Over spring break, I went on a service trip with eleven other Vanderbilt students to an area in Chicago known as Little Village. Our purpose was to work with education and assist in several initiatives geared towards the Hispanic community that lives there. Although we were only a few minutes outside downtown Chicago, Little Village felt like an entirely different country: everything was in Spanish, from street signs to store façades. Throughout the week, we got to interact with dozens of the people who lived there, all of whom were immigrants or children of immigrants from Latin American countries.
As volunteers, we had to not only help out during the day, but also engage in some meaningful reflection at night. One of the topics that came up and that reminded me a lot of some of the topics we discuss in class was the idea of “self-segregation”. We were all in awe of how different and even disconnected Little Village felt from the outside world. As we saw it, this could indicate two things. One, the Hispanic immigrants that came to that area missed home so much that they came together and decided to remain connected to their cultures as much as they possibly could. Two, “outside forces” essentially drove these people to stick together, celebrating their culture and perhaps even finding refuge from something that bothered them in the outside world, such as discrimination and racism.
Of course, both or neither of these theories might have been correct. Nevertheless, it got me thinking about Vanderbilt and how here people seem to “self-segregate” into their own Little Villages with people of the same ethnicity or race. Although there is no explicit reason for this to occur, it happens time and time again. But is such behavior problematic? Does it indicate a problem in the Vanderbilt community, or maybe even in our society as a whole? Is there something that drives people of the same race together? Or, worse, is there something that drives people of different races apart? I don’t think there are exact answers to those questions, but I do believe they’re worth trying to figure out.