We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams. – Jimmy Carter
As we sat at Lake Sammamish State Park last week, surrounded by families on a Sunday afternoon, my son pointed out that we were the only family speaking English to each other. I didn’t even notice. Evidently, I have become so unaccustomed to hearing others speak English in our travels, I felt right at home. The difference is, I was at home. I came to this park hundreds of times as a child and this time it was different.
As I stood up to explore with my son, we heard at least 10 different languages in a 20 foot radius of our picnic table. It was incredible to observe many cultures in traditional clothing, making traditional dishes, with three or four generations accounted for at the picnic. I felt like I was seeing a window into a new culture around every corner, and I was somewhere I have been so many times.
In 1994, I had already graduated from college when the City of Bellevue established a cultural diversity initiative to help the community understand, appreciate, and celebrate diversity. It worked! Bellevue’s cultural make-up has changed significantly since then and is currently 41% ethnically diverse. Less than half of the students in Bellevue schools are Caucasian and there are over 80 languages spoken. One out of every three Bellevue residents is foreign-born and the statistics are still rising (Eastside Pathways Statistics from 2014).
We have been living in what is known to be the most diverse “block” of Bellevue for the past month. The Seattle Times reported that the Crossroads, Lake Hills area is a 64% minority, which is, in fact, the majority! Statistics aside, our experience was rich in colors, flavors, and customs brought to our doorstep by many cultures. At the pediatrician’s office, our children announced that the flu shot information was translated into 30 languages. We ate at an Indian restaurant and we were the only non-Indian family dining. The local grocery store had a full Asian aisle. It’s no longer necessary to travel to Seattle’s Chinatown neighborhood as I did as a kid. On the docks, my son was bending his ear to listen to the sound of the Russian language he was surrounded by for the first time, in Bellevue, Washington.
In Europe, we were amazed at how we could drive through three countries in one day and experience a completely different language, culture, and people. In Bellevue of all places, my home for most of my life, it came to us. As we drove past a mosque, a temple, and a catholic church on our way to Starbuck’s one morning, I thought about how the name of this area, Crossroads, is so fitting. It is a colorful, vibrant global intersection in our own backyard.