The times they are a-changin’ West Bend’s demographics evolving

While driving around West Bend with a friend, we saw a black teenager walking on Washington Street which caused my friend to blurt out, “I still can’t get used to seeing black people in West Bend.

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While driving around West Bend with a friend, we saw a black teenager walking on Washington Street which caused my friend to blurt out, “I still can’t get used to seeing black people in West Bend. It doesn’t bother me, but when you’ve lived here all your life, you notice it. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong. I’m simply saying I still notice it.”

I replied, “I’m okay with more diversity. In today’s world, the all-white thing seems contrived, much like seeing only one kind of wild flower along a road instead of a mixture.”

I told him that before cellphones, I walked into a bar looking for a payphone. It turned out to be an inner-city bar, and absolutely everyone in the establishment went silent and stared at my white friend and myself. I was so intimidated, that I turned around and walked right back out without making what I felt at the time was a fairly important call. No one gave me the evil eye, said anything threatening, or even took an aggressive stance. I simply felt very uncomfortable and left. Since that incident, I’ve wondered if that’s how minorities feel when they find themselves vastly outnumbered.

My friend responded, “Everyone talks about not being prejudice because they have black or Hispanic friends. I don’t have any black or Hispanic friends, but I don’t think I’m prejudiced. I feel we are all equal before the law, and certainly before God. I just haven’t been exposed to enough black, Hispanic, or Asian people to be comfortable

around them. I guess you could say I’m a work in progress, but I think I’ll be okay if I can experience the change little by little.”

He added, “I believe I could get pretty comfortable with a healthy mixture of people as long as I am in the majority. I think it could actually be a good thing. After all, aren’t we all kind of German during German Fest, Italian during Festa Italiana, Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, and Hispanic on Cinco de Mayo?”

Then he mused, “I’m beginning to sound like I’m some kind of liberal, but I’m definitely not. I’m actually pretty conservative. I don’t want to see our country overrun by illegal immigrants, but I’m not sure I buy the invasion hype either. If the huge numbers we are hearing about are true, wouldn’t we all be speaking Spanish by now? I really want to know the truth, so I’ve started being more careful about where I get my news and what I believe.”

I replied, “Hey, I am as concerned about the immigration thing as the next guy, but before we panic, I think we need to find out what’s really going on. When you look at the actual numbers, it sounds like we are being fed a lot of ‘alternate facts’. We’ve got people spewing hate and shooting shoppers while we don’t seem to have our numbers straight.”

I told him, “I heard on CBS News that in 2016, illegal immigration across our southern border was at a 40-year low. And contrary to what we are hearing, President Obama was tougher on illegal immigration than George W. Bush. Obama deported almost a quarter more illegal immigrants then ‘W’ and spent more money on border security than on all the other federal law enforcement agencies combined.”

Then I told him that Joan and I went to a local upscale restaurant last Saturday for a special celebration. Stapled to the menu was a note reading, “Be patient. Like many others, we are finding it difficult to recruit staff.” I said, “We see ‘Help Wanted’ signs everywhere. Maybe we need some of those immigrants.” I told him a very conservative Antigo relative said the Wisconsin dairy industry would die without migrant workers. He said his fellow farmers protect their Hispanic employees by accompanying them when they venture into town, or even to church.”

After a long pause I said, “I noticed Casa Tequila on Main Street got a good review. I’m thinking about stopping by soon to get at least a modest feel for our Hispanic community. I highly suspect I won’t be the only gringo in the place. If you’re interested in coming, we could think of it as our first step in learning to get along, or at least in not shooting kids shopping for back-to-school supplies. There’s got to be a better way.”

My friend replied, “Why not. I love Mexican food, and who can say ‘no’ to a margarita.”

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