Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I happen to enjoy a column in AARP The Magazine, called DatabankUSA. And one of the charts there shows the percentage by state, of residents over the age of 5 who speak a language other than English at home.

I was surprised that my birth-state, Idaho is 10.1%. But it was a diverse state when I was growing up with many Native Americans, mostly Northern Shoshoni, Bannock and some Crow and Blackfeet tribal members in the area where I lived, in the northeast corner framed by the Targees and the Tetons.

But back then, Idaho also had a significant Basque population. From an early age when Basque’s would run sheep nearby, I would go out with my Grandfather visit around their campfires. In fact, my first couple of pet dogs came from these herders. It was fascinating to hear them speak, not to mention sit around campfires, with the strongest coffee known to human beings and real covered wagons.

But the more I think about it, while virtually unpopulated in 1880, only a couple of decades before my Great-Great Grandfather helped colonize what became Fremont County, the area was also becoming home to significant numbers of British, Swiss, Scandinavian, Welsh, German and other nationalities. Don’t get me wrong, there are still only 12,000 people spread over more than 1,800 square miles, about 4% to 5% the population of Durham in a land area more than six times the size of Durham County.

But adjoining states often don’t share population characteristics. I lived within 50 miles of both the Montana and Wyoming borders. And yet Montana is only 4.7% and Wyoming 6.6% in this attribute, half that of Idaho.

North Carolina is 9.6% or nearly 1 in 10, while the first 13 or so states have 1 in 5 or more of their population speaking a language other than English in the home. But North Carolina is nearly double the five lowest states in this characteristic.

Durham has nearly always been ethnically diverse. But an even more telling reflection of Durham’s diversity, in the public schools here, there are students representing 60 countries and 79 native languages.

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