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Progressive Voice: Celebrating What Diversity Brings to Arlington

Joseph Leitmann-Santa CruzProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By: Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz

As previously expressed in this column, my wife and I are proud to call ourselves Arlingtonians. One reason for this pride is that we believe our community recognizes the importance of creating opportunities for all to succeed. Ours is a community that gets involved proactively and effects positive change.

Understanding and celebrating the many benefits diversity has brought to Arlington is a core element of what makes Arlington unique in the commonwealth.

On Sept. 23, you are invited to attend a multifaceted program — combining performing and visual arts, history, and public dialogue — that will explore the past, present and future of immigration in Arlington. This event will place a special focus on immigrant experiences and milestones of the past 40 years.

Arlington’s reputation as a welcoming environment is owed to years of immigration policy and outreach, but the cultural fabric of Arlington is complex and in its making are immigration stories of freedom, pain, and opportunity.

We Are All Arlington! seeks understanding and appreciation of the diverse narratives that connect our past to the present and to our common future. We hope you will join us at Wakefield High School (1325 S. Dinwiddie Street) from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. for an engaging program that will explore the legacy of immigration in Arlington — and what opportunities and challenges it presents for individuals and as a community today.

Over the past five decades Arlington has been transformed from a suburban, largely racially segregated environment to a mixed urban and suburban one with racial and ethnic diversity.

According to a late 2015 urban studies report from the Wilson Center, Arlington “is at the forefront of demographic processes changing the face of American communities as well as the United States in its entirety.” Furthermore, the recent “The Changing Face of America” report describes Arlington as “being at the leading edge of a diversity explosion sweeping the USA.”

However, this rapid growth of diversity has come with consequences, such as at the economic, educational and housing levels.

The overall economic well-being of Arlington is very strong. At 6 percent, we have one of the lowest income poverty rates in the nation — less than half of the nationwide income poverty rate for families.

Yet African Americans and Latinos face a different income situation in Arlington. Their poverty rates are 14.7 percent and 15.4 percent, respectively.

Another indicator of the socio-economic well-being of a community is its residents’ ability to deal with adverse personal financial events. According to a new data analysis from the Family Assets Count Project, 23 percent of Arlingtonians are financially vulnerable.

Communities of color in Arlington fare even worse: 50 percent of African American families and 58 percent of Latino families are poor in terms of liquid assets. This means that one in every two African American and Latino families does not have enough savings to live above the poverty line for just three months if they face loss of a job, a medical crisis or a similar substantial income disruption.

Because we understand and celebrate diversity, we can recognize that as a community there is much we can do to create conditions whereby success is achieved more broadly. The success of today’s diverse communities will fuel the future growth and strength of our county and our country — much as what we consider American success and cultural achievement today comes directly from earlier immigration experiences.

One significant step in building equity in Arlington is how for the past 40 years, Arlington has been a gateway community for thousands of immigrants settling not only to the commonwealth but across the United States. Immigrants from nearly 120 countries have settled in Arlington, creating vibrancy, opportunity and a multicultural legacy that has changed what it means to be an Arlingtonian.

The Sept. 23 event is organized by the We Are All Arlington! Committee and is sponsored by Dream Project Inc. and Arlington Public Schools in partnership with Arlington Libraries, Arlington Historical Society, StudioPAUSE, REEP, ECDC, Comité ProBolivia, John Marshall Bank and The Urban Alternatives Foundation.

We can be a stronger community and a more stable and equitable community by recognizing vulnerability and sharing more broadly the tools for success for all Arlingtonians, regardless of race, ethnicity and/or country of origin.

I look forward to having our community further build bridges and tear down walls among the multiple racial, ethnic and national groups that make up Arlington. How about you?

Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz works for an asset-building and financial capability organization in Washington, D.C., and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Arlington-based non-profit organization Dream Project.

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