Can't we all just get along?
April 10, 2006 10:22 AM   Subscribe

We [lawyer, Japanese wife, 10-y.o. kid who likes tennis] are moving to Portland/area. We found a house we like in Lake Oswego, but... [religious and racial bigotry inside]

...we were told that the area is very popular with Mormons. I've no particular problem with the Mormons I've met, apart from their penchant for turning conversations around to religion, and it doesn't bother me not to interact much with my neighbors if they won't stop nattering on about their church. However, my kid would be attending public school there.

We visited the local elementary school and it looked great, but I don't want to throw him into a class where many/most of the kids are Mormons. It's bad enough that (according to some census websites we've found) over 90% of the kids in the area are white. I only saw one Asian kid in the classrooms we visited, and no "people of color." (What an awful, distasteful locution to add to the vernacular!)

So, my question for teh intarwebs:

Will a smart, non-religious, Asian-American kid have a tough time in Lake Oswego public schools, given the lack of racial diversity and (apparent) preponderance of adherents to one particular Evangelical faith?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total)
I've never lived in Lake Oswego, but I've never heard about the Mormon thing there and don't recall seeing any temples nearby. Most Mormon activity I see in Oregon is concentrated in the suburbs. Lake Oswego is a suburb of Portland, but it's pretty expensive and doesn't really hit the Mormon demographic I'm familiar with (most Mormons I know make an average income and live in less expensive areas where having several children isn't a burden).

Also, since Lake Oswego is so upper class, I would assume there'd be a lot of educated atheists to balance it out.
posted by mathowie at 10:27 AM on April 10, 2006

A couple of years ago, my wife (who is Vietnamese) and I took a road trip through some very Mormon areas of Utah and Idaho. We were welcomed everywhere we went. Nearly every Mormon goes on a mission to some far-off land when they are young, and I think that seeing people from other cultures is natural. In fact, many people assumed that we were Mormons and would often strike up conversations that were quite interesting.
posted by Etaoin Shrdlu at 10:37 AM on April 10, 2006

I was a smart, religious, non-Asian American kid, lived down there it when I was little and worked in the area for four years or so... so I'm not sure exactly how much validity my response will have.

You're right about the color issue, to a point I think an antiquated going term for the area is "Lake No Negro", (more said as a condemnation of the area then any sort of positive attribute).

When I worked retail there, though, I always sort of figured money was going to be the kicker for any interpersonal relationships between kids these days, versus ethnicity. A lot of the kids I knew there were from that sort of casual, unthinking lower upper class where they just didn't realize that not everyone took ski trips or could get a new car when they were 16, or etcetera.

Mormons? Yeah, they're there, but I can only remember one of my LO friends ever mentioning them, and it was when she was telling me about a girl she had been friends with in grade school, and how they'd have little religious discussions. Nothing harsh, though.
posted by redsparkler at 10:49 AM on April 10, 2006

I've never heard that L.O. has a notably large concentration of Mormons, but that is where their temple is. Then again, Oregon is the least church-attending state (IIRC) in the union, so two or three Mormon families might be considered a horde...

As for racial diversity, that's just a fact of life around Portland, Mormons or no. I expect that in a wealthly suburb like L.O. it's skewed even further to all whiteness.

on preview: I bet redsparkler is right that wealth is far more important than religion or race.
posted by turbodog at 10:52 AM on April 10, 2006

It's Oregon. It's predominantly white. I don't think you'll have a problem in the public schools there. I think you're already having more problems with the Mormons than they're likely to have with the race of your wife/son.

And Mormons are not Evangelicals, not by a long shot. That's like mixing up Shiites and Sunnis.
posted by Happydaz at 11:05 AM on April 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've lived just outside Portland all of my life. I was raised Mormon. I'm not aware that there's any particularly large concentration of Mormons in Lake Oswego; I've never heard such a thing in my 37 years here. The Lake Oswego temple was built when I was a kid. It's nominally in Lake Oswego, but not really. It's just off the freeway for easy access. It's not in a city really at all, and closer to Tigard or Tualatin than downtown Lake Oswego.

Yes, most of Lake Oswego is white. Most of anywhere in the Portland area (or in Oregon) is white. That's a fact of life. Oregon has a large hispanic population, and certain parts have a large Asian population. There are parts of Portland with a large African-American population (but not Lake Oswego).

Lake Oswego is, in general, a relatively affluent area. It's always had some of the best schools in the state. Your smart, non-religious, Asian-American kid will probably have no more trouble in Lake Oswego schools than any other schools, and in fact, if he really is smart, he's probably better off there. The schools are well-funded and receive lots of support from the parents and community. If I had kids and had a choice of where to put them, Lake Oswego would be near the top of the list. Seriously.
posted by jdroth at 11:15 AM on April 10, 2006

As an active Mormon myself, I do know a few people in Lake Oswego. But I also know Mormons in Portland, and Beaverton, and other suburbs. As far as I know, Mormons are not a majority anywhere in Oregon.

