Gabriella Castaneda doesn't live in any ordinary city, though it's not especially
fancy. What makes her hometown of Sacramento, California, so special is its
"Our neighborhood has all different kinds of people," says the 13-year-old, who has lived in Sacramento almost all her life. "We're Latino. Next door, there is a Filipino family. Across the street, we have an Indian family. We also have Chinese neighbors. The neighborhood kids are all friends. Almost every night, we come out and play together."
Two years ago, the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University named California's state capital the country's most integrated city in America. Not only are the city's more than 400,000 residents diverse, different ethnic groups appear to live together in harmonya fact that makes Congressmember Robert T. Matsui of Sacramento proud.
"Many of Sacramento's neighborhoods have families of all ethnicities, religions, and races living side-by-side," Congressman Matsui told Scholastic News Online. "It really contributes to the richness of the city's diversity that all of our communities are interwoven so closely together."
Like Congressman Matsui, who is a Japanese-American, 17.5 percent of Sacramento residents are Asian. The city's population is also 41 percent white, 15.5 percent black, and 22 percent Hispanic. Twenty percent of all residents were born outside of the United States.
That kind of diversity can be found at Nikki Headley's school. The 11-year-old helps some of her Chinese classmates, who don't speak English, spell out words and add numbers. In turn, her friend, Alina, is teaching her some Russian words. Nikki says her life has been enriched by her friends at school.
"People from different places in the world want to come here to live, and then we are able to learn different things about their cultures," says the sixth-grader at Sequoia Elementary.
As a youngster growing up in Sacramento, Congressman Matsui, too, was able to enjoy the benefits of attending a diverse school.
"I was able to meet and develop friendships with people from all different
backgrounds," he says. "Whether it was playing on an integrated little
league team or working on a school project with my classmates, I learned at
a very early age that people from different backgrounds can not only
co-exist, but they can come together and achieve great things."
At William Land Elementary, which is located in downtown Sacramento, more than
half the students speak a language other than English at home. And the parents
of the city's 53,400 students speak more than 70 languages.
While its many languages give Sacramento an international flavor, so do the countless groceries, delis, and bakeries that offer a feast of food from around the world. Residents can nosh on German strudel, Armenian bread, African cassava, Japanese seaweed, homemade Mexican salsa, Filipino noodles, and Indian spices.
Gabriella loves sampling the area's Mexican, Chinese, and Indian restaurants. It's just one of many reasons she is happy to call Sacramento home.
"I'm really proud of our diversity," she says. "My neighborhood is diverse. My friends are diverse. The schools are diverse. Where kids grow up has a big influence on their lives. It's a better place for children to grow up because they'll be more tolerant."