A Peek at America's Super-Diverse Future

Straight Up: The mix of people at one Southern California mall shows the promise of our changing demographics.

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 Prior to getting the coffee, I stopped to buy several cookies. I was in line behind a young couple who had what appeared to be a 1-year-old baby in a stroller and perhaps a 3-year-old holding the mother's hand. The 3-year-old pointed excitedly to several types of cookies that he wanted, and the young woman behind the counter, who appeared to be a Latina, smiled and dutifully filled a bag.

After paying, the mother, who happened to be African American, as was her husband, turned, bent down and gave a smaller cookie to the baby, who eagerly grabbed at it. The manager of the cookie stand, who had been dealing with a delivery while I waited my turn in line, smiled warmly as he watched the baby grab at the cookie. He appeared to be Sikh, to judge by his turban.

With my coffee and cookies in hand, I sat at a table. Near me sat a couple in their late 40s. The man, with graying hair pulled back into a ponytail, happened to be white. The woman, with reddish-brown, shoulder-length hair, happened to be black. They laughed and chatted amiably as they worked through a small stack of lottery scratch-off tickets and planned the rest of their day. Numerous other mixed couples walked by; during the half hour or so that I was there, at least three were black and Latino, one was black and Asian and several were Asian and white.

Behind me was an Easter Bunny exhibit where a stream of parents -- black, white, Latino, Asian -- brought young children to meet the bunny. Just a few steps away at a two-stall hair salon, you could see a young African-American woman styling a Latina's hair. Pairs of white and Mexican-American co-workers stopped in to buy lattes, cappuccinos and iced coffees.

I overheard conversations in no less than four languages. I can say with high certainty that I saw folks of Mexican, Guatemalan, Chinese, Korean, Thai and Arabic backgrounds, as well as those of European, African and African American descent, walk past the coffee shop's sitting area. Indeed, two young Ethiopian men walked by, looking at me closely but not in an unfriendly way. I am often assumed to be Ethiopian. We nodded at each other.

I regard this scene as noteworthy not merely because of the diversity. One can see plenty of diversity on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica or, closer to home for me, at the Prudential Center and Copley Plaza of Boston. Westfield Culver City, however, differs in that, unlike the other two places, it is not a major tourist destination.

The great overwhelming fraction of folks here almost certainly come from the surrounding communities of Mar Vista, Playa del Rey, Marina del Rey, Ladera Heights and Baldwin Hills. These are folks who are likely sharing not just shopping but, to a degree, also working and living space. And that is why the atmosphere and dynamic of the space was noteworthy to me.

It was not just a site for the formal civility of business transactions, not a place of mere forbearance amid simmering resentment and mutual misunderstanding, and not a space of tolerance prevailing over underlying tension and conflict. No, it was a space with seemingly all the makings of real comity, deep mutual respect and a community spirit born of a broad sense of common destiny.

It was not just a polyglot space or cosmopolitan enclosure; it had more the feel of a new, vibrant, super-diverse American habitus. Of course, "habitus" is one of those not easily digested sociological terms. The mall exemplified a mode of self- and social understanding, of moving, interacting and living that reflected absolute comfort with the full swirl of humanity.

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