It is putting it mildly to say that our corner of South Carolina has gone through substantial changes over the last few decades. Due to the ever expanding Charlotte-metro, York and Lancaster counties are the second and third fastest growing counties in South Carolina, respectively.
As we all know, such growth brings large headaches with infrastructure development. How will we fund the new schools? Will our roads sustain the increased traffic? Will our water, sewer, and electrical systems be able to keep pace?
Those are all very important questions that need to be addressed, but there is one question that is often overlooked. How can our communities, institutions, and individuals prepare for the cultural shifts that come with rapidly changing demographics?
Why is this an important question to ask? Well, it’s important because York county isn’t simply growing, it is rapidly diversifying. While the 1990 census reports that only 750 Hispanic or Latinos lived in York County, the 2010 census reports a staggering 10,075 count. That’s a growth of 1243% over just 20 years!
And the growth continues. Based upon the US Census’ 2017 estimates, both the Latino and Asian populations have outpaced the general population growth rate for York County. So while these two populations still make up less than 8% of the overall population, their rate of growth puts them on track to be the largest minority groups in the county within a couple decades!
What, then, are we doing to make our communities, our institutions, and ourselves more able to welcome these new populations? These new cultures? Clearly, just as there are growing pains associated with aging and overused infrastructure, new schools, and growing demand on utilities, there are growing pains associated with such drastic demographic shifts. These new populations have a lot to offer us, but they also have a unique set of needs that many of our institutions are ill-prepared to address.
So what are some first steps we can take to begin to welcome these growing populations into our community?
- Change your own state of mind. Often, when we think of immigrants we think of poor, destitute individuals who only need things from us. Nothing could be further from the truth. Immigrants bring with them a wealth of knowledge, cultural insight, and abilities that can be incredibly beneficial to our communities if we would only let them share them with us. But for that to take place, we must change our own state of mind from one where we have all the answers to one where we are willing to partner with people who are different from us to find the answers together.
- Find out who your neighbors are. Many times we are surrounded by people of different cultures or traditions without even knowing it. Drive home a different way. Go down a back-road you haven’t used before. Next time you make tacos for dinner, go to the Latino supermarket instead of the big-chain grocery store. Get to know who owns the corner store down the road. Simply acknowledging who surrounds you may help you realize how much our communities have changed.
- Don’t be afraid. It’s easy to see people who look different, or who speak languages we can’t understand, and to be afraid. “What did they just say about me?” “Why are they laughing?” “What does that sign say?” “Why is that person dressed that way, and why is her head covered?” Try not to let your fear guide your response to others. Most immigrants have come to York county seeking opportunity for themselves and their families, and many times their goals are the same as yours: to provide for their family and to make a better world for their children.
Doing these three things will not make all the growing pains go away, but they can help us establish a state of mind that will prepares us to better face the challenges that are coming our way.