Leveraging Cleveland's immigrant advantage

One hundred years ago, Cleveland was a major "immigrant gateway," a distinction that nowadays belongs to Atlanta, Austin and Denver. A once-proud magnet of international energy, capital and creativity, Cleveland lost 11 percent of its foreign-born population between 1980 and 2000, according to a recent Brookings Institution report.

The report tells us more. In 1900, Cleveland's population was 33 percent immigrant, but by 2000, more than 95 percent of our people were native-born. Why is this important? Immigrants bring a strong work ethic, an innovative entrepreneurial spirit and connections to work forces and resources overseas.

But there is something we can do. Local communities can create links to institutions such as banks, and they can be more sensitive to cultural and language differences, especially in areas such as health care. Morphing our civic infrastructure to be more inclusive of all residents, regardless of their origins, would help Cleveland regain its competitiveness. The Brookings report states, "Local leaders need to help shape a welcoming environment that helps immigrants succeed in their new homes."

Nascent immigrant groups such as Asians, Arabs, Hispanics and Indians need to be welcomed to Cleveland, not shunned. For the time being, the many cultural festivals, restaurants and activities in our community best exemplify our international heritage. Go out of your way this month to acknowledge, appreciate and encourage your immigrant and ethnic neighbors. They are our region's best hope for the future.

Fall Hungarian Festival The 49th-annual cultural fest presents rousing live ethnic music, richly satisfying food, home-baked pastries, folk dancing and family activities. Test your skill at Csárdás (Hungarian folk dancing), watch soccer matches or shop for Hungarian books, souvenirs and arts and crafts Sept. 5 from 1 to 11 p.m. Call (440) 582-1233. German Central Park, 7863 York Road, Parma

Cool Cleveland Art/ Tech/ Dance party Back by popular demand, Cool Cleveland's hottest party of the year takes place Sept. 17 from 4 to 8 p.m., in the bustling, ethnic West Side Market neighborhood on West 25th Street. It's a featured stop on the second-annual Urban Gallery Hop, an open house of more than 50 galleries and art studios in five downtown districts, Detroit Road and Lorain Avenue, all connected by four free trolleys. Last year's event featured belly dancing by Troupe Shabaana with Middle Eastern hookah pipes, Mediterranean food, an open bar and neighborhood ambiance. Start your afternoon at Cool Cleveland's party and you can hop on and off as many times as you'd like.

Third Thursdays Summer Concert Series Moises Borges takes you to the intersection of Latin culture with Brazilian jazz Sept. 23 (actually the fourth Thursday, rescheduled because of the religious holiday) from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on the new Kulas Community Stage. Stick around University Circle and visit a museum, and return to newly renovated Wade Oval for more lively Latin sounds with Roberto Ocasio's Latin Jazz Project from 5 to 7 p.m. Call (216) 707-5033.

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