Your concern might be well founded were you moving to Utah or parts of Idaho or Arizona, but you're safe in Oregon. For strictly geographical reasons, you're safe in the Northwest.

With obvious bias, I think you're safer among Mormons than you might be among some Evangelical sects (We Mormons do not consider ourselves Evangelical in the current contemporary use of the term). We are taught very directly and explicitly about the virtues of diversity. Just last week, Gordon B. Hinckley--the man Mormons consider to be a prophet equal to Moses--said to the whole church: "No man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ...Brethren, there is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in such."

That sounds like he's criticizing a major problem, but that's not my experience. (Of course, I am a white male, so there's the possibility I just don't see it.) I think the mission experience does make a difference: it did for me. Because of mormon missions, I'd bet you'd find a slightly more racial tolerance among Mormons than among the population of the US at large.
posted by terceiro at 11:25 AM on April 10, 2006

See, taking into account the fact that Oregon is not so good on the diversity front, the fact that even other Oregonians think Lake Oswego in particular is worse than most could be saying something.

Also known as "Lake Ego."

Ah, those kids and their crazy nicknames.
posted by redsparkler at 11:45 AM on April 10, 2006

Oh, but you should really move here. It's pretty. And Lake Oswego itself is nice, as well. You shouldn't have a problem.
posted by redsparkler at 11:46 AM on April 10, 2006

And Mormons are not Evangelicals, not by a long shot.

I think it's obvious from context that anonymous didn't mean "Mormons are like Baptists or Pentecostals."

Rather, I think it's clear that (s)he meant "I'm worried that Mormons are going to bother me or my kids with endless evangelizing."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:54 AM on April 10, 2006

Lake Oswego is the butt of Portlanders' jokes due to the wealth and whiteness of its population. That said, I have worked with many public schools in the Portland metro area, and Lake Oswego schools take advantage of all that community money to offer great programs to students.

I wouldn't move to Lake Oswego because I wouldn't like it. It's very suburbia, very sterile, very white. But if I were a parent, its exceptional schools might draw me there despite my qualms with the comminuty.

Be sure you give your kid (and wife and yourself) the opportunity to leave Lake No-Negro every once and a while so you can get the great education from the school district without being too constricted. They say this is a terrific part of the country for young families, and there are many opportunities to introduce your son to diversity outside of your comminuty. Just make sure you take advantage of those opportunities and not get stuck in the Lake O. bubble.

Good luck.
posted by intoxicate at 1:17 PM on April 10, 2006

The only thing that would determine how hard/easy a time your kid would have in L.O. schools is the size of your house, and of your checkbook.
Around Portland, L.O. is considered to be the wealthiest, and usually the snobbiest suburb. The West Hills is also an incredibly wealthy area, but schools are on either side of said hills, so the kids must mix with kids of lower class in either Beaverton or west Portland. Generally not the case in L.O.
Wonderful area, I hear Clint Eastwood has a house on the lake. As far as racial intolerance, when I grew up in Beaverton not that long ago, Asians were the second biggest group next to whites. I honestly don't remember anyone hating asians. There did seem to be a lot of Mormons, but they weren't proselytizing in the streets or anything.
More than likely you'll love living here and your kid will too, once he/she gets adjusted
posted by efalk at 1:24 PM on April 10, 2006

It's very suburbia, very sterile, very white.

I don't think any of these describe Lake Oswego, except white. To me, Beaverton is suburbia, Tigard is suburbia, but Lake Oswego is not. In part because of its wealth, it's managed to escape the trap of the typical surburb, and seems somehow set apart, insular. (Of course, it may be this insularity that causes the wealth, and not the reverse.) I also wouldn't consider the place sterile. It has a rich and vibrant community, a strong arts program, etc.

Wealthy and white, yes; a sterile suburbia, no.
posted by jdroth at 1:32 PM on April 10, 2006

I grew up in Portland. We always called it Lake No Negro to mock it. I describe it as the place rich white christians go to be safely away from the scary brown poor people. Classism trumped racism though as far as motivation went.

On the other hand, I hear that they haven't gutted their public education system quite as much as Portland has. (also worth noting, many people who live in LO seem to think they live in Portland, they don't.)
posted by Shutter at 2:05 PM on April 10, 2006

I went to school in Oregon with lots of Mormons and never, ever got recruited or pitched or had anyone attempt to convert me at all.

