What is a Culturally Distinct Community (CDC)?

A Culturally Distinct Community is one that has shared characteristics and practices that distinguish it from other communities. They create and experience distinct social worlds and curate their heritage practices. A CDC’s cultural practices are rooted in place and evolve over time. For example, the Chicano community of East San José is culturally distinct from one in South Central LA.

People belong to different identity groups – social, personal or cultural. While the current Atlas data focuses on cultural identity, the same approach can be used to identify and map CDCs based on social, personal or intersectional identities.

Finding and naming a CDC requires significant community engagement, relationship building, and equity work. Each CDC has the opportunity to define their own unique assets, which are included in the Atlas. What we present here is just a starting point for more nuanced understanding of our local communities as we work to increase visibility and build belonging for all.

How are you ensuring that the privacy and security of data is maintained?

All of the data in Atlas as of May 2024 has been collected from publicly accessible sources. Those data layers will remain available to the public. The Atlas will only display data on individuals if they have given express written permission to do so.  Individuals may revoke the permission at any time.

The Atlas data is valuable to many entities – some of which may seek to use it for purposes that are not aligned with Mosaic’s vision for the Atlas and may cause harm to the communities.  We plan to create a Data Use Review Board to review all requests for data, evaluate their merits and alignment with our principles before granting access with requisite agreements in place.  The Board will consist of community members and other stakeholders from Government, nonprofits, and academic experts.

How can I reach out to make a correction or add information?

The Atlas Explorer Map has an option to submit errors or omissions on the top menu bar. Additionally clicking on an asset on the map brings up a pop-up window which also provides a link to report errors. When you are reporting an error or omission, please be as detailed as possible so our research team can follow up. Include things like the name of the item, an approximate address, and some background information on what needs to be changed or added. Please also include your contact information so we can follow up with you directly to learn more.

  • If you have additional data you’d like to visualize we’d love to hear from you! Please contact atlas@mosaicamerica.org 


How did the Atlas team find points for the map?

The Atlas research team started with communities connected to country of origin using American Community Survey data as a seed list (information that can point toward potential trends and provide surface-level insights). 

From there, the team conducted additional secondary research through a variety of online sources using search engines, websites, social media, business and nonprofit filings and more.   We then reach out to members of the CDC to invite them to review the data, add to it and offer any insights and advice that might help us better capture the community and its assets accurately.  

We have a team of SJSU student researchers from various disciplines such as Anthropology, Geography and Ethnography who follow new leads and make recommendations for additions to the Atlas.

How is Atlas updated?

Updating Mosaic Atlas is an ongoing and iterative process. Our research team checks our data points at regular intervals to ensure the data is current and adds new layers when national data sets are updated. As the Atlas continues to evolve, we plan to develop automatic processes for updates which will then be validated by our team.

Community input into updates is just as important as our own research and validation. We have also built in mechanisms to hear directly from community members about our data- we can be contacted through the Atlas to report errors or omissions and we accept suggestions for inclusion through email. Don’t hesitate to reach out!


How do communities benefit from the Atlas?

The Atlas is a great tool for building community in place- it provides important insights about our neighborhoods and connects people to place, history, and each other. The Atlas and Story Maps can be used to show others an authentic representation of a community, countering potentially harmful narratives and stereotypes that others hold. 

Communities can use the Atlas to make themselves more visible to others, including community organizers, advocates, policy makers, and program developers. It helps to connect allies and co-conspirators, collaborators, and community leaders to build social cohesion, increase civic engagement, and create more inclusive communities. 

The Atlas research team is guided by a community stakeholder advisory group so community members can be involved in the development and dissemination of Atlas. The community stakeholder advisory group helps to ensure equitable growth and responsible use of the Atlas, while our online feedback forms allow for community input on desired features, errors, use cases, and more.

Is the Atlas ready to use?

At present, the Atlas is populated with 3700+ data points with verified information from our research team. The Mosaic Atlas will evolve throughout its development and lifetime. We may never consider the data to be “complete” as we continue to iterate on existing data and add nuance. 

We are now making Atlas publicly available to allow community members to validate and expand the data and to suggest ideas for enhancements that will make the tool useful to advance equity and community cohesion.  Head over to the Atlas explorer page to use the Atlas and let us know what you think! 


What are some potential applications of the Atlas?
  • Community Organizers – can use the data on Atlas to elevate the needs of their communities and affect systems change. With detailed and nuanced Atlas data, CDCs will be disaggregated from larger categories that may invisibilize important differences in service provision, access to resources, or community involvement. Atlas provides common language through data points and Story Maps for Community Organizers and their audience(s) to better understand each other and work together.
  • Artists- With Mosaic America’s roots in the arts, we have included information on local arts organizations, museums, performance venues, etc. to increase the reach of local artists across our region. An artist may use the Atlas to discover new collaborators, engage new audience members, or find new places to share their work.
  • Program Developers- Can use CDC information to guide community outreach plans, design programs that speak to the community values of their target population(s), and leverage community strengths to bridge the gaps that exist between access and adoption or  between programs and participation.
  • Educators–Involve your students in the process of discovering cultural arts. Use the Atlas in your classroom activities.  Reach out to the Mosaic Atlas team to align your research interests with the organization’s.

These are just a few examples- let us know how you plan to use Atlas!

How is this funded?

Mosaic America developed the Atlas through an initial grant from the Hewlett Foundation.  More recently a research grant from Wallace Foundation has helped us expand the arts and culture asset mapping to San Francisco and San Mateo counties.

We are working to develop the Atlas to deliver concrete value to Government agencies, nonprofits and other direct service providers as they endeavor to design and deliver programs equitably and efficiently.  This will allow us to generate subscription and service revenue that will help with upkeep of the Atlas.