New faces

After a long week of work made infi­nite­ly longer by the sep­a­ra­tion from my wife and son, I was more than anx­ious to throw my bags back in the car and hur­ry out of the Cities to be reunit­ed with them. Dri­ving west across the state of Min­neso­ta, I passed through a whole series of small towns; qui­et rur­al com­mu­ni­ties that have lined this high­way as mile­stones to and from my par­ents’ home these past ten years.

As I drove through one of these towns I noticed a vari­ety human activ­i­ty on a small-town Fri­day evening: a man pol­ished his gleam­ing semi truck in his dri­ve­way; a mid­dle-aged woman emerged from a cor­ner con­ve­nience store; two teenage boys walked along the high­way, drib­bling an old bas­ket­ball between them; a fam­i­ly sat laugh­ing togeth­er on the front porch of their home; a young man strolled home from the liquor store with a brown paper bag full of week­end. All this in the rough­ly thir­ty sec­onds it took me to pass through town and return to high­way speed.

What struck me about this cat­a­logue of vignettes was that not a sin­gle one of these indi­vid­u­als were descend­ed from Nor­we­gian bach­e­lor farm­ers, or from any oth­er dead white Euro­pean males. They were all His­pan­ic, and in a town of under a thou­sand souls I am guess­ing that the sign in front of the Catholic church announc­ing that the Sat­ur­day evening Mass is cel­e­brat­ed in Span­ish is only one indi­ca­tion of how tru­ly and com­plete­ly this small com­mu­ni­ty is chang­ing, along with thou­sands of oth­er com­mu­ni­ties – small and large – all across this nation.

Of course I am also sure that there are still a lot of white faces in this town. And I am cer­tain that, peo­ple being as they are, that more than a few of them are some­thing less than wel­com­ing of their new neigh­bours. But I sus­pect that more and more peo­ple are grad­u­al­ly (and per­haps grudg­ing­ly) real­is­ing that nei­ther their big­otry nor their blind nos­tal­gia are going to pre­vent this change in the face of our nation.

And per­haps in time they will learn to be grate­ful to these new mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ties they call their own. I do not know (I am cer­tain­ly no econ­o­mist) but it strikes me as fea­si­ble that a new influx of res­i­dents may be the sal­va­tion of these small dying towns through­out rur­al Amer­i­ca. It should be clear by now to even the most obsti­nate of rur­al Amer­i­cans that their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren are not com­ing back from the big cities that have lured them away; they are not return­ing to farm the land, or run the cor­ner hard­ware store.

But some­one else might, and we might yet see a vibrant – if very dif­fer­ent – rur­al Amer­i­ca in the near future. The test will be whether we are clear-sight­ed enough to embrace this future, or if we will set our faces like flint against it.

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