Civic Engagement

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The Seattle Times in the last year has published three major reports on the growing Latino presence in Washington State that have put into perspective the single most important population and cultural change affecting this area. They have brought into focus the key issues of discrimination, isolation, and participation in public square. Most important, they have raised both the facts and the issues not as Latino concerns, but as problems and opportunities we all must face together.

The work of Latino workers has for decades been important for rural communities in our State. Now Latinos are poised to be a key factor for the economic growth of the entire State. Beyond economics, Latino culture can enrich our arts and strengthen traditional American values of family and community. But all of this will be determined by the ability of Latinos to participate freely and effectively in our Democratic institutions. However, as the three articles in the Seattle Times points  out, there are significant barriers to overcome in order for this to happen.

This year, the State Legislature was been asked to address growing gang violence in our State. Much of this activity is taking place in rural communities, communities that have historically been mostly free of this activity. The growth of gang activity has been particularly pernicious among Latinos, but its effects have readily spread to all members of the small towns and cities where it is now occurring. There are many reasons why this is occurring- poverty, racial conflict, failing education systems, drugs to name a few. But history shows that the basic reason for gang development among youth whatever the population is the sense of exclusion, powerlessness, and a lack of a future. Whatever the causes, it is clear that it will take the entire community to find effective solutions to this important problem.

Unfortunately, this year when the participation of the Latino community in solving the gang issue was critically needed, there was only one representative from that community among the ninety-eight members of the State House. Across the State small towns and school districts with a majority Latino population do not have a even one Latino member on the city council or school board.  The lack of representation of the Latino community is not only a root cause of issue we face, it also leaves us far short of the practical experience and insight we need to solve this problem.
Through the leadership of IWF director, Luis Moscoso, and in collaboration with the Latino Civic Alliance and businesses and community groups across the state, IWF is working to engage the Latino community and develop the recognition of its leadership.  In this way we can include all voices in the definition of community problems, like gang violence, and in finding the path forward.  This path will ultimately be founded on the mutual respect that can only come from the rule of law blind to personal characteristics, particularly in its most basic manifestation- the equal opportunity to participate and vote.

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