DIVERSITY: Demographic change exposing fault lines
By Jonathan Tilove
Newhouse News Service
Published on: 08/13/07
Manassas Park, Va. —- According to new U.S. Census Bureau estimates, Manassas Park has crossed a demographic threshold. Largely because of a recent influx of Latino immigrants, this little city of 12,000 not far from the Bull Run battlefield is now less than half non-Hispanic white.
For Patricia Mauck, 25, who has lived here since she was 4, it's time for her family to beat its retreat.
"We're moving," Mauck, a white married mother of two small boys, told a reporter during the community's National Night Out event last week.Why? "My issue is being a minority." She doesn't like it.
Culpeper, Va., here she comes.
But Rachel Kirkland, a white elementary school librarian who moved here with her husband and two young boys five years ago after they were priced out of a closer-in Washington suburb, is used to being in the minority. She's staying put. "I don't have a problem," she said. "I was raised in Southern California."
Manassas Park is in the balance between its Maucks and Kirklands, trying to keep its cool while facing rapid demographic change that, in one community after another, has produced increasingly acrimonious conflict over immigration.
The Census Bureau says nearly one in every 10 U.S. counties is now majority minority. Seven counties along with Manassas Park —- which as an independent city in Virginia is considered, for census purposes, the equivalent of a county —- crossed the majority-minority Rubicon between 2005 and 2006.
Replicating a pattern
In an analysis of the new estimates by demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution and the University of Michigan, Manassas Park ranked third nationally in the decline of the white share of its population between 2000 and 2006.
Six of the 10 jurisdictions experiencing the biggest decline were suburbs of Atlanta, which changed mostly because of the movement of blacks —- both those leaving Atlanta proper and those arriving from other parts of the country.
Nationally, Frey said, blacks are replicating an earlier pattern of white suburbanization, while it appears Hispanics more often move to the suburbs to take the jobs, from landscaping to construction to retail, created in these booming communities. Northern Virginia has emerged as a central battleground over illegal immigration.
Manassas Park is located in Prince William County, even though, legally, it is a completely separate jurisdiction. In 1990, Prince William was 81 percent white; in 2000, 65 percent white; in 2006, 52 percent white. Frey's analysis put it 10th nationally in the decline of the white share of its population.
Last month, the Prince William Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution requiring the county executive to determine in what ways the county can legally crack down on illegal immigration and deny public services to the undocumented.
Calls for a crackdown
That action prompted an immigrant organization known as Mexicans Without Borders (Mexicanos Sin Fronteras) to convene a series of mass meetings to plan a counteroffensive. It chose a one-week boycott of all Prince William businesses not owned by immigrants, beginning Aug. 27 and culminating in a protest march Sept. 2.
Greg Letiecq of neighboring Manassas City —- which has gone from 67 percent to 54 percent white since 2000 —- is a founder of Help Save Manassas, an organization leading the call for a crackdown on illegal immigrants in Prince William. Letiecq also writes a local politics blog, Black Velvet Bruce Li, that has pressed the immigration issue. He believes the boycott will backfire.
"It's going to outrage everyone," he said, though, he observed, many on his side of the issue may find it a welcome respite. "They will be able to go through a grocery store or Wal-Mart that doesn't look like it was plopped down in the middle of a some Central American country."
Both Maulk and Kirkland know plenty of white neighbors who have left —- headed toward, and into, West Virginia, which remains among the most homogeneously white states in the country. Both Maulk and Kirkland worry about severe overcrowding as single-family homes bulge with 10 or more occupants. Kirkland said there are 11 Hispanics living in the townhouse next door, but they are quieter than the Irish Catholic family of eight who preceded them. "They had a band," she said.
Among Night Out speakers was Manassas Park Vice Mayor Bryan Polk, 41, who has lived here since 1972. To him, anyone who ignores the public health and safety consequences of what is going on is "deceiving themselves."
But, he said in an interview, "we want to be prudent," and don't want to plunge the community into a costly, losing lawsuit.
"There are the pros and cons of diversity," he said.
"It's different than when I grew up," he added. He believes his children's generation is "reaching a point where they truly don't see race or ethnicity."
Just after the immigrant boycott and march, Manassas Park will hold its Latino Festival, begun a couple years ago to draw the community together.
"I don't see ethnic groups squaring off here," Polk said. But he knows there are longer-term residents uneasy about the pace of change. And, he said, "They're getting louder."