Laconia multicultural in sense that many nations are represented in the population but city is still 95% 'white'

LACONIA — During the 12 years since Multicultural Market Day, the city's annual celebration of ethnic and national variety now called the Multicultural Festival, debuted in 2001 the city has grown more diverse, but not by much.

In 2000, the population numbered 16,211, of whom 15,885, or 96.8-percent, were counted as "white" while 10 years later, the population had shrunk to 15,951 with the 15,073 "whites" representing 94.5-percent of the total.

Race, however, is only one measure of diversity, which masks the variety of ethnic groups and nationalities. For instance, the number of Asians in the city increased more than threefold between 2000 and 2010, from 120 to 391 while the number of Hispanics rose from 162 to 250.

Meanwhile, several groups of political refugees have been resettled in Laconia, most under the auspices of Lutheran Social Services. Carol Pierce, who chairs the Refugee Connections Committee, said that resettlement began with Laotians, Cambodians and Vietnamese escaping the turmoil in Southeast Asia and the Bosnians escaping the ethnic cleansing following the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

In 2005, more than a dozen Meskhetian Turkish families, orphaned, harassed and persecuted when the Soviet Union fell to pieces, were settled in the city. In 2007 and 2008, some 1,600 Bhutanese Nepalis, driven from Bhutan, after being branded illegal immigrants, denied gainful employment and stripped of political and property rights were resettled in New Hampshire, about 100 in Laconia.

Pierce said that a significant share of the resettled refugees have left the city, primarily to reunite with relatives, pursue employment opportunities or even seek warmer climes. Many of the Turks migrated to Kentucky where work, especially for the men, was more plentiful. The Bhutanese Nepalis, she said, have congregated in Concord. Consequently, said Pierce, immigrants — individuals who have emigrated to the United States through the conventional channels — now outnumber refugees in the city.

"We are still a resettlement community," Pierce said, adding that she anticipated New Hampshire would next become host to refugees from Myanmar, formerly Burma. "Most will likely be resettled in Nashua," she said, "but we may get some."

Refugees have traditionally been relocated in New Hampshire's cities, as opposed to in rural townships, because of the relative availability of affordable housing.

Altogether the Mayor's Human Relations Committee, which sponsors and stages the Multicultural Festival, counts people from 34 countries among the residents of the city: Turkey, Rwanda, Bhutan, Bosnia, Burundi, Columbia, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Iraq, Peru, China, Philippines, Laos, Palestine, Morocco, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Pakistan, Brazil, Guatemala, Sierra Leone, Malaysia, Thailand, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Croatia, Japan, Sudan, Lithuania, Albania, Spain, Puerto Rico and Cuba.

This years Festival will be held on Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., in an around Rotary Park.