Recently I found myself driving around San Rafael doing a host of chores when my 12-year-old son made an astute observation. He commented on how Marin County was lacking in ethnic diversity and wanted to know why. I found this interesting because this region is all he has known his entire life as opposed to my upbringing in San Francisco decades ago.
Recently I donated my services for a fundraising event at my elementary school in the city and noticed a huge shift in ethnicities from my youth. Whereas the graduating class of about thirty students that I experienced was comprised of Filipinos, African Americans, Japanese, Irish, Italians, Mexicans, Swedes, as well as a Russian and an Indian, the current state of my alma mater was far from being a melting pot.
As we drove from Corte Madera to Larkspur then on to Greenbrae, Ross and San Anselmo before arriving home in San Rafael my son came up with an uncomfortably sad game where the object was to find people of color. Just as one might attempt to identify out-of-state plates or yellow cars we found that our task was more difficult than we had anticipated. After roughly one hour weaving through the rush hour madness on all of the main arteries we settled into the driveway shocked at our results. The fact that we only saw three people of color could very well have been an aberration but regardless a result that never could have been fathomed years ago.
Obviously we could not leave it at that so we proceeded to discuss the positives such as the notable Central and South American influences in San Rafael but aside from the richness and flavor these thriving populations bring to our city we really could not account for the rest of the county outside of semi isolated Marin City. Statistics bear out that Marin is older and whiter than pretty much anyplace in California and for that fact I genuinely feel my kids are missing out. I still have lasting memories of loading my foil lined cardboard tray at a Tongan feast with one of my classmates, eating homemade Lumpia at my girlfriends house and even being questioned as to whether I would prefer “white food” at my best friends authentic soul food holiday barbeque.
While some of my friends worshipped Jesus or Buddha others were more enamored with low riders or Gaelic football and our parents took employment as sportswriters, janitors, doctors, gardeners, nurses, teachers and musicians along with the occasional artist and restauranteur. Everyone was not “in real estate” or banking and this was well before the masses migrated to programming or the all too prevalent app and graphic design career path.
We played outside and we played together. We lived in the same neighborhoods and almost all of us had an open door policy. An open door into a world unlike the ones we experienced in our own homes. Whether laid back or formal and a nuclear family or a massive extended clan we were a microcosm of the real world and it was an invaluable growing experience.
So for now I suppose that it is what it is, supply and demand, people seeking their necessary level of “safety” and then there are the holdovers from an entirely different time in Marin. There are gated communities and there are whitewashed regions and they usually are prefaced by the adjective ‘exclusive’, the meaning of which is to exclude. For now I think I am getting it right. My sons friends are multi-culti to a degree nearly impossible to achieve in these parts so he obviously gets it. He is all about inclusion. So much so that he would give away all of our scant resources to any and all of the homeless if given the opportunity. How or why? I am not sure but I do know that I will continue to encourage his exploration of the world and his compassion for others who are different than him even at home here in the increasingly homogenous bay area.