South Seattle Latino Community Dormant No More

by drea chicas

Families gathered for “Latino Family Night” at Graham Hill Elementary last week. During the evening, parents advocated for their children’s education and listened to Mrs. Jeri Gonzales Abrams, an immigration lawyer, who presented critical information on Obama’s new executive actions. Additionally, Gonzales explained different pathways to citizenship so families could have the right information on issues of immigration. The sight of Latinos gathering was beautiful and rare. These negative stereotypes ascribed to the Latino community are most often assumed:

“Latinos have no political clout in South Seattle.” “Latino parents don’t care about their children’s education because they don’t join the PTSA.” “Latinos face a language barrier and therefore aren’t civically engaged in matters that affect the South End community.”

Forming an inspiring presence at Graham Hill last week revealed the opposite—we care. One of the most upsetting realities about the South End is that Latinos live in the shadows of many other ethnic groups, despite being a growing population. In South Seattle there is no central community center; there are no preschools; and there are certainly no public or artistic spaces for the Latino community and in the Spanish and Indigenous languages. However, it’s not because we’re not present. No. Our presence is strong and growing. We are the fastest growing ethnic group in the state of Washington. One reason there is no representation of and for the Latino community is that we as a community are not politically organized. The 98118 area is described as one of the most “diverse and eclectic places on earth” by South Seattle Emerald, yet the seeming lack of Latino presence here is troubling.

Raising children in Seattle and in US American society in general is tough for immigrant parents. Jessie Jimenez who works for the Seattle School District interfaces with many parents who are immigrants says, “our Latino parents often feel helpless raising their children in this society.” Perhaps in South Seattle the hardship is exacerbated by the socio-political fragmentation of the Latino community made worse by the absence of gathering spaces.

The South End urgently needs a community cultural center or space that has been envisioned, designed and built by Latinos. One Latino run and operated social service organization in South Seattle, Consejo’s, a mental health organization, is one resource, but it is tucked away, and the nature of their work is delicate. So although the building is colorful with Latin American inspired art, the space is not a social gathering place.

The implications of a gathering place has a strong impact on community stories that emerge–a narrative rarely captured is voiced. At the meeting, one parent declared, “We need to be more organized. We need to participate in our children’s school and volunteer at least half an hour a week.” After Mrs. Gonzales Abrams gave her presentation many mothers and fathers were eager to learn more and rushed up to ask questions.

As Latino parents rear their children in a dominant culture that is not their own, it will be critical for organizations to seek the input of Latino families and their children. Culturally competent, Spanish and indigenous-Latino language speaking leaders must unite and tell authentic stories of the people. The gathering at Graham Hill was a successful first step.

drea chicas- who prefers her entire name appear in all lower case letters- lives, works and worships in South Seattle

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