Historically, Kekionga, now Fort Wayne, was part of the ancestral homelands of the Miami Indians. At the confluence of three rivers, the St. Joseph, St. Mary’s, and Maumee Rivers, the Miami people hunted, gathered, planted corn, and traded at this strategic nexus in northeastern Indiana. The area became extremely attractive to expansionist Americans, and through extensive bloodshed, treaty cessions, and the removal of many Indian peoples from Indiana, white settlement followed. Northeastern Indiana became an agricultural milieu and Fort Wayne eventually became a burgeoning industrial center. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries there was a continuous influx of German immigrants to Fort Wayne. In fact, 65.0% of Fort Wayne’s population during World War I was German. Many street signs read in German and it was the primary language spoken in the majority of homes at the time. Reportedly, there were an estimated dozen newspapers printed exclusively in German during the war era. Immigration to the Fort Wayne area has continued due to its appeal as a family-friendly city, alongside a low cost of living, and attractive industries.
Since 1971, the Catholic church has resettled refugees, thereby, building a more diverse community. Many of these populations have fled and continue to flee war-torn areas including Cuba, Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq, Sudan, Congo, and Myanmar. It is estimated that nearly 7.0% of Fort Wayne’s residents are foreign-born and 10.0% speak a language outside English in their homes. Providers in the community cite Spanish, Burmese, French, and Arabic as the most commonly spoken languages in order of statistical relevance, outside English, for which they require supportive language services.
Fort Wayne is the second largest city in the state of Indiana with a population of over 255,000 according to 2010-2015 American Community Survey 5-year population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. The estimated population of Allen County, in which Fort Wayne is situated, is 361,000. The U.S. Census does not capture the breadth of diversity in the Fort Wayne area as many residents remain unaccounted for due to varying political and legal statuses, language barriers, and/or religious affiliations. There are an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 Muslims from around the world living in Fort Wayne, 3,100 Mormons, 800 Jews, 50 to 60 Sikh families from Punjab State in India, and thousands of Amish living in Allen County. Providers estimate the actual Burmese population higher than the U.S. Census due to secondary resettlement with an estimated number of 7,500.
Fort Wayne Community Schools (FWCS), the largest school corporation in the state of Indiana, has an extensively diverse student population. Of a total student population of 31,000, 7.7%, or 2,400 students, qualify as English Language Learners. According to FWCS, over 70 languages are represented by students with South Side High School recognized as the third most diverse public high school in Indiana with a total minority enrollment of 74.0%.
Fort Wayne Festivals and Cultural Celebrations continue to draw diverse crowds seeking cross-cultural food and festivities. Whether its German Fest, Greek Fest, Arab Fest, the International Village (a 3 Rivers Festival event), or Mon-Burmese cultural celebrations - these public events never cease to disappoint.
Welcoming Fort Wayne Diversity Awards was held for the first time on Sept. 21, 2018. This event resulted from a collaborative effort of 12 organizations including non-profits, FWCS, Purdue University-Fort Wayne, the City of Fort Wayne, and area churches. Several awards were bestowed to recipients and organizations that exemplify a welcoming spirit for immigrants and refugees. We plan on making this an annual event to be held during national Welcoming Week every Sept.