America By The Numbers with Maria Hinojosa: Clarkston Georgia
This is the new America: black, brown, gay, Muslim, you name it! We're a growing share of the population but politically unpredictable. Together, we'll look at what these numbers could mean in this election year if we stand up to be counted. America by the Numbers. [Clarkston, Georgia] When I first came to Clarkston, the Ku Klux Klan used to march in front of my house! [Maria] But suburban Georgia has changed in some unexpected ways. We're sisters. You know, we were separated at birth! >>Yes! [Maria] Now, whites are a minority in Clarkston, Georgia,
and it's home to refugees from 40 different countries. We work hard. We are buying foreclosed homes. Hey, I'm probably a racist or a redneck or something, I don't know, but you wonder sometimes if I've got any buddies anymore--you know-- that think the way I do. Should white America be afraid of becoming a minority? [America by the Numbers] [♪music♪] [America by the Numbers] [Clarkston, Georgia] [with Maria Hinojosa] America by the Numbers is made possible by the members of the National Minority Consortia, the Center for Asian American Media, Latino Public Broadcasting, the National Black Programming Consortium, Native American Public Telecommunications, and Pacific Islanders in Communications, by the Ford Foundation, and by the Marguerite Casey Foundation. Need to Know is made possible by Bernard and Irene Schwartz, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Foundation, Josh and Judy Weston, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family. Corporate funding is provided by Mutual of America, designing customized individual and group retirement products. That's why we're your retirement company. And by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you. [♪music♪] [Maria] The numbers make it irrefutable. We're living the largest demographic change in history. We asked social trend tracker Guy Garcia to help us make sense of the latest census numbers. Guy's an expert on the "New American Mainstream." [Guy Garcia, author and trend tracker] The New Mainstream is the combination of great demographic changes, explosions in the populations of African Americans, Asians, and Latinos, even to a certain extent women, young people, LGBTs. A hundred and ten million African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics-- with buying power that exceeds $2 trillion. Today, already one in three Americans are multicultural. When you look at the population under 18, it's already closer to a one-to-one ratio. [Maria] As the demographics change, so does our electoral map,
especially as the share of white voters continues to shrink. We saw it in 2008 with the election of basically a New Mainstream president. Who voted for Barack Obama? It was young people. It was educated whites, and of course it was so-called minorities--people of color. [2008 Obama voters: 18-29=66%, white=43%, non-white=80%] By 2042, demographers project that we'll be a multicultural-majority nation. Should white America be afraid of becoming a minority? They should only be afraid of becoming a minority if it's within the old definition of what a minority means-- marginalized, left out, disenfranchised. The New Mainstream is inclusive. Everybody is welcome to the New Mainstream. America has always been redefining itself. The unfinished pyramid that the founding fathers constructed, the idea behind it, was that America was a republic that would only be completed by the people who came after. It used to be that this idea of the "new America" was happening in urban places-- Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Chicago. It's everywhere, in fact most of the steepest growth of multicultural populations in the 2010 census were places like Arkansas, Iowa, Georgia-- [Maria] And in Georgia--and the rest of the South--this change is happening faster than any other part of the country. [34% multicultural growth] Over the last ten years, it's the South that had the greatest increase in multicultural growth. This new multicultural America is not what's next; it's now. [Clarkston, Georgia] [♪clapping, chanting♪] [Maria] Welcome to the new American South, where these numbers live and breathe. In Clarkston, Georgia, whites became the minority by 1990, and now it's home to refugees from all over the world. I came here because this city is a laboratory for the future of America. I wanted to see what democracy means to some of the newest Americans in this election year.
