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Billings mayor brings cultures together for celebration dinner

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Posted at 7:35 PM, Mar 03, 2023

BILLINGS - The second annual Mayor's World Languages Dinner in Billings has doubled in size with 320 people and 45 languages.

While those numbers aren't official, some statistics show more of an international connection in Billings.

International flags draped from the ceiling on the second floor of the Northern Hotel for the Friday dinner.

"I kept running into people who were not from the United States here in Billings, which is the most ethnically and linguistically diverse city by far of any city in Montana," said Billings Mayor Bill Cole.

And it's becoming more diverse, according to the U.S. Census.

While 87% of Billings is white, Billings American Indian population has grown 13% in 10 years, the African American population is up 25%. Billings Asian Pacific Islanders population has also increased by 42%.

Cole said Billings has also seen more people whose first language is not English.

"You have a sense of belonging when you also have a group of Spanish speakers," said Maggie Arbuckle. "It doesn't matter where they're from."

Arbuckle is from Bolivia. She says it's been important for her to connect with other Spanish-speaking people, such as Luly Borla.

"We share traditions and we share things that we know, our language or food," Borla said.

Borla is from Venezuela and has called Montana home for 21 years.

"It's always nice to connect with the people that are from other countries and understand your culture," Borla said.

"I love to see different people," Arbuckle said.

And for the mayor, that's what Friday night's dinner is all about - celebrating what makes billions distinct and sharing the commonalities.

"Virtually everybody here is an American," Cole said. "Virtually everybody here is a Montanan. And almost everybody is from Billings, Montana. And this is home."