Demographics are rapidly changing in our little Iowa town. I like this a lot. I love getting to know people who come from a different culture than me, and right now, this is the place to be for cross-cultural interaction.
Ten years ago the town I live in was about 99% white, and most of those people were of Dutch decent. Today the percentage of people of Latin American decent has risen to be about 12% of our town’s population. That’s a big change in ten years.
After having lived for many years in the Minneapolis/St. Paul suburbs, living in a small town with a wide socioeconomic range has been intriguing and exciting. White flight has already begun, sadly, and parts of our small town are starting to look like uniform suburbs, but the demographic change has been so rapid that affluence is forced to brush up uncomfortably against poverty.
This is good for me.
My husband and I rent a little house that meets our needs very nicely. It’s not big—a kitchen with a dining nook, a living room, a tiny bathroom (though it does have a bathtub, not just a shower), one small bedroom, and a dank, dreary insect-infested basement. The only time I think the house isn’t meeting our needs is when friends or family come through and we can’t offer them any place to stay for the night except the floor in front of our loveseat. Sometimes I want at least one more bedroom.
While we wait for the pitter patter of little feet in our home, my husband and I have been trying to get to know people in this little town. So, we joined a Bible study with people from our church, and in the interest of wanting to get to know people from the Latino community, I’ve started cooking monthly with a group of Latina ladies I met through the library.
Both the Bible study and the cooking group rotate from home to home of those participating in the group.
When we rotate to different homes in our Bible study, I start to feel dissatisfied. The Bible study is all young couples, and only two of the five couples in our study have children. However, all of the couples except us own nice, new-looking houses. With multiple bedrooms.
How, you might ask, do very young couples afford large brand-new houses? I haven’t the faintest idea.
When the Bible study took place at our house in June, I was nervous. We hadn’t yet gotten our window air condition unit, and the temperature in the house was hovering around 83 degrees. In order to get everyone in a circle to be able to discuss our study materials, we had to pull literally every chair that we owned, from the desk chair, to the dining room table chairs, to the flimsy card table chairs that we keep downstairs. It all felt inadequate, after sitting on puffy sofas for Bible study in other homes.
In July the cooking group came to my house. All five women, including myself, clustered in the kitchen, bumping into each other while we cooked, while the five children who had come played with the toys I borrowed from the library’s story hour supplies.
One of the ladies present had not been in the United States long. Always eager to practice my Spanish-speaking skills, I chatted with her a little bit outside before everyone returned home. She was wondering, she said, how many people lived in my house with me.
“Just my husband and I,” I told her.
“Oh.” She paused and looked at the house behind me. “Only two people in your whole house!”
After everyone had gone, I went back inside our house and looked around. From where I stood by the front door, I could see into every room in the house, but I looked at each room with a fresh perspective.
Only us in this whole, big blessing of a house.