Posted on 07 January 2010.
Two unmistakable features distinguish the best “immigrant cities”: First, you easily can see their long histories of tolerance and acculturation etched in their architecture, woven through their music, and blended into their local cuisine. Speaking sensitively and precisely, no “immigrant” city is a melting pot, because different cultures, religions, and languages do not dissolve into one another; but every immigrant city is a “cultural mosaic.” Cultures learn peacefully to coexist, finding the strength in their differences, and adapting the best of each other to their common purposes.
Second, the best “immigrant” cities continue to accept new residents from all around the world. The world’s busiest centers of commerce and culture need willing workers and welcome new ideas. Dominique Davis, a political scientist specializing in “displaced populations,” spells it out plainly: “Continuing conflicts across northern and Central Africa have displaced millions of people, who have given-up hope of rebuilding their homes and heritages in their own countries. They, naturally, seek sanctuary and opportunity around the world. No major international center openly welcomes newcomers, but these ten cities accept and reasonably provide for ‘the huddled masses yearning to breathe free’.”
1. New York City, USA
Big enough that a newcomer can disappear. Busy enough that any willing worker can find a job. Diverse enough that any refugee easily can find a community of people like him. Simultaneously tolerant and indifferent, New York and its citizens see every new face as just like every other new face, and all of them are welcome.
2. Los Angeles, California, USA
Dominique Davis, studying patterns of Mexican, Central American, and Latin American immigration confidently predicts the 2010 census will prove the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area is home to more Latinos than Mexico City. Davis even hazards a speculation that Los Angeles could become “a Hispanic Quebec” within the United States. “It already functions that way,” Davis says; but she quickly adds, “LA’s place on the Pacific Rim also assures its place among the world’s best refuges for displaced Asians.”
3. Chicago, Illinois, USA
Chicago’s rich multi-cultural heritage lives in its architecture and neighborhoods like the layers in a cake. As you travel northwest from downtown to O’Hare International Airport, you literally recreate the city’s immigrant history, going first through the Irish neighborhoods and then through Scandinavian and northern European enclaves. Continuing northwest, you pass through Asian and Middle Eastern neighborhoods, and you go on to sections where Vietnamese refugees have settled, arriving finally at the outermost and latest layer, where north African immigrants have settled. Chicago’s industrial base has deteriorated, so that it no longer provides the means for quick access to the American middle class, but it remains a commercial and transportation hub for the entire United States.
4. San Francisco, California, USA
San Francisco now is home to people from literally every nation and culture on the planet, and it remains one of the few American cities that genuinely welcomes people from diverse backgrounds. San Francisco rivals Rio de Janeiro as the world’s most tolerant and accepting city. Because Cal, Stanford, UCSF, and “silicon valley” promote rapid technological discovery and growth, the area has constant need for highly skilled workers in many fields. When the techies come, they need services, so that for every high tech job, five service and hospitality jobs open-up.
5. Miami, Florida, USA
By strict headcounts, more Cubans live in Miami than in Havana. Because of its standing as the Caribbean’s leading port-of-call, Miami always has provided safe haven for immigrants fleeing deprivation and exploitation throughout Latin America. Just as importantly, Miami always has been a haven for “snowbirds”—retired people of all descriptions, who love Miami’s climate and cultural mix. The two radically different groups intersect in a city characterized, for the most part, by an unusual combination of cultural pride and open-minded tolerance.