Diversity – Strength or Weakness?

By Bob Hebert –

Fort Bend community leaders speaking publicly are often quoted saying that diversity is our strength, while they privately worry about how one ethnic group or another may negatively impact the future. It is true that the Kinder Institute at Rice University reports that, as of 2018, the Fort Bend population was comprised of 35% Anglo, 24% Hispanic, 21% Asian/Other and 20% Black. The U.S. Census Bureau says that makes Fort Bend the most diverse county in America. So, the question seems to be: Is diversity a strength or a weakness? I believe it is neither. Diversity in Fort Bend County is simply a fact. Diversity’s ultimate impact on Fort Bend County is and will be what we, all of us as a community, make of it.

Making something positive out of our diversity is easier done today than in our past. The Irish who came to America in the mid-1800s were nearly all semi-literate farmers. They offered little economic value to America but a strong back and a willingness to work. Worse than that from protestant America’s perspective, they were Roman Catholics. For different reasons, the Chinese brought over to build the western railroads were subjected to forced and dangerous labor for long hours and small wages, then shunted into Chinatowns throughout the western states and forgotten. Similar stories can be told of Italian and Eastern European immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th century. In each of the cases, these groups persevered and gained acceptance as equals within their larger communities, but only after many decades of effort under difficult circumstances.

Today, the majority of Fort Bend’s immigrant and second generation families is well-educated, and many are talented professionals, while others are smart and ambitious entrepreneurs willing and able to take financial risk. As a whole they have significant positive economic impact on our community. That gives us a common ground on which to build positive relationships that earlier immigrant groups did not enjoy. But true strength comes with mutual commitment to one another, not just positive economics, and that takes individual effort by everyone.

As County Judge I had the opportunity to interact with first or second generation families from around the world. I had the privilege to join them in their churches, temples, mosques and synagogues as they worshipped in their own way. I discovered that they hold the same core values of personal responsibility and duty to family as I do, and that they were warm and friendly to me and mine. I learned new ways to look at things foreign. For instance, I had always seen the Lion Dance as a challenging, entertaining athletic exercise, which it is, but I discovered that it is also a prayer for good fortune and a happy life for all those who observe it.

Fort Bend is assimilating and adapting to its diversity far quicker than communities in the past, but we can do better if we work harder at the individual level. I am suggesting that you take a risk and reach out to neighbors whose ethnicity differs from yours. Don’t just confront the next one you meet, but do react when opportunity arises to invite a co-worker or a fellow PTA parent to coffee or lunch or a backyard barbeque. Respond positively if the offer comes from them. Ask questions, learn from the experience. Together, you and your neighbor can create a small brick of understanding and respect to place in that tower of diverse strength we must construct if Fort Bend is to remain the diverse, prosperous community it is today.

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