stockton’s patchwork quilt of culture and heritage.

A few years ago there was an event that typified Stockton’s diversity for me. Robert  Rojas, Executive Director of the Cultural Heritage Council of San Joaquin County, organized a then-new group, the  P.L.A.Y. (Peace, Love, And You) Multicultural Arts Network. They put on a show featuring dancers from different cultures. The Polynesian dance group Hiva Nui performed a Tahitian dance and at the end invited the other groups as to join them.

Members of the Hiva Nui group were face to face with the other dancers representing Mexican Folklorico, Hmong, and Native American traditions, teaching them something from their culture and picking up something from the others. To me it was a shining example of the great strength of diversity that Stockton has and what was sorely lacking in the Forbes survey.

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