In line with the rest of the country, Chattanooga is becoming increasingly more diverse, and with that comes the richness of different cultures and backgrounds, some local residents say.
“To me personally, it’s the representation of the evolving world that we live in. The country lines are really going away, and people are feeling at home really anywhere they live,” said Sheila Boyington, who was born in the United States to Indian parents who emigrated in the 1950s.
“I think (diversity) adds a richness that cannot be experienced without having that culture,” she said.
Minorities in the United States, now one-third of the population, will become the majority by 2042 and rise to 54 percent of the population by 2050, according to the latest projections of the U.S. Census.
“A large portion of the increase is coming from natural increase, that’s births minus deaths,” said Grayson Vincent, a demographer with the U.S. Census. “While net international migration is a contributing factor, it’s sort of the population that’s already here that’s contributing to the increase.”
The non-Hispanic, single-race white population is projected to lose population in the 2030s and 2040s and comprise 46 percent of the total population in 2050, down from 66 percent in 2008, census figures say.
The Hispanic population is projected to nearly triple from 46.7 million to 132.8 million, or 30 percent of the total population, by 2050, according to the census.
The Asian population and, to a lesser extent, the black population also are projected to increase.
Chattanooga is following national trends, experts say.
“Clearly, the national trends we are seeing are certainly going to be reflected locally to some extent, obviously not totally because how a particular area’s population grows and what degree of diversity is related to a number of factors, and one of the most important is employment,” said Dr. Barbara Medley, associate professor and director of the department of sociology, anthropology and geography at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
“People tend to migrate to areas where there are jobs and particular opportunities, and so in this area, the North Georgia and Chattanooga area, we’ve seen considerable growth in the last seven years in the Hispanic population primarily because (of jobs),” she said.
New residents from the Middle East, Latin America and China have seen employment opportunities in the services and health care industries, as well as chances for a better education, according to Dr. Medley.
The Chattanooga area has about 600 Indian families, Mrs. Boyington said, up from about 50 when she moved to Chattanooga 20 years ago.
Local Chinese organizations estimate there are about 200 Chinese families living in the area, and La Paz de Dios, a Hispanic outreach organization, has estimated there are about 15,000 Hispanics living in Hamilton County.
According to the Hamilton County Schools Report Card, white children made up 61 percent of students in 2007, while 39 percent were black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic and Native American/Alaskan.
In the United States, 44 percent of children nationwide are minorities, the census reported, a number that is expected to increase to 62 percent by 2050.
Some immigration reduction organizations argue the majority of the growth is due to poor immigration policies.
“This projected growth by 2050 is the equivalent of cramming the entire current population of both Mexico and Canada into communities across America,” said Roy Beck, president of Numbers USA, a nonprofit immigration reduction organization, in a written statement.
“Almost no American would advocate such a thing, but the new projections show that is precisely what federal officials are doing with their immigration policies,” he said.
Solomon Hatch, community outreach coordinator of the city’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, said change shouldn’t mean fear.
“A lot of times when people think of change it’s a fear, but change can mean change for the better,” he said. “Diversity enhances arts, culture, education, everything, (and) it’s forcing us as a country to look at some issues (such as immigration) and do some things,” he said.
“I don’t think this news should be viewed as fearful, as someone is taking over the United States,” said Mrs. Boyington. “When I think about it, I’m as much American as anybody else. I was born and raised in this country.”
Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...