It’s time to celebrate! Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 marks National Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans to our national culture.
It’s a time for Kansas to celebrate too, given our ever-increasing diversity. According to the most recent numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, a bit more than 12 percent of Kansans are Hispanic or Latino. That’s a substantial number of our friends and neighbors.
And the demographic changes are only going to increase.
Research last year from the Kansas Health Institute, sponsored by the Kansas Health Foundation (and reported by KCUR), “Kansas' overall population was about 2.9 million in 2016; it's expected to grow to 3.2 million by 2036, and 3.6 million by 2066. The growth is driven entirely by minority groups: The Hispanic population in Kansas is expected to more than double in the next 20 years to about 20 percent. Meanwhile, the white population is projected to shrink steadily, following a trend that goes back to 2000.”
Kansas is not a monolithic, white state. Slightly more than 6 percent of the population is African-American, again according to the Census Bureau, along with notable numbers of Asian Americans and Native Americans.
So if white Kansans want to see their state grow and develop, if they want to build the economy, if they want to create jobs and spread prosperity, they must welcome and celebrate the ever-increasing diversity around them.
Change can sometimes be difficult to process. But Hispanic and Latino Kansans have been contributing for years. The annual Fiesta Mexicana in Topeka has been held by Our Lady of Guadalupe for decades; the event was founded in 1933. These folks aren’t newcomers to the city; they are the city. Hispanic and Latino residents are foundational parts of this amazing, ever-evolving place.
It’s unfortunate that this celebration — which should be nothing but positive — takes place during a national debate on immigration policy that often takes on a racialized dimension. Too often, that debate relies on fear and demagoguery.
Our country is better than that. Our state is better than that. And Topeka — as shown by its rich history and ever-present co-mingling of cultures — is most certainly better than that. So let’s celebrate the rich history and contributions of Hispanic and Latino people. Let’s learn, and converse and (sure) eat.
And let’s resolve to let community win out over division.