[DeKalb Medical] [hospital paging system] It's really exciting to be here with all these babies being born, and they're all so different, from so many different countries. It's pretty incredible. Congratulations! Thank you. So what's the name of the new baby? Benjamin. Benjamin. Benjamin? >>Yeah. Benjamin. [Maria] Baby Benjamin Ngo Thun is a brand new American. His parents fled the repression of a Burmese military junta and moved to Clarkston three years ago. Today, they celebrate another child born into freedom. >>What do you dream about Benjamin's future as an American? President. You want him to be President? Is that your idea or your idea? I think she -- he. Why do you want Benjamin to be President of the United States? I think that this is a democratic country. Everybody can rise up President. [Maria] Named after one of America's founding fathers, Benjamin is a bridge from a persecuted past to a wide open future. [♪music♪] In this Ellis Island of the South, could there be lessons for a divided nation about democracy and getting along? We're sisters--you know we were separated at birth. >>Yes! We tell everybody. >>Yeah. [Maria] Clarkston is just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, and was hand-picked by refugee resettlement agencies because it had cheap housing and public transportation to nearby jobs. Since the early '80s, thousands of refugees from Vietnam and Somalia, Iraq and Bhutan, and some forty other countries have come to this area to escape war, persecution, and massacre. What is this here? >>This is a knife wound. [Amina Osman, Somali refugee] When the bullets finished, they slaughtered the kids. >>These were your children? >>Yeah. [Dianne] And she's got a bullet in her hip still. [Amina] And I have bullets and then another knife here. [Maria} Another knife wound here too? And you were left for dead. [Amina] Yes, I was. I was in the mortuary; they was going to bury me. [Maria] You were in the mortuary? >>Yeah, two days. [Maria] Two days? Ready to be buried? They wanted to put me in the white cloth, but they felt here that it was beating. And they felt the pulse. >>Yeah. [Maria] Like Amina Osman, who came from Somalia, many refugees in Clarkston are recovering from the trauma of displacement and war, and they are struggling with a new language in a strange place. They're welcomed to this country with some government assistance, but soon are expected to provide for themselves. It's a big change for the Clarkston natives too. In less than three decades, this city of just over a mile square has gone from being 97% American-born to more than a third foreign-born. Somebody told me, "Yep. Clarkston. We're the dumping ground." [Dianne Leonetti, Clarkston Councilwoman] It puts a lot of stress on a city. It puts a lot of stress on the people in the city--on our infrastructure, our police. It's a huge problem. [Maria] Clarkston, Georgia has faced its share of change before. First home to the Cherokee, it was later settled by poor farmers of British descent, and for most of its history, Clarkston was overwhelmingly white. There was a sense before that someone like you-- a black man from the North-- represented serious change in a place like Clarkston. Definitely. >>You were unwelcome. [Emanuel Ransom] I don't fault anybody for their prejudice for me. People are trained to be prejudiced. [Maria] Emanuel Ransom grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and moved to Clarkston, Georgia, in 1963, the year Martin Luther King marched on Washington. When I first came to Clarkston, the Ku Klux Klan used to march in front of my house right down here off of Ponce de Leon. The black neighborhood used to be across the tracks there. [Maria] Was the city council all white men? >>Yes. Was the mayor a white man? >>Yes. And did you feel like you were excluded? >>Yes. [♪sinister music♪] [Maria] Clarkston is nestled in the shadow of Stone Mountain, Georgia-- known at the time for Ku Klux Klan cross burnings. The side of the mountain is still carved with the busts of the fathers of the Confederacy. When I was a kid, my daddy used to take me out to Stone Mountain, and we watched the Ku Klux Klan. And they would take an old car up on top of the mountain, set it on fire, push it off the front of the mountain, and everybody'd scream and holler. You talk about exciting! [Graham Thomas Clarkston resident] [Maria] Graham Thomas grew up in nearby Decatur, Georgia, and moved to Clarkston in the 1980s. Your dad took you-? >>Oh, yeah! To see Ku Klux Klan rallies? He was not a Ku Klux Klanner. He was from New Jersey, as a matter of fact. He was as we call down here, a Yankee. [♪jazzy bass music♪] [Maria] A seismic shift began in the 1980s. Clarkston went from being 90% white to majority black. Now, this city of 7500 is less than 14% white. Stone Mountain is a theme park, and Emanuel Ransom is Clarkston's first African American mayor. What does it mean for you to be in a place like Stone Mountain now? Well, it means that times change. [Maria] For Mayor Emanuel Ransom, change has been a good thing. [♪jazzy saxophone music♪] [Maria] For his friend Graham Thomas, a Julliard-trained musician, maybe not so much. [♪music continues♪] [Maria] Have you ever thought that in your town here in Clarkston-- that you and your wife and your family are now the minority? [Graham] Oh, certainly! Here, we