Manassas, Va. – Dramatic Demographic Change
Manassas, Virginia is located outside the Beltway, just a little more than 30 miles from Washington, D.C. In the last 20 years, the population of the city and the surrounding area of Prince William County has boomed as this once semi-rural community has become absorbed into the sprawl of Northern Virginia. According to recent census data, Prince William County is the third largest county in Virginia with an estimated population of 391,621 as of March 2009. Along with the population growth, the demographics of the community have also changed dramatically, fueled by a rush of immigration, both legal and illegal. In 1990, 4.5 percent of the county identified as Hispanic. That number more than quadrupled to 19.1 percent in 2006.
In the mid ‘90s, many residents were shocked and discouraged by a series of hate crimes. A business owned by Koreans was burned and a Jewish family had a swastika seared into their lawn. These events, coupled with the changing community profile, prompted some church members to organize a series of community meetings meant to allow residents to share their own stories and respond to the issues of intolerance and racism. These meetings grew into a community-wide event called “Celebrating Diversity” held at a local high school. The program drew 600 people that day to hear speakers trained by the Anti-Defamation League, discuss to issues in break-out groups and view the documentary film, “Not in our Town.”
The national nonprofit Not in Our Town again became involved in the Prince William County community after a Mexican day laborer, Serafin Negrete, was murdered in September 2006. NIOT produced a four-minute film that focused on the hardships and racism faced by immigrants in Prince William County. It also highlighted the efforts of Unity in the Community, a faith-based group of concerned citizens trying to promote tolerance and love.
Today, the conversation about diversity is ongoing as the community continues to struggle to embrace its changing identity.