Our community of 200 single family homes in central Fairfax is far more culturally diverse than when Hickory Farms was built while the first wave of refugees from the Vietnam War resettled in the Washington area in the late 1970s. While the Vietnamese led the way, the biggest impact on our community has been the second wave of Indian, Pakistani, and Korean immigrants who have sought out new lives in Fairfax County.
What attracts immigrants to our community? While we may boast of our nicely maintained, affordable homes, what really brings them in is our public schools. The immigrant community’s emphasis on education can be seen in the proliferation of college prep tutoring businesses in nearby shopping centers. We have even had homeowners purchase houses in our community sight-unseen, before they even arrived in America. Now, that speaks worlds about the desirability of Fairfax County as a place in which to raise a family.
America has always been a nation of immigrants, and it continues to attract the best and brightest and most ambitious from these countries. We need them to fuel our growing local economy and keep Virginia and America competitive in the world market.
Is there a downside to so many foreign speaking neighbors? Only in the short term. As a member of my community’s board of directors, I get occasional complaints from old timers that the newcomers don’t volunteer for the board of directors or committees, neighborhood watch, don’t read the community newsletter which reminds residents of community rules, etc. There may be many reasons for this; English language difficulties, long work hours, or cultural backgrounds that don’t value community or school participation by elders. That problem will pass, as we see decades later that the children of the first wave have fully assimilated in our communities. America’s history has shown that our immigrants eventually assimilate, and our country is for the better. When my great grandfather and his family immigrated from Italy in the 1890s, it took them a few decades to fit in. It’s no different today.
Meanwhile, we get to enjoy the benefits immigrant diversity brings to the community, be it being exposed to new foods or hearing first hand stories of life in other lands.
So, the next time your community plans its Independence Day potluck picnic, please ask your new neighbors to bring along a special dish from their homeland to share.
Kirk F. Randall resides in Fairfax.