You might be thinking, "Diversity in Sioux Falls, South Dakota?" Believe it or not, the answer is a resounding YES! Not only do we enjoy all four of the seasons here, making our weather extremely diverse, we are also home to New Americans from every corner of the world, making our population equally diverse!
In addition to residents who have found their own way to our great city for work or for the solitude and safety to raise their family, Sioux Falls is proud to be an Immigrant and Refugee Resettlement Community for Lutheran Social Services.
The global humanitarian efforts of LSS to resettle displaced people began after WWII when the U.S. Department of State declared it important to support those who were fleeing from their homeland because of war, persecution, and genocide. Sadly, these atrocities are still happening today. But, thanks to LSS and a welcoming community, people who once lived in turmoil and fear are now building a home for themselves and their families in Sioux Falls.
This diversity is easy to see, especially in the public schools, where 34% of students report being non-white. Each classroom, in every school throughout the city, is an eclectic mix of ethnicity and diversity.
The public schools embrace this as an opportunity for American-born children to learn about the world without ever leaving their classrooms. Approximately 2,000 immigrant and refugee children - who speak 86 native languages and who do not yet know the English language - are educated in an immersion center until they are ready to return to their regular attendance area to learn alongside children from their neighborhoods.
Families realize their dreams in Sioux Falls. Ethnic restaurants and grocery stores that supply authentic foods from throughout the world allow these New Americans to share their culture, giving those who've called Sioux Falls home all their lives a "taste" of the world.
But diversity is not just about the color of one's skin or country of origin. Sioux Falls is diverse in so many more ways! A rich mix of professional careers and part-time jobs, entertainment venues, affordable housing, educational offerings, shopping and religious affiliations are also represented here.
Once you're here, we challenge you to find another place in the country that is as friendly and as progressive as we are. Sioux Falls does things right. Once you get here, we promise it's a place you'll have a hard time ever leaving!
It's hard to believe, but it's been almost two decades now since I began a friendship with a young woman who had only been in America a few months before I met her. At the time, a colleague of mine took a new position that wouldn't allow her to continue serving as a mentor to a Bosnian refugee. My co-worker was looking for someone to take her place, helping teach this New American basic English and offering support as she navigated this new city and new world.
Without knowing how much I would benefit, I agreed and began meeting in coffee houses with this woman who was just a few years older. She never went anywhere without her translation dictionary, soaking up new words and studying the context in which they were used. Yet, each week she would come with a list of words she heard in a conversation and couldn't find in her dictionary. (American slang is NOT kind to newcomers!) We laughed often at the silliness of the words that did not translate well from one language to another!
Educated in her own country, yet lacking basic English and the credentials to continue her career in the United States, she eventually began attending a local community college to earn a degree in medical transcription. Soon, she didn't need my help with English. She was "rocking" the language on her own!
By then, however, we had built such a strong bond that neither of us was willing to end our tutoring time together. We continued meeting. I met her parents and brother — also new to the country. We had dinner at one another's houses. Then, one day she asked me for the most amazing favor. "Would you be the Maid of Honor at my wedding?" Her request blew me away.
Me? Did she get mixed up with her words? It seemed like an honor that should be bestowed on a family member. But, by then, that's what we were - family. It was the most amazing experience with a mix of American and Bosnian wedding traditions celebrated!
Through our friendship, this small town girl who grew up in rural South Dakota was able to see the world through another set of eyes. I become much more aware of the struggles New Americans face upon arrival; much more sympathetic to the "new norms" which they try desperately to embrace.
This unforeseen friendship has given me far more than I could ever have imagined. One day I'd like to travel to other countries to experience cultures in an authentic way, but for now I feel blessed that a Bosnia refugee could expose me to her world without me ever having to leave Sioux Falls. What a gift her friendship continues to be!