IN-DEPTH: Diversity in Killeen reflects America, but not necessarily Texas

Posted at 3:10 PM, Nov 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-19 22:24:30-05

KILLEEN, Texas — We hear a lot about diversity, equity and inclusion these days. After all, those principles laid out by our founding fathers, are what makes America strong.

So 25 News set out to find an example of that in Central Texas and it didn’t take long.

The most visible sign of a town’s diversity? Take a look at its restaurants.

“I love to find unique places to eat,” said Ashley Hudson.

The more countries we see represented in a city’s menus the more different types of people we’re likely to find.

“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever eaten before," Hudson said. “It’s very, very good.”

And anybody who’s been to Killeen knows this town has the widest variety of food and people in Central Texas.

Hudson comes from Killeen but she’s traveled all over.

"So I drove a lot and I love to find unique places to eat and Clerico is by far one of my favorite places,” she said.

Alejandro Peralta and his wife own and run Clerico across the street from Killeen High School offering food with flair, from Argentina.

Peralta first came to Killeen with his first wife but he says, 30 years ago, the transition wasn’t easy.

“We thought that moment in 1998 they're gonna be better for my language. A lot of Spanish speakers about in the 99 years not a lot of speakers around,” he explained.

He bounced back and forth between here and Buenos Aires some, before he and his second wife settled on Killeen for good, opening Clerico and offering the kind of food that attracted Hudson.

"The food is phenomenal. The service and the people are just absolutely great. They're so friendly. It's a mom-and-pop shop so I love to support small businesses,” she said.

"I went out there and he was very nice, he showed me the kitchen and all that and yeah, his service was outstanding,” said Killeen Mayor Jose Segarra.

Bringing culture to Killeen the way Alejandro Peralta brings a taste of Buenos Aires en este comida buena, for those of us looking for a good meal and a little something different.

“They told me they do want to try something new. And this is why we offer something different. You know, maybe they like it or not, but for the moment they come back so that means they do like thank you appreciate that,” said Peralta.

Because if we hadn’t told you about Clerico by now, Ashley sure would have.

"I tell everyone and they think I'm crazy because I'm like, oh, have you been to the Argentinian place and they're like in Killeen? I'm like, Yes, it's delicious. So yes, I told everybody about this place,” she said.

As Texas grows more diverse in its population, cities like Killeen become more important as they help show the benefits of many, working as one.

Insurance man Bill Kliewer says he’s learned a lot from the many different types of people who’ve become his neighbors in Killeen.

"These people oh, you learn a lot of things about bad people from every place, whether it be from Mexico, whether it be from Vietnam, whether it be from India, Pakistan. I mean, there are people here from virtually every place in the world," said Kliewer, Chairman of BKCW Insurance.

Census figures show Killeen is one of the most diverse cities in the country, but only in about the middle of the pack for Texas.

"The population want products and you've got to have the businesses to provide. So that also helps us retain population,” said John Crutchfield, of the Killeen Chamber of Commerce.

Crutchfield says a robust business community supports them all.

"A lot of our population comes from Fort Hood, that’s the reason for the diversity. There’s a demand for talent, and about 100 people get out of the army every month, and they’re a diverse group of folks. The more of them that we keep here, the better for us because We're growing our economy,” he explained.

Restaurants give us an easy way to gauge a town’s diversity, and Killeen has just about everything, from Peralta’s Argentinian restaurant, to Hawaiian Barbecue to even Caribbean food.

"Actually, that's probably one of my favorite things about Killeen is that you know, you have your mainstream restaurants too, but then there are so many options outside of just the traditional things even when you go over to Copperas Cove and it's like then you got the German influence and that's why it's really it's a really fun place to live,” said Hudson.

You’ll even find a decent Cuban sandwich in downtown Killeen.

In Killeen’s religious community you’ll find Koreans, in particular, well-represented.

"The community is not segregated. I mean, you don't have a portion of the town that Hispanic a portion of the town and it's black, or a portion of the town white. It's all melded together and very few places until recently," said Kliewer.

Killeen does have a crime rate a bit higher than the state or national average, but no definitive study has tied diversity to crime. In fact, these two recent studies report, more diversity often leads to less crime.

Killeen’s population includes people from almost every country in the world. Most are U.S. Citizens, and most work in healthcare or government jobs.

Killeen’s Mayor himself comes from Puerto Rico grew up in Chicago, and arrived through Fort Hood.

He calls Killeen’s diversity notable for its authenticity.

"I always kid around when I visit other cities, I see, you know, artists real diverse, it's real culture and saying, why is that because, you know, some other cities have these and I say, well, ours is because if you talk to the people that are running and guess what they are from the type of people from the wine restaurant, they are from Hawaii. You know, the people from El Salvador, people from Argentina, gun tourists, they're from their culture. So it's not somebody that's just, hey, I'm going to try this different food and maybe they visited a couple of really authentic, very authentic."

Others call Killeen’s immigrant population success driven.

“The gentlemen out their owns Taiwan dragon and recently retired and one of his children is now running that business but he came here as a refugee from Vietnam, actually slept in the building with his family for probably the first two years. They were in business,” said Kliewer.

It lead Kliewer to eventually help contribute to Killeen’s diversity in his own way, building this office complex modeled after colonial Williamsburg.

"I think Killeen is positioned very well in the future. We're a cosmopolitan community. I mean, you come here and it just becomes it becomes a part of your second nature because you see it every place you go," he said.