LANSING | When the football programs at Thornton Fractional North and T.F. South high schools take to the gridiron each year, they play for a special trophy that is supposed to represent the ethnic origins of their hometowns.
In the case of Lansing, that trophy depicts a wooden shoe, symbolic of the Dutch immigrants who were among the earliest white settlers of what is now Lansing. But the modern-day composition of the south suburb’s residents is much different.
The Census Bureau population count taken in 2010 had Lansing at 28,331 residents — of whom 59 percent were white, although 7 percent were Latinos who identified themselves racially as white.
Another 32 percent of Lansing’s 2010 population was African-American, while 15 percent identified as Latino, with people of Asian ethnic origins accounting for nearly 1 percent. Seven percent were born outside the United States, while 14 percent spoke a language at home other than English.
The African-American population growth is significant, since the Census Bureau count showed Lansing with a 17 percent black population in 2000. But with only 6 percent of its population being Latino 13 years ago, the latter group is the “fastest-growing” group living in Lansing, said Village President Norm Abbott, 73, a lifelong Lansing resident.
“This has become a diverse community, one that is more interesting for all the people who live here,” Abbott said.
The Census Bureau report indicated 16 percent of businesses in Lansing were owned by African-American people, while saying the numbers owned by other ethnic groups were too small to count.
But Abbott said he has noticed the growing Latino population resulting in a larger number of new Mexican-inspired businesses, primarily in the form of restaurants, but also a bakery and ethnic grocery stores.
“We had Hispanic restaurants in the past in Lansing, but now we have many more to pick from,” Abbott said. “It’s a variety that’s to the benefit of everybody.”
There also have been times in recent years when officials with Lansing School District 158, in their efforts to keep parents apprised of certain issues involving their children, have sent out notices in Spanish to ensure they are properly understood.
The school district also is contemplating whether to begin offering Spanish language classes to students at the sixth-grade level. Currently, the district offers Spanish to seventh- and eighth-grade students at Memorial Junior High School.
Earlier this year, Abbott was re-elected as village president, defeating challenger and former village trustee Donald Sciackitano, who tried appealing to the growing ethnic and racial minority population of his lifelong hometown.
Despite his political defeat, Sciackitano said it only made sense to reach out to the growing segment of Lansing’s residents, whom he said are able to live among each other in relative harmony.
“I live on a block with about five or six African-American families and five or six Hispanic families, and we all manage to get along,” he said.
During his campaign, Sciackitano held events that were meant to appeal to those new populations, and he said he hopes that municipal officials in the future are able to work them into the official events the village holds for local residents.
“There are things related to Black History Month or to Cinco de Mayo (a Mexican holiday) that could be done,” he said. “It is evident that we’re in a changing Lansing.”
Not that the old population is gone from Lansing. Any look at local businesses or families will find traces of Dutch or German names, and many multigenerational Lansing families still populate the local church congregations whose origins trace back to those early settlers.
It should be noted that Sciackitano tried putting together a political slate of candidates that included black and Latino people to run for village trustee, and those candidates got the least number of votes in this year’s municipal elections.
Abbott said those Dutch-oriented church congregations provide a unifying point for those residents, particularly when coming together as a coalition for election support.
“The Dutch, they’re still strong in the community,” Abbott said. “I found in my relationship with the churches in the community that they can come together to vote.”
But Sciackitano said he expects the Latino and black populations to increase their Lansing influence with the passage of time.
“If we reach out to them, they will become a lot more involved in the community,” he said. “They will become a strong part of Lansing, which I think remains a great place to live.”