One of the interesting demographic facts unveiled by the 2010 U.S. Census is that Forest Park is the most diverse town among its neighbors. By that, I mean the only town in the nearby region with no absolute ethnic majority. This rising diversity lets us use Forest Park to take a look through a time machine into America’s future, as it reflects major demographic trends that are reshaping metropolitan areas across the country.
Forest Park has recently become a true multicultural town, with slightly more than half of its 14,200 residents having an ethnic minority background. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the current ethnic mix of Forest Park is approximately 49.7 percent Caucasian, 32 percent African American, 10 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Asian, and nearly 3 percent multiracial. Just ten years ago, Caucasians comprised 52 percent of the population. As another surprising finding, Hispanics are the only ethnic group to have grown in Forest Park, partially offsetting the net loss of 1,520 residents since year 2000.
In comparison, our neighbors Oak Park, River Forest, Berwyn, North Riverside and Maywood have some ethnic majority with more than 50 percent of their population, whether Caucasian, Latino or African American.
Let’s take a look at how this works among different age groups. Forest Park’s white population is aging faster due to their smaller family size comparatively to Hispanics, which now stand as the fastest growing minority in the country. Among African Americans, metropolitan residents are also aging at a significant rate; nonetheless, because Black families also have more children, this ethnicity will remain stable at 13 percent of the total population for decades to come, according to U.S. Census projections. It is worth noting that Hispanics (or Latinos) are not a race but an ethnicity. Either U.S.- or foreign-born, Latinos are White, Black, mixed-racial, and even Jewish, Asian etc. In fact, nearly 4 percent of all U.S. Hispanics are Black. (For this reason, Caucasians are technically termed “Non-Hispanic Whites” and African Americans “Non-Hispanic Blacks” according to Census terminology).
Forest Park youth are even more multicultural
Significantly, 68 percent of Forest Park children (under age five) are multicultural: African American, Hispanic, Asian, or multiracial. Because Latino families are typically larger and younger, they also overweigh across the younger demographic. In fact, 26 percent of Forest Park children are Hispanic, whereas the proportion of African-American and Asian children is more in line with the size of their adult populations. Caucasians comprise a third of all children in town (see pie chart table). Likewise, the teenage population of Forest Park (all those individuals under age 20) is quite multicultural too: 41 percent are African American, 36 percent are Caucasian, 19 percent are Hispanic, and 6 percent are Asian.
Tapping into the Future
Just like many towns located in metropolitan areas, Forest Park will become more and more multicultural in decades to come. Still, we must ask how integrated are Forest Park’s various ethnic groups, particularly their youth, to the wider fabric of society and economy.
Forest Park schools are notable for the racial mixture of children, who also play harmoniously in the streets of Forest Park. The Park District employs many young multicultural lifeguards (even as Latino and Black lifeguards are relatively rare across the country). In restaurants and bars, clientele and staff are racially diverse, although we still need to tap into the entrepreneurial spirit of Latinos and Blacks to ensure that more business owners come from these ethnic minorities.
To truly embrace our multicultural future, we must ensure that our educational and civic institutions foster a culture of cosmopolitanism and communication. This will enable our population to take advantage of economic and cultural opportunities in America and beyond.
Tony D’Andrea is a social scientist and marketing professional. Currently working as a planning director at a multicultural ad agency in Chicago, he holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Chicago and authored the book “Global Nomads”, a study on global subcultures and tourism in Spain and India.