A Round Of Applause for Fremont, USA

March 18, 2009

Author: Jay Youngdahl

Source: East Bay Express News


One of the most important and unforgettable phrases uttered in my lifetime was Rodney King's plaintive plea, "Can we all get along?" King's aphorism exemplifies a central issue of our time. How can people from different backgrounds and cultures happily, respectfully, and productively mesh their lives together in our American melting pot?

Culture is one of the reasons contemporary Americans sometimes have a hard time getting along. While differences in ways of life have always existed, increased immigration, population density, and the instant flow of global information have thrust society's cultural distinctions in the face of many Americans. Perhaps nowhere is this more the case than in Fremont.

Fremont became a city a little over fifty years ago, when five mostly white farming communities incorporated into one city. Beginning in the '70s, a dramatic demographic shift began with Latino and Asian in-migration. Today, fewer than one third of the residents are white, and Fremont may be the most diverse medium-size city in the country. According to Indian-American city councilwoman Anu Natarajan, residents trace their heritage to 147 countries and speak more than 150 languages in their homes. Diversity is especially evident in the city's religious landscape, which includes at least four mosques, three Buddhist Temples, Sikh and Hindu houses of worship, and the iconic Peace Terrace, a road on which Muslims and Methodists built houses of religion side by side.

Fremont's evolution has not always been smooth, but given the potential combustibility of the mix, the city should be seen as a success story of how different groups can live together.

With a dwindling few exceptions like Fremont's NUMMI auto plant, the post-Word War II industrial melting pot is but a distant memory today. Cities provide the best present-day vantage points for viewing the blessings and difficulties of cultural and religious differences.

This culture stew is the subject of a new film produced under the aegis of the Pluralism Project, a group from Harvard University that has been mapping US religious diversity. In Fremont, USA, filmmakers Elinor Pierce and Oakland resident Rachel Antell tackle Fremont's laudable efforts to deal with cultural and religious diversity through civic engagement. The film, subtitled A City's Encounter with Religious Diversity, explores the cultural changes that have come to Fremont.