Growing up in this small city of Wausau could have been quite different. A child of the 1960s like me would have known this place as “lily-white Wausau” in no unspeakable terms.
We chased away the Ojibwa who first gave our founders the idea for the name of this city. Black Americans were told not to consider settling here. The thought of Asians settling here would have been unheard of until the Hmong started to arrive here after the Vietnam War.
Like many Wisconsin communities, we still do struggle a bit with race. Our churches were founded by specific ethnic groups ie German, Polish, Norwegian, English, Irish and you name it. We did not mix much at first.
The European settlers would eventually mix as American English became the dominant language and Germans would welcome Irish stout as beer and Scotch and Irish would imbibe lagers and pilsners. We learned to work together and we learned to trust each other and even worship together.
It has not been easy for this city to become a diverse community. Age-old prejudices don’t disappear overnight. We are still now the “city on a hill.” Thus far we avoided violent rioting in the streets. Our police, though still imperfect human beings are still among the best trained and most trusted.
Wausau is still far from the perfect community depicted in insurance company TV ads. I am proud to say that we are working on it and violence does not happen here.
I still remember my college days at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire. I got to know a lot of people both American and foreigners alike. I well remember meeting Karen Burke who worked as a summer RA. Karen told me a lot about her family. I was a bit surprised when she kidded about getting a suntan. You see, Karen was black or African-American. I was the dumb white guy from a place called Wausau. Karen’s family crossed all races and many nationalities.
From my experience with her and many others, I learned that we, as Americans are representative of many nationalities, ethnic groups, and races. Americans are not a race or nationality, but a people united under an idea that all men, all humans, are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with the right to life, liberty, and happiness.