New Series Explores America's Rapidly Changing Demographics

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Former refugee Birendra Dhakal poses for a picture with his citizenship class in Clarkston, Georgia.

Demographics in the United States are changing rapidly. By the year 2043, we will be living in a majority non-white nation, according to projections by the U.S. Census Bureau. The impact of the major shifts underway in our country’s racial and ethnic makeup is explored in a new documentary series called “America by the Numbers.”

“The whole premise of [this series] is the numbers,” says Maria Hinojosa, the anchor and executive producer of the series. “At this point I’ve visited all 50 states and two territories, so I’ve been seeing this ‘diversity’ everywhere. People talk about the tipping point for becoming a majority non-white country in America in 2043. It’s actually happening sooner—it’s happening now.”

The series parses through the data behind this historic shift to reveal a variety of changing communities.

“The South actually has experienced the most intense multi-cultural growth in the past decade—more than any other place in the country,” says Hinojosa. “We found, by the numbers, the most diverse square mile in the South. It is in Clarkston, Georgia, about 10 minutes south of Atlanta.”

Clarkston was once a meeting place for members of the Ku Klux Klan, but now it is home to residents from around the globe, including thousands of former refugees who moved there as part of a resettlement program.

“It’s like the future of America on steroids,” says Hinojosa. “There are people from 60 countries, there are dozens of languages, religious backgrounds, and experiences.”

But not everyone is happy about the city's transformation. Graham Thomas, a longtime resident of Clarkston, told Hinojosa that he thought that “people that came up through Ellis Island were some what more educated and ready to fit the society."

"I think what we’re getting with the refugee program is people that are not ready to fit in,” Thomas added. “They haven’t got an education, they don’t have a trade, and they have a lot of kids. That’s the talk of the town.”

“He feels really left out—he doesn’t understand it all,” says Hinojosa. “We understand that. Change is hard. On the other hand, three former refugees decided to run for office. We documented the first-ever Bhutanese-American in the history of the United States to ever run for anything. He lost by just over a dozen votes.”

About 30 years ago, Clarkston had a population that was about 90 percent white. Today, that figure sits at about 20 percent, which is why individuals like Ibrahim Sufi, the Bhutanese-American mayoral candidate, are taking to city politics.

“City government hasn’t built the relationships with the community. They haven’t tried, and if they’ve tried it hasn’t worked,” he said.

Sufi is not the only one—two other refugees ran for city office, and Somali-American Ahmed Hassan was even elected to the Clarkston City Council.

Despite their differences, Hinojosa says people in the community are getting along with each other and are growing through this experience.

“The people of Clarkston are realizing that they have a pretty amazing and unique American story,” says Hinojosa. “What’s fascinating about Clarkston is the number of people who are actually involved. They go to the town hall meetings, they go to the city council meetings, and this past election we saw the highest voter turnout.”

And this trend isn’t new, Hinojosa says. She points out that during the first 10 years of the 21st century, the U.S. population grew by 9.7 percent, and people of color accounted for 91.7 percent of that growth.

“In a mainstream American media that is in and of itself not diverse, then the story of change and diversity is told through a certain perspective,” she says. “I think sometimes that perspective is, ‘Uhoh. This is scary.’”

Hinojosa adds that the American people shouldn't fear a new country that is changing,

“That America is already here,” she says.

“America by the Numbers” debuts tonight on the WORLD channel which is produced and distributed by our partner WGBH. The series will also air on PBS beginning Saturday, October 4th (check local listings).