Want to know your neighbors? These days, the U.S. Census provides oceans of data and powerful online tools to dig deeper. You can explore the whole country or zoom down into census blocks that represent about 100 of your neighbors.
But those tools still don’t tell us much about our neighbors’ lives. When I first came to the University of Michigan as a student, I was looking forward to the diversity. I was eager to encounter students from all over the world. However, at first, I missed out on all the neighbors living around the university in Ann Arbor.
Then, I discovered PALMA, Proyecto Avance: Latino Mentoring Association, and began learning about Ann Arbor’s sizeable Latino community. I found out about this program thanks to a small notice I found in one of the UofM classroom buildings.
Following up on the notice, I learned that PALMA is a free, bilingual, student-run program that promotes education and serves Latino families in the Ann Arbor area. Every Tuesday and Thursday night, more than 100 students and nearly 200 members of the local Latino community gather at the Ann Arbor Public Library to spend time learning English and studying.
As a bilingual student, I worked with two women for nearly two years and was able see them become more comfortable with their English. Sabina was able to feel comfortable talking to her son’s teacher about his schoolwork and eventually could take on daily tasks that once had been daunting in a second language.
We exchanged stories about our families’ holiday traditions. I was able to attend my first Mexican Posada and Sabina came to a candlelight Christmas service at my church. These experiences were more than just about learning a new language.
Looking back, I know how easy it would have been to miss that small flyer about PALMA and miss the chance to get to know Sabina and Dolores and their families over the last few years.
Take time to look around and you may be surprised to learn more about your neighbors’ lives. You may find opportunities to get involved in a meaningful way.
Tell us something interesting about diversity in your community.
How did you find out about this?
What do you wish more people knew about a minority culture?
Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.