Missing a diversity goal

It's not a stretch to say the people who call Southeast Seattle home represent humanity across the globe. When talking to folks not familiar with the South End, I often find myself describing it as the most diverse collection of neighborhoods in the country, according to the 2000 United States Census, with more than 70 languages spoken in our little slice of Seattle.

You can verify Uncle Sam's census results for yourself simply by attending any of the various community events taking place in the South End this summer. My perennial favorite is the Wednesday afternoon Columbia City Farmers Market, recently honored in Audubon Magazine (magazine.audubon.org) as one of the nation's top 10. Whenever I'm shopping for groceries at the market's stalls, I inevitably find myself lingering in the shade of a vendor's canopy to watch all the different people strolling by speaking a variety of languages. It's harmonious diversity in the flesh.

However, soon after June 9 rolled around and the 2006 FIFA World Cup kicked off in Germany, I began to doubt the strength of my world-in-a-neighborhood assertion about the South End.

Football, or, depending on your mood, soccer, is the world's most popular organized sport, and every four years the planet's nations vie for one of the 32 spots at the FIFA World Cup. To say this is an important event for humankind is not an understatement. If you think I'm exaggerating, just mull over this: the civil war currently ripping the Ivory Coast apart came to a halt so the north and south factions could join together and celebrate their team's first trip to the World Cup. When was the last time you can remember a friendly sporting match stopping an armed conflict?

With all its cultural and ethnic diversity, the South End is primed for an epic cup celebration. Unfortunately, the passion and camaraderie the cup brings out among the different ethnic groups gathered in the public places and business districts around world is not evident in our slice of Seattle. In a recent quest to watch some of the games during group play (where the United States was eliminated by Ghana) and the subsequent round of 16, I only found one pub that was broadcasting a handful of the matches. The other popular South End watering holes I called either had no televisions, said they'd turn on a game if someone asked, or had no idea what I was talking about. None of them made any special arrangements to open for fans to catch the tournament's 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. games.

If this was small-town Nebraska, I would not be surprised; but we represent the heart of diversity in our country, or so I thought.

For those living outside of the United States, the coming together in pubs, churches, schools and central plazas to watch the World Cup unfold is a chance to show unity and engage in a bit of largely peaceful bantering with opposing nations. While cheering the prowess of athletes engaged in the timeless pleasure of kicking a ball around a grassy field, the cup, at its best, breaks down social barriers and opens our minds to other cultures.

Celebrating the tournament is the perfect chance for South Enders to turn stale statistics describing their diversity into vibrant, tangible experiences, just like picking up a head of lettuce at the farmers market.

The World Cup Quarter Finals begin on June 30. The games will be broadcast live to the Pacific Coast at 8 a.m. and noon.

Have a thought or two to share with Erik? Drop him a line at the address or e-dress listed below.

[[In-content Ad]]