are the minority! [Maria] And what does that feel like for you, a white man from the South? [Graham] Yeah, as an old Southern boy. You wonder sometimes if I've got any buddies anymore like--you know-- that think the way I do. [♪music continues♪] That's enough, isn't it? [Maria] The convergence of the old and new South has never been smooth. It was no exception when the refugees started arriving in Clarkston. [Graham] It's just destroyed the way of life so to speak. There'll be a young girl pushing a baby carriage with two babies in it, and she's pregnant again. Now who's supporting that? We are! They dump them in these apartments sometimes and don't tell them how to light the stove. They build a fire in the middle of the floor and burn the apartments, or they'll drink out of the commode. They need to be taught the American way so that they don't goof up. I've heard this a couple of times now, that the refugees build fires in their living rooms to cook. Has anybody actually seen that? No. It's just hearsay. You say that you've heard that they drink water out of toilets? I don't know that that's a fact. I'm just hearing it from people that say it. I'm probably a racist or a redneck or something--I don't know, but I just see it destroying what we had planned to happen here. [Maria] In one of those odd twists of fate, Graham Thomas does have at least one thing in common with the refugee arrivals. He also came to Clarkston to take advantage of low-priced real estate. He bought and renovated three houses hoping they would be his nest egg. [Graham] And I shouldn't gripe about all this because it's helping somebody, but my little nest egg here so to speak seems to be in jeopardy. [Maria] While Graham Thomas laments the plummeting property values, the new Americans I met are busy building businesses and putting down roots. [♪middle eastern music♪] Hijab? >>Hijab, Islamic dress. These stores mainly owned by Somalians. [Omar Shekhey Somali leader] [Maria] Omar Shekhey is the president of the Somali American Community Center. The Somalis started arriving in Clarkston in the 1990s, and now they make up the largest group of refugees here. [Omar] So this is also a khameez. This is for men. [Maria] Omar helps newly-arrived Somalis transition into life in the U.S. [Omar] Here is hair salon. It is owned by a Somali woman called Yasmeen. This man also runs our website. He's also Somali. It's like being in little Somalia! When you come here, you already have hope. that if you cannot make it here, you cannot make it anywhere else. An accountant. His name is Ahmed. We are trying for him to run for mayor. Do you ever have other Americans who come here? Yeah! A lot of black Americans. What about white Americans? Do you ever see them here? They--very, very limited. What do you think about that? You know? It's-- When you talk to them, they always say it's ethnic, you know? The people who are in the political power, they just believe immigrants are here to drain the resources of the county. They're not looking the other side-- that we work hard, we are buying foreclosed homes, we are revitalizing the economy of this county. [Maria] Refugees do own about 85% of Clarkston's businesses now, but Clarkston's economy is struggling. Unemployment is more than twice the national average. [Clarkston's unemployment rate=17.8%][National unemployment rate=8.2%] A quarter of Clarkston's residents live below the poverty level, but it seems to me that democracy is thriving among these new Americans. We educate people, and we tell them the rights that the Constitution is giving them. Most Americans are not spending their days talking about the Constitution. Because they are very comfortable with their daily life. For them, it's like routine thing. >>But for you-- For us it's important. The Constitution is alive? >>The Constitution is alive. Our survival depends on the Constitution. Everybody's voice is important to this debate. Not the one percent. Not the conservative. Everybody. [Maria] At Clarkston's monthly city council meeting I attended, a rainbow of old and new Americans lined up to make their voices heard. I just want to express my appreciation to the mayor and his team for putting up the neighborhood bulletin. It has been really helpful for people like me to connect with the city. I appreciate Chief of the Police Scipio, who help us with the blanket and mattress for the new people from Bhutan. [Maria] Despite the diversity of voices at the mic and within the community, the Clarkston City Council is all white, and all six candidates in the last election were white as well. We are here tonight to witness the swearing in of three council members who were voted in with only 13% of voters showing up at the polls. [Heather Whitcomb Clarkston resident] Together, we need to figure out a way to improve civic engagement and to move this city forward. We're going to move forward on our agenda, and we're going to get our officials sworn in so we can have a quorum. [Mayor Emanuel Ransom] When nobody registered except for the six people, who were all white Americans, I was very disappointed. [Maria] Is that a failure of democracy? [Emanuel] We as a council have to do something about it. It's not going to change by itself. We have to change it. [♪music♪] [Maria] And there were some encouraging signs of change in this year's