St. Lou…is Multicultural

Monday June 19, 2017

St. Louis is a welcoming and growing multicultural metropolitan region with Hispanic/Latino, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, German, Bosnian, Russian, African, Korean, Japanese, Irish, Middle Eastern and other ethnicities enriching the community with cultural diversity.

Visitors and local residents, alike, enjoy experiencing that ethnic diversity throughout the year at special festivals and celebrations, as well as at a vast array of restaurants created and managed by enterprising local entrepreneurs from around the world.

A walk down South Grand Avenue, one of the most popular restaurant scenes in St. Louis, is a special multicultural experience as you can virtually eat your way across the globe. Other pockets of ethnic entrepreneurship are concentrated in neighborhoods across the region, from Mexican restaurants on Cherokee Street to Chinese restaurants on Olive Street in University City. In addition, the annual “Festival of Nations” in Tower Grove Park, produced in August by the International Institute of St. Louis, is the region’s most popular multicultural celebration featuring more than 40 food booths, non-stop dance and music, arts and crafts and unique gifts.

But, restaurants and festivals aside, St. Louis is focused on attracting and retaining an ethnically diverse population. In fact, despite having fewer immigrants than other American cities of its size, St. Louis was ranked as the fastest growing major metro area for foreign born residents for 2015 over 2014, according to census data collected in the American Community Survey. During that time, the number of immigrants grew to nearly 130,000 and St. Louis attracted the highest percentage increase of the nation’s top 20 metropolitan areas.

What makes St. Louis’ efforts unique is the close and ongoing collaboration of the business community, higher education, government officials, and immigrant integration organizations. Of special note is the collaboration of the nearly 100-year-old International Institute of St. Louis (founded in 1919) with the St. Louis Mosaic Project that was founded in 2013 as part of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and World Trade Center St. Louis.

“Other cities also have resources for immigrants, but in St. Louis many of these entities collaborate to streamline programs and services as much as possible to help immigrants achieve success faster,” said Betsy Cohen, who has been Executive Director of the Mosaic Project since its inception. “This includes serving on committees of the Civic Pride Foundation for increasing local actions for diversity and inclusion.”

The St. Louis Mosaic Project relies on hundreds of community partnerships to implement its four key programs:

  • International student attraction and retention through corporate hiring
  • Immigrant entrepreneurship
  • Professional connectors who are matched with international talent to help them network toward local job openings
  • Mosaic Ambassadors who volunteer to make the region more welcoming.

St. Louis Mosaic Project also works closely with the International Institute of St. Louis, which provides essential community integration services to more than 7,500 immigrants and refugees from 80 countries each year, with individuals ranging from low-skilled to high-skilled and from non-literate to university-educated.

“Whereas the Mosaic Project is focused on attracting more immigrants to our region, the International Institute of St. Louis is about retaining immigrants by providing a wide variety of integrative services and by connecting them to the wider community,” said Anna E. Crosslin, President and CEO of the International Institute of St. Louis and one of the founders of The Mosaic Project.

“Our mission is to help immigrants and their families become productive Americans and champion ethnic diversity as a cultural and economic strength,” said Crosslin. “One of the things that we do here versus many other metropolitan areas around the country is that we offer a one-stop shop. In another community, they might go to the community college for English classes, and the employment office for job services, et cetera. Here in St. Louis because of the existence and size of the International Institute, immigrants receive many of those services under the same roof. So, they are less likely to get lost in the gaps between services and their teacher can talk to their case worker or employment specialist and really be able to communicate issues and help ease the transition.”

“St. Louis aims to be a cultural mosaic because the community believes that immigrants invigorate our region and drive innovation. Together, we welcome newcomers because they bring new energy, ideas and talent with them. We want to share our community with its great neighborhoods, outstanding schools, plus some of the best hospitals and cultural destinations in the world,” adds Cohen.

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