Your kid will be fine in LO. Like anywhere else, he'll find friends he likes and is comfortable with. Oregon is a great place to have a family. Although the state is very largely white/christian it's very tolerant and understanding as a whole. If you want more diversity but don't want to move to the big city (Portland) you could try Eugene or Corvallis. Both towns have decent international flavor because of the universities. Or you could move to Beaverton. I know there's lots of hispanics there but there must be lots of asians too since the Washington Square Mall is full of them. Further out is Hilsoboro or Woodburn, both nice places as well.

If you can stand the rain, Oregon is a great place. The only "crappy" towns are probably Salem and Albany.
posted by b_thinky at 3:38 PM on April 10, 2006

Me and my Korean wife and kid lived in Tualatin for about a year. We never had any problems other than difficulties in finding a good Korean grocery store.
posted by forforf at 3:58 PM on April 10, 2006

I go to school with quite a few Mormon kids and have never had problems with people talking to me about religion (I'm an athiest). Actually, a good friend of mine is the son of a Mormon man and a Japanese woman who met while his dad was on his mission trip. Although Plano, my town, has a high Asian population... I can't speak for Oregon but I doubt any Mormons will have a problem with your son because he's half Asian; at least, a problem stemming from religion. Bigots come in all shapes, sizes, colors, religions, etc etc etc.
posted by MadamM at 4:03 PM on April 10, 2006

There is hardly any negative racism twoard asians in the US. If anything, Asians are looked at as hard working, smart, etc. I can't imagine an Asian getting a hard time anywhere in the US these days.

Also, Mormons are pretty nice. It's always possible they might manage to convert your kid though.
posted by delmoi at 5:34 PM on April 10, 2006

You could do a lot worse than living in a neighborhood populated by Mormons - the ones I've known have been among the most friendly, generous, accepting people I've ever met.
posted by zanni at 6:23 PM on April 10, 2006

If this helps, my brother (a white American and a lawyer, like you) and his wife (Korean) life in Lake Oswego with their Asian-American son. They've never reported problems on the raciial front, and they seem quite happy there.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:09 PM on April 10, 2006

I was sent to reform school in Provo, Utah as a teenager. Provo is incredibly densly packed with Mormons; I don't have exact numbers but it was definately over 90% LDS. I'm mixed, like your son (half white and half Mexican). I never experienced any sort of racism. A huge tenet of Mormonism is that the Book of Mormon should be translated in every language possible and spread to every country. It was actually pretty funny to me that all these small town religious folk who wore special underwear* and didn't drink Coke and said gosh darn had been to all these strange, exotic places. I passed time by studying Korean from a battered old copy of a Missionary's Guidebook to the Korean Language.
I met a lot of interesting people. Real nice folk. Being a teenager surly enough to be sent to an out of state reform school, I automatically assumed anyone LDS was automatically "not cool." I was surprised by all the artists, the fans of obscure musics, the readers of fine books. Being religious doesn't always mean boring. Sure, you won't like everyone, but I live in a mostly gay neighborhood in a liberal city now and I still don't like everyone.
Actually, I have an interesting fact about LDS, one I only remembered because your son is Asian. I'm a little sketchy on my Book of Mormon, but basically they believe that the Pacific Islanders and Native Americans are God's Chosen People, who fled Jerusalem to set up camp in the US. I'm not sure how they work it out that all the white present day Mormons are also God's Chosen People, but they do. LDS is very popular with Pacific Islanders and Native Americans because of this. However, science is pretty sure that Native Americans and Pacific Islanders came from Asia, by way of the Bering Straight. Recently, a Pacific Islander Mormon got genetic testing hat revealed that he was genetically decended from...I'm not sure how to say this because there's not quite such thing as "the asian race" but you know what I mean. That he had pretty much nothing in common genetically with any flee-ers of Jerusalem. You can look up the article, but he was pretty crushed.
I also hope I haven't offended any LDS Mefites. I really do have a pretty positive view of Mormons; a better one than before I lived in Utah. I just happen to not believe in the same things, and also I make fun of pretty much everyone.

*Yeah, I didn't know about that one before I went to Utah. Very modest. I'm actually more exposed in my tank top and miniskirt right now than a devout LDS man would be in his skivvies. Also, LDS girls: your granny called, she wants her panties back.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:06 PM on April 10, 2006

Have you looked at homes in the Portland metro area? I was thinking, with the money you could save by buying in PDX instead of Lake O, you may be able to afford to send your son to a great private school like Catlin Gable AND live in an area with culture.

Portland has many many small, family-friendly neighborhoods that could be much preferable to Lake Oswego. Don't give up on looking in the city unless you have a good reason to. It is one of the best cities to raise kids in that I know of.
posted by intoxicate at 9:35 PM on April 11, 2006

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