One of the great things about the whole concept of the United States of America is that it is a fantastic melting pot of people of different nationalities, colors and creeds all coming together to form a nation of 50 different and diverse states.
One of those states, Wyoming, is not much of a melting pot in most sections of the state.
Along with North Dakota, our state is one of few states in the country that is almost entirely Caucasian. Very few African-Americans and very few Mexican-Americans live here. We have about 10,000 American Indians, but for the most part, the bulk of the population of Wyoming is white.
There is no attempt in this column to make any judgments. And with the state motto of “The Equality State,” you could assume it is obvious that the people of Wyoming are not trying to prevent folks of other ethnocentricities from coming here. Right?
If no one is preventing folks from coming, could the reason they are not coming be because of the cold weather? And it may have a lot to do with the lack of large cities, thus no large employers. Some believe that a lot of Wyoming folks do not want more people coming here. And especially people who are different than the majority already here. But I digress.
During a recent trip south to escape from that aforementioned Wyoming cold, we experienced a few situations that brought to mind how diverse the population of America really is, despite the white bread look of the Cowboy State.
One cold Sunday morning, Nancy and I decided to attend Mass at the St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in McKinney, TX north of Dallas. We missed the 8 a.m. Mass. The 11:30 a.m. service just seemed too late. We chose to attend the 9:30 a.m. Mass which was “The Spanish Mass.”
Whoa, was it ever.
We joined nearly 800 brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking folks who jammed the church. It was standing room only. The service was colorful and impressive.
The priest gave a wonderful homily, of which we could not understand a single word. It brought lots of laughter from the crowd.
Folks were very kind and one friendly gal even leaned over and sort of interpreted a few things for us.
We enjoyed it immensely. It brought back to me those days 55 years ago when I was an altar server for a Mass done entirely in Latin.
I was awestruck, though, by the fact that here we were nearly 400 miles from the Mexican border in what we had assumed was a white man’s church and we might as well have been in Mexico City.
Who are all these people? What do they do?
A Xenophobic tendency came out with the thought that why are they holding on to their own language when they were living here in the English-speaking United States?
But then you realize most of these folks are in transition and are newcomers to this country from another country. It was probably appropriate that they could attend a service that was conducted in their original language. It could also be assumed they are proud of their native culture.
So that was one example of what a melting pot America is.
The second one occurred when we met my brother Tom and his wife Liv, in Vicksburg, MS for a get-together.
I have a keen interest in the Civil War but had never visited a battlefield. One of the most important ones was the Siege of Vicksburg.
The battlefield was amazing. I was also fascinated by the large percentage of African Americans in that part of the country. Just about every employee at the excellent RiverWalk Casino, where we stayed, was black. The facility, overall, was outstanding.
During our time there and in neighboring Natchez, we were in constant contact with the large local black population. We were definitely no longer in Wyoming.
I was reading the FreePress from neighboring Jackson, MS and a writer claimed that city had a population of 80 percent African-American, which is pretty amazing. That is the second largest such black population density in the country after Detroit. There are 170,000 people in Jackson, MS.
Wyoming will probably continue to maintain its large white majority population. I am thankful that it really is the Equality State and that evidence of racial prejudice is usually hard to find.
Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at www.billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written four books. His most recent book is “Wyoming’s 7 Greatest Natural Wonders” which is available at www.wyomingwonders.com.