city council election. You are Dianne's campaign manager. I am the campaign manager. Self appointed, and then I totally agreed. She told you, "I'm going to be your campaign manager"? That's right! She said, "Stick with me, and you will get elected!" She decided that I needed postcards with my picture on it so she could hand them out and people would remember who I was, and she decided she needed a t-shirt to wear all over the place with my picture on it. [Maria] In a field of white candidates, Amina Osman became a power broker behind the scenes. You understood that part of what you needed to do as a smart politician was to get the vote of these former refugees. It was Amina's idea, honest to gosh! I'm not taking credit for it. And in fact, Dianne, you ended up getting the largest number of votes. That was my secret weapon! Hello, hello! How are you? Come in. Good, dear. How are you? >>Hi, Priti. [Maria] Councilwoman Dianne Leonetti might just be a shrewd politician, but she says she's hoping to bridge the divide between old and new Americans in Clarkston with Amina by her side. What doors was she opening for you? [Dianne] Oh, just to meet more people and to see what their vision for Clarkston was, see what their vision for America was. She'd say, "Come meet this guy! He wants to meet you. He's from south Sudan." And I think it was the first time that anybody'd really reached out to really want to know what are you thinking, where is your heart, what's going on in your life. Even though you were Dianne's campaign manager, you couldn't vote for her. No. I'm not American citizen, but if I could be an American citizen, I could vote for her. [♪clapping chanting♪] [Maria] Every Saturday and Sunday morning in a makeshift Hindu Buddhist temple that doubles as a classroom, Birendra Dhakal's citizenship classes are packed with Bhutanese refugees clamoring for the right to vote. [Birendra] Can you tell me, what is the capital of the United States? Washington--? [students] D.C. >>Washington, D.C. [Maria] No one here has ever voted, and many were stripped of citizenship in their homeland. [Birendra] How did the name Washington come? Washington-- [Maria] What does it mean to you to have this many people here wanting to learn about becoming American citizens? [Birendra] If I am able to help some more people to regain their pride of becoming a citizen, I think that I will be helping a lot for my community. [Maria] Birendra Dhakal was the first refugee from Bhutan to settle in Clarkston. [# of years a refugee must live in the U.S. to become a citizen: 6] His goal is to help every one of his fellow Bhutanese make the transition he just made: becoming a U.S. citizen and a voter. Hi. Are you the only one registering, or is everyone? Oh, everyone. [Birendra] People in America think democracy is given to them. "Oh, I don't need to vote!" [Birendra Dhakal Bhutanese leader] But for us it's so important because we are doing it for the first time. I'm always confused with this word, "Asian." Now, we are Asian or not? [Maria] What does that mean to go and cast a ballot for someone like you? [Birenda] That's the time that I will feel that I belong to a nation. That I'm helping the development of a nation. [♪music♪] [Maria] So in this new America, it's becoming clear that learning about new cultures and adapting to change is a two-way street. I saw it first-hand at one of the few American-owned businesses left in Clarkston. If you hadn't been open to change, do you think that Thriftown would have survived? No. It'd be gone. I mean it was almost gone. It was within about ten days of being gone because I was getting foreclosed on. [Bill & Karen Mehlinger Thriftown owners] [Maria] Twenty years ago Bill and Karen Mehlinger's Thriftown Grocery was on the verge of going out of business. As more and more refugees arrived, the Mehlingers hired a Vietnamese cashier, and they listened to her. [Bill] We went to different little Asian stores. She helped me decide what would sell, what her mama bought at the other stores, what her grandma bought. Eventually we were finding the products they wanted and business started to climb. [Maria] What was your first reaction when you saw that Clarkston was changing? Oh, thank goodness! When I bought the store, this was a pretty low-income neighborhood. It was a rough environment, and it has changed dramatically since the immigrants have come in. [Maria] Do you think that our country is a country that is open and prepared for that kind of change? Constant--? [Bill] I don't know that it matters. It's happening; it's a fact. [Karen] Well, I mean, that's how our country started. I mean my grandparents were from Italy. >>As mine. His from-- >>Germany. >>Germany. Do you understand fear, and people say, "I don't understand them." [Karen] Well they don't understand us, so imagine their fear! [Bill] Oh, yeah. They're a little more frightened than we are. You should've seen some of these girls on the registers when I first hired them. They were terrified. They overcame a lot. [Maria] It turns out Mayor Ransom overcame some fears of his own. You in fact said that you originally wanted to get involved with city politics in Clarkston because you had a problem with the refugee population. >>Yes. Now, the fact that you at one point as a black man looked at this international community and said, "I