In the coming days, one of Boise’s defining events, Jaialdi, will be in full swing.
It’s a celebration of a heritage and culture that is embraced by the larger community. Every five years, it makes Boise a focal point of the global Basque community. Today, few seem to question that events such as Jaialdi contribute to our sense of place, of what it means to be from Boise, and our community’s cultural richness.
But it wasn’t always so.
We now look back with admiration on the immigrants — Irish, Mexican, German, Basque and Chinese — who left their homeland more than a century ago seeking opportunity and finding it here in Boise. We know that they were a key force in building this city into the wonderful place it is today. Yet, those same intrepid, industrious newcomers were just as often viewed with suspicion by their contemporaries because of the language they spoke, the religion they followed or the color of their skin.
In recent weeks, a number of monumental events, both tragic and triumphant, have highlighted that the same prejudice and discrimination — the ignorant and often ugly fear of those who are different — is still alive in our society. Despite court victories affirming the rights of marriage for all, no matter their sexual orientation, and the moral ascendency of those who reject chilling symbols of hate disguised as heritage, those who fear diversity and the power of inclusion still hold too much sway.
That’s why three years ago, the Boise City Council proudly adopted a city ordinance that prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. As my friend and colleague, City Council President Maryanne Jordan, said at the time: “When we say we want to make Boise the most livable city in the country, that means for everyone.”
Today Basques represent just one of dozens of ethnicities and cultures in Boise. The city has been designated as a refugee resettlement community since the 1970s, and we now count among us Iraqi doctors, Congolese clothing designers and Burmese computer specialists. Boise’s natural inclination to embrace diversity continues to enhance our community through these hardworking and committed new Americans. In fact, in early April, the White House Task Force on New Americans gave national recognition to our Neighbors United Network, a coalition of more than 100 community leaders, policymakers, service agency representatives, resettled refugees, volunteers and educators that works to help refugees successfully integrate and thrive in Boise.
There is no question that embracing diversity and people of all races, creeds, colors, faiths, backgrounds and sexual orientation is morally the right thing to do. Equally certain is that it makes unquestioned business sense.
It’s a constant topic in my conversations with local business leaders. They understand that diversity and fostering our reputation as a welcoming city for all gives us a leg up in retaining and recruiting the businesses of the next century and the highly-skilled, well-educated, multiethnic workforce they depend on.
Experts agree: Job creation and economic innovation are much more likely to happen in economies, communities and companies that welcome diversity and new perspectives.
So this summer, as we celebrate Jaialdi, let’s not forget that what we are really celebrating is the diversity that will help us build the Boise of tomorrow. Whether it’s by helping skilled immigrants prepare for the job search process through Global Talent Idaho, supporting entrepreneurs at the Boise International Market, or some other way, every single resident of this community should look for ways to celebrate and support diversity.
Setting ourselves apart, standing up for what is right, always striving to build a better, thriving, more welcoming city — that’s the Boise I know. That is what we mean when we say we are working to make Boise the most livable city in the country. Let’s all do our part to ensure it shows in everything we do.
David H. Bieter is serving his third term as mayor of Boise.