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.