don't know if you all have a place here." It makes me feel like an ass. Actually. Because I knew better! [Maria] Meanwhile, a huge number of new Americans are becoming citizens. [# of naturalized citizens from 2000-2010: 6,568,865] So how might they affect the 2012 presidential elections? If they stand up to be counted, multicultural voters could be the margin of victory in highly diverse states that until now had been reliably red like Georgia or Arizona. We know that in 2008, Obama carried 80% of all non-white voters and that the share of these voters has grown in every state. Political scientists forecast that in 2012, Obama could win with just 38% of the white vote, but these are projections. The new Americans I met, just like the old, are pretty hard to pigeonhole. [television] Is there anyone out there that can really stop him? What--? [Sujal Dhakal] There's a difference of opinion in the house. My dad, I think, is still trying to decide whether he wants to be a Republican or Democrat. [Sujal Dhakal New voter] I'll stick with Ron Paul. I think I'm for him. Less government power. [Dora Dhakal New voter] For me, the big issues are healthcare, so I guess I would go towards Democrat like Obama. I want to keep his healthcare! [Benu Dhakal New voter] Me? I haven't decided yet. I have to think about it. [Dimple Dhakal New voter] Most probably Obama because I have liberal views, and I like his healthcare policy. So. [Birenda] Gay rights, they call this. Abortion. I never grew up with this kind of thing. [Birenda Dhakal New voter] So I tend to be a little Republican, you know. Very conservative. [Dianne] Yeah, I'm pretty socially conservative. [Maria] So do you support the Tea Party? >>Yeah, I would. [Maria] Do you talk about these things? >>She knows my views. Yes, I know her views. If you could vote, you would vote for Obama again? >>Direct. Would you vote for Obama? >>No. And you don't want to convince Amina? >>No. But she's your campaign manager! But we are not sisters because of party. We are sisters because we are sisters. >>Yeah! [Maria] Can Clarkston in fact survive without the refugee international community? [Emanuel] Half of the citizens that used to be here have moved out of Clarkston. Our refugee community is the majority now, and how are you going to survive without them? [Maria] Now what would happen, Graham, if a refugee decides that they want to run for mayor? I probably wouldn't vote for them unless I could get some assurance, you know, that he knows what he's doing. [Maria] Will you run for office, Amina? Yes. When I get my citizenship, I am going to be a mayor. You're going to be the mayor! >>The Mayor of Clarkston! Did you know that, Dianne? No, that's news to me. I'm going to be a mayor. >>Why not! [♪music♪] That's it for now. I'm Maria Hinojosa. Thank you so much for joining us on America by the Numbers. [America by the Numbers] [managing editor Maria Hinojosa] [written & directed by Martha Spanninger] [producer Xochitl Dorsey] [editor Chris Fiore] [directory of photography Paul de Lumen] [story editor Charlott Mangin] [graphic design by Molly Schwartz] [music composed by Wendy Blackstone] [editorial consultants: Amy Bucher, Sandy Rattley] [additional camera Anthony Forma, Xochitl Dorsey] [audio: Jay Ticer, Benjamin Jacob] [grip Keith Worthington] [sound edit and mix: Dog Bark Sound] [colorist: Ed Givnish] [production management: Steve Bennett, Marea Chaveco [legal services: Neil Rosini Franklin, Weinrib, Rudell & Vasallo, PC] [post production: Pivotal Post] [special thanks: Kevin Hyman, Joe Licek, Spencer McIntosh, Part2Pictures, Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym] [special thanks: Lynne Hoppe, Luis Ortiz, Sandie Pedlow] [executive producers: Marc Rosenwasser, Maria Hinojosa, Martha Spanninger] America by the Numbers is made possible by the members of the National Minority Consortia, the Center for Asian American Media, Latino Public Broadcasting, the National Black Public Programming Consortium, Native American Public Telecommunications, and Pacific Islanders in Communications. By the Ford Foundation, and by the Marguerite Casey Foundation. Need to Know is made possible by Bernard and Irene Schwartz, the John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Foundation, Josh and Judy Weston, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family. Corporate funding is provided by Mutual of America, designing customized individual and group retirement products. That's why we're your retirement company. And by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you. The Futuro Media Group [WNET Creative News Group] Trusted. In depth. Independent. PBS.
In the Ellis Island of the South, could there be lessons about democracy and getting along? "America By The Numbers with Maria Hinojosa: Clarkston Georgia" is the story of a small town of 7,500 people that has gone from being 90% white in the 1980s to less than 14% white today. Located in the shadow of Stone Mountain, once a gathering place for Ku Klux Klan cross burnings, today Clarkston is home to thousands of refugees from Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq and Bhutan - along with some forty other countries. This special is an intimate look at how changing demographics are reshaping the political landscape of America.
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