Why you should care
Because the poster child of White privilege is taking on a global hue.
Greenwich, Connecticut, has been called the hedge fund capital of the world, a city of less than 100,000 that nonetheless hosts three of the planet’s biggest firms and serves as the personal home and backyard of Ray Dalio, the mega-fund founder of the biggest firm, located just a few train stops away in Westport. Named after a royal borough of London, it has been the backdrop for dozens of films and television shows trying to capture classic tableaux of New England artifice and wealth — most evidently in the 1975 movie The Stepford Wives, which lampooned the lives of submissive, lily-white housewives of the so-called Gold Coast.
So perhaps it is unsurprising that after walking into a local restaurant you immediately overhear a white-collared man with graying hair begin a speech to his dinner companion by saying, “After the market crashed … ” in his low-timbre voice. Or that you find yourself seated next to an environmentalist-turned-junk bond trader and his wife taking out their youngest son’s girlfriend for dinner and insisting that she is now “part of the family.” Almost every seat is some iteration of this … just as you’d expect.
And yet, despite the homogenous feel, there are signs of change in Greenwich. Here at the Boxcar Cantina, they aren’t serving up generic American fare, but Northern New Mexican cuisine — a blend of Native American and Spanish influences often doused in red or green chiles, with a healthy dose of herbs and vegetables grown in the restaurant’s raised garden beds. At the turn of the millennium, a few years after the restaurant opened, nine-tenths of residents in Greenwich were White. But that’s changing, and quickly.
Minorities made up only 10 percent of the Greenwich population in 2000 but now 26 percent of residents are Black, Asian-American or Hispanic.
Both figures are based on U.S. Census data, the latter from 2018. The ripple effect isn’t just being felt in the food scene, but in the education system as well, says Kimberley Eves, the communications director for Greenwich Public Schools. The minority school population in the district has doubled, rising to 38 percent from 19 percent in 1998 — a huge increase from just 6 percent in 1980. And other forms of diversity have grown too. Socioeconomic, for one: Last year, 15 percent of students qualified for free or reduced lunches compared to 6 percent two decades before, Eves says. And the international presence has expanded too, with a full 13 percent of Greenwich-area students having been born in another country, and a fifth whose primary language is not English. “We have in our schools a mix of students who come from incredibly wealthy families and those who do not have those means,” Eves says.
As the number of ethnicities expands, teachers have been put through culturally relevant teaching programs and take-home documents are being translated into Spanish. The small city’s international air is helped by its proximity to New York City and its reputation for hosting wealthy businesses, with many Chinese, Japanese, French and British workers relocated to the area and its financial sector roots. As a result, the local public magnet Julian Curtiss School, named after the Spalding president and golfing promoter, has a decidedly global flair: its motto is “60 countries, 30 languages, one great school” and it hosts a parade each year to celebrate United Nations Day.
Sabine Schoenberg, a longtime Greenwich resident who grew up in Germany, notes that the area has always had some international presence … but it hasn’t always flaunted it. “We don’t have parades. We don’t have the German club, the South American club. But what we do have is people from around the globe, and everybody seems to just integrate,” says Schoenberg, a co-president of the city’s outreach arm Think Greenwich. When the western end of town, known for its lower-income Latino population, needed renovations to its library and pool, many of the wealthier residents were signing five-figure checks to start the rebuild. “I’ve walked around Greenwich beach, and I must have heard five or six different languages spoken,” she adds.
The city can’t totally escape its exclusive image. When asked about quintessential Greenwich things to do, locals mention the country club, ice skating rinks on private estates and invitations to ritzy house parties. Poorer residents are bound to get left out of those experiences. And privately, some older homeowners gripe about the rising Chinese and Russian populations acting like “they own the fucking place,” as one person complained. “We’re not fighting the Cold War here, but they come in and build these unbelievably grotesque homes, tear down beautiful Connecticut farmhouses and buy up hundreds of acres of land.”
So not everyone is happy. But the positives of diversity are mostly lauded by residents. “There is a perception that we are a fairly homogenous community, and it’s not accurate and hasn’t been for quite some time,” Eves says. The world is coming to Greenwich and, in many ways, Greenwich is becoming a bit more like the world.