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.
6. London, England UK
While the British Empire spanned the entire globe, British subjects of all colors and cultures went to London for education and acculturation; the tradition persists as the best and brightest from the former colonies still flock to Oxford, Cambridge, and the constellation of prestigious post-graduate schools around them. Just as importantly, however, refugees from war-torn countries around the world have settled in London, and ethnic communities have grown-up all around the city. Although terrorist attacks have increased traditional British xenophobia, and severe economic depression has limited refugees’ opportunities, London remains
7. Paris, France
Probably the world’s most cosmopolitan city, Paris always has attracted expatriates from around the world. Although the French are complete snobs, haughty and indifferent to everyone un-French, they grudgingly tolerate all cultures, languages, and ethnicities. In the last few years, Paris has struggled to accommodate a huge influx of Middle Eastern and north African refugees, and the city has witnessed some ethnic violence; but steady economic recovery has eased the tension considerably. Native Parisians have only one request: Apprendre à parler français.
8. Berlin, Germany
While the wall stood, Berlin had a landmark showing the intersection of east and west. Now that the wall has come down and promises to stay down, east and west meet more amicably in Berlin. Traditional German culture and values still prevail in the city, but it has become home to thousands of eastern European, Eurasian, and northern African refugees, and the cultural mix easily has accommodated them. Apparently, good beer is a spectacular cultural lubricant.
9. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Arguably the most open-minded and tolerant city in the world, Rio is famous among North Americans and Europeans for its beaches, and tourism thrives. More importantly for newcomers, however, its economy is changing dramatically, creating new opportunities for eager entrepreneurs. Although the international community recognizes the importance of saving the Brazilian Rain Forests, it also acknowledges the Forests’ promise. As researchers and scientists unlock more of the Forests’ secrets, international trade in agricultural and pharmaceutical products will flourish, and the city along with the country will complete the modernization they began in the middle of the 1960’s.
10. Johannesburg, South Africa
After elite international football teams contest the World Cup in Johannesburg next summer, the whole world will see how the once repressive state has evolved into the world’s strongest multi-cultural democracy. The South African economy is flourishing, rapidly expanding, and diversifying. The country remains one of the most mineral-rich places on Earth, and the precious natural resources support burgeoning manufacturing of all kinds. Most importantly, the South African government sponsors apprenticeship and academic programs for upwardly mobile workers of all backgrounds.