by Sandy Belknap
The past several months of blogging from Nashua for the Patchwork Nation project has forced me to think a lot about my community. When I accepted the opportunity to be one of the bloggers for this project, I immediately had a long list of topics that I intended to cover. Some of them have made it to this blog, others are still on the back burner as I gather insights and anecdotes from members of my community to ensure that I represent Nashua well.
One topic that seems very connected to the demographics focus of the Patchwork Nation project is the changing 'face' of Nashua. I'm looking forward to the results of the 2010 Census that is currently underway to see if my own observations align well with data that is officially collected.
Until recently Nashua, a monied 'burb, had not been a very diverse community. But I've caught a few glimpses into the future of the city over the past several months just by keeping my eyes and mind open.
In November, while at the local elementary school on election day, I stopped to look at all of the class photos hanging on the wall to the entrance of the school. These classes looked more like the classes that I attended in Southern Florida and Washington DC in the 70s and 80s. (In some cases, I was the only white or caucasian child in my class -- especially while attending junior high in the nation's capital.)
As this new generation of Nashua children grow up and if they choose to stay in the Nashua area, the city will look very different in 10 -15 years. I've noticed this same change in the diversity of Nashua's youth during a recent visit to 'Discovery Hour' at the Nashua Boys and Girls Club. It looked nothing like the Nashua I moved to when I was 13 years old, and definitely not the Nashua that where my mother was raised over 50 years ago.
In the past, Nashua's diversity was not as much about race, but more about ethnicity - you were either French-Canadian, Polish, Greek, Lithuanian, etc. (You can still see signs us this with some of the names of sections and places in the city. There's the Polish Club and French Hill, but those names don't matter anymore.) Over the past few years, Nashua has seen a huge increase in the population of Asian Indians as well as Hispanics in the area. This change is especially evident as you drive thru the southern part of the city and Nashua's inner-city streets.
Personally, I love the added diversity to the city - especially after growing up near larger metropolitan cities like Miami and Washington, DC. And city officials are engaged with the changing community. They work with the more diverse neighborhoods to hold block parties and cultural events.
The challenge that I'm seeing in Nashua now, is that some members of the community that have been born and raised in this city are skeptical that the changing population is a good thing. The funny thing is that I remember my grandfather once told me that the same thing happened many years ago when Polish people moved into neighborhoods abutting French Hill or married outside of their own ethnicity.
We've come a long way, baby. Or have we?