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The Changing Face of Virginia: Diversity in Annandale


In my last blog posting, I wrote about the 201o Blanton Scholars Forum and the  blogs that the students have been working on since leaving the society in July. I am proud to present the first blog in our “Changing Face of Virginia” series, written by Kidist Ketema. The remaining blogs will be posted over the next few months, so keep checking back! Enjoy!

~Jennifer Rohrbaugh Nesossis, Outreach Educator

Kidist posing next to Child Under a Tree painting by Rockwell Kent in the Story of Virginia exhibition

“Diversity in Annandale”
By Kidist Ketema

I have lived in the suburbs of Annandale most of my life. And having come from the homogeneous society that is Ethiopia, it was surprising for me to see a place brimming with the colors of cultures from all over the world. Urban city centers, movie theaters, and malls didn’t quite fit Annandale’s description. In fact, the largest retail store was K-Mart, and that happened to be where everyone did their shopping and socializing. All over Annandale’s burrows there were slightly higher concentrations of every race. If you went to the area around Springfield, for example, you would see a lively Hispanic population. In the heart of Annandale you would see a “little Korea” with restaurants and utility shops. And toward Lake Braddock is a mixed concentration of Whites and Asians. So clearly, the vista from any one of these places would give you a skewed version of Annandale. But go to the K-Mart and you would see a melting pot of cultures, a surge of nationalities flowing in and out of the store, buying, returning, and even exploring products. Unofficial translators, speaking Urdu, Korean, and Spanish, wait at hand in the customer service unit. And languages are thrown around, creating pleasantly discordant sounds of what I call diversity. At K-Mart, I saw cultural walls were being torn down and rebuilt to include a vaster societal yolk; people didn’t just look past differences, they coexisted peacefully under one department. And if we Annandalians could do it, why couldn’t the rest of the world?

. . . Well, perhaps, this image was a skewed one; a quaint canvas of various shades that, when held up against that of any other place in the world, bore no similarities at all. My experiences at Richmond, Virginia, this summer brought me to this kind of realization—there is little diversity in other regions of Virginia, much less the rest of the world.

One of the first things I associate with diversity is integration. And coincidentally, while cruising through the city of Richmond before the forum began, one of the first things I failed to see was integration. There was no lack of representation in the city, but there was a lack of an overall sense of unity. I saw people travel in hordes with others who looked just like them. In the VCU lobby, I saw a group of Koreans laughing loudly at what I believed was a joke, and literally less than twenty feet away, a group of young African Americans were engaged in conversation. Besides the obvious skin-deep differences, I couldn’t see striking dissimilarities between the two groupsboth were youthful and enjoying life but intentionally doing so separately. I mean, aren’t people drawn initially to conversations with people there own age? Don’t common interests and other things determine whether a friendship will be born or aborted? (of course, they could have already known each other, but that’s beside the point). Having grown up in an environment where this was certainly not the norm, I fell short of an explanation for the awkward gap that existed between the two groups. Okay . . . I’ll admit the high school cliques portrayed in Mean Girls and other teenage flicks gave me some clue about it all, but it was as close as I could get to understanding the cultural divide.

At this point, I had witnessed three different types of societies: the first a homogeneous one, the second a diverse one, and the third—a little less mosaic, a little more archipelago—with overlapping features of homogeneity and diversity. All of this, mind you, before the forum began!

After talking to my colleagues, I gathered an even broader sense of Virginia. In places like Lynchburg, a more racist outlook describes the atmosphere. Other regions lack diversity all together.

Learning all of this was startling to say the least, but from the experience, I gained a greater appreciation for where I lived—a place where people could exchange their cultural, religious, and linguistic backgrounds. And from the wonderfully diverse Annandale High School to the locally famous Korean bakery, the El Grande supermarket, and the Afghan halaal shops the colors of world cultures were sewn into every fabric of life. It’s a shame I had to move away from it all to come to this realization.

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