Welcome to America's Most Diverse City

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Many William Land Elementary students speak a language other than English

Sequoia Way is easy for travelers to overlook. Nestled in the middle-class neighborhood of Village Park on the south side of Sacramento, Calif., it is an unremarkable stretch of single-story frame houses. But if you stroll a bit along the winding road and visit Sequoia Way's residents, you will quickly realize there's something extraordinary about this street.

You will meet Tom and Debra Burruss, who moved onto the street a couple of years ago. He's black and she's white, but on Sequoia the interracial union doesn't stand out. The Burrusses' next-door neighbors are also minorities, a Vietnamese couple named Ken Wong and Binh Lam. Living directly across are the Cardonas, a Hispanic-and-white couple. And nearby are the Farrys, a Japanese- and-white pair. In fact, sprinkled throughout the street are more flavors than you can get at Baskin-Robbins—Mexicans, African Americans, East Indians, Asians, you name it.

Now head downtown to William Land Elementary School. Here the classrooms are so ethnically diverse that teachers are considering switching from celebrating individual cultural holidays, like Black History Month, Cinco de Mayo and Chinese New Year, to holding a multiethnic festival. Of Land's 347 kids, 189 speak a language other than English at home. Immigrant parents are so common in Sacramento's public schools that one child volunteered that her father is also a foreigner—he's from New York.

Or go over to Downtown Plaza mall and chat with teenage couples like Kayla, 17, and Gerald, 18. Kayla's mother is white, and her father is black; Gerald's mother is Japanese, and his dad is black. As they munch pizza in a bustling food court as diverse as a U.N. cafeteria, Kayla shrugs her shoulders at the notion of same-race friendships. "Personally, it doesn't matter what color you are," she says. "I am mixed, he is mixed, and most everybody is mixed."

So it goes in America's most integrated city, as determined in research for TIME by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University. In Sacramento everyone's a minority—including whites. Of the city's inhabitants, 41% are non-Hispanic white, 15.5% are black, 22% are Hispanic and 17.5% are Asian/Pacific Islander. Although many cities are diverse (think New York City or Los Angeles), in Sacramento people seem to live side by side more successfully. The city got that way thanks in part to affordable real estate for middle-class households (the black population has dropped in the Bay Area but increased in Sacramento over the past 10 years) as well as innovative housing programs for low-income families. In addition, state-government agencies and college campuses are sprinkled throughout the city, providing stable, well-paid, equal-opportunity employment.

But while Sacramento approaches an ideal for integration, it certainly isn't paradise. Beneath the multicolored surface, the city's 407,018 inhabitants vacillate between racial harmony and ethnic tension. You see a Sikh casually strolling into a Mexican restaurant for takeout, an Eskimo and a white punk hanging out together downtown. But you also see black and Hispanic parents outraged because their kids' test scores lag behind those of whites and Asians in integrated schools. And you hear Anne Gayles-White, the N.A.A.C.P. chapter president, saying "There's still too much hatred and racism in a city like this."

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