The Ethnic Heritage Council of Seattle held an Ethnic Roundtable Conversation at the Nagomi Tea House on September 30, 2015. • Photo by Nicholas Nolin
The Ethnic Heritage Council of Seattle held an Ethnic Roundtable Conversation at the Nagomi Tea House on September 30, 2015. • Photo by Nicholas Nolin

The Ethnic Heritage Council of Seattle held their second, and final, Ethnic Roundtable Conversation at the Nagomi Tea House on Wednesday, September 30. After hosting the initial meeting at the Polish Cultural Center, the Ethnic Heritage Council came to the Chinatown-International District to raise awareness and discuss the matter of equity and social justice throughout King County.

The event was hosted by Matias Valenzuela and Ericka Cox of the King County Office of Equity and Social Justice and included approximately 35 community leaders.

While King County was praised for its considerable accomplishments of having a more educated workforce, higher average household income, and lower obesity rating than the national average, the issue of inequality, especially amongst visible minorities was presented as a matter of concern for King County residents. Areas of King County with the highest concentration of visible minorities are also more likely to witness delayed graduation rates, lower annual incomes, and an all-around lower quality of life. The issue of ethnic inequality proves to be critical to the future well-being of King County as it is expected to become a minority-majority area as soon as 2033.

In order to mitigate the deleterious effects of ethnic and racial inequality, the Ethnic Heritage Council and King County officials have highlighted several imperative areas to focus on. The targeted initiatives include increased access to health and educational services, safer and more efficient modes of transportation, and a more equitable law and justice system. A number of city programs were highlighted to demonstrate the efforts made to combat these concerns. In order to reduce the financial burden on low-income populations, the ORCA LIFT Reduced Fare Program was noted as a means for anybody earning at or below 200% of the federal poverty line to receive a subsidized rate on public transit. Additionally, attention was paid to the gains made in extending affordable health care and reducing the number of incarcerated youth.

However, over the course of the two-hour long meeting, substantive policy driven debate took a back seat to the less tangible matter of cultural cooperation and the need to foster a sense of inclusiveness amongst the different ethnic groups throughout King County. While tensions over the very nature and discourse of the meeting itself arose in regards to what particular ethnic concerns should be focused on, the diverse body of participants were able to come together and create a common ground where everyone was able to voice their concerns. Victoria Santos astutely observed that when combating an issue as sensitive as racial and ethnic inequality, “discomfort is necessary for reconciliation” and that while the conversations needed to create a more equitable King County may not always be pleasant, they remain essential. This interjection allowed for a number of controversial subjects that might otherwise be overlooked to be brought to the forefront. Amongst these subjects was the need to address the matter of mental health in various ethnic communities.

The most productive moments were found when the floor was yielded to the various community leaders. It was at this time that a number of key issues were put forward to help promote ethnic equity. Instead of espousing the particular concerns of a specific ethnic group, a cohesive and inclusive strategy was presented. While traditional policy issues such as affordable housing, access to good schools, and job growth were all mentioned, the points met with the most widespread approval were those that focused on mutual cooperation and promoting community leaders.

While a wide array of concerns were presented, two general themes prevailed. The first focused on establishing a means of open communication amongst the many different ethnic groups present in King County. Maryam Pedraza noted that ethnic groups may not be able to take full advantage of the services being offered to them if they only look within their own ethnic group for assistance. In order to facilitate a deeper level of interaction between different ethnic groups, cross-cultural training and improving communication methods were highlighted by the participants. The second point of focus centered on understanding the current transitions taking place within ethnic communities in Seattle and King County. Suggestions were made to increase the level of awareness regarding temporary migrants that come to King County to pursue educational or employment opportunities as they often lack access to community networks. Additionally, an emphasis on engaging the youth was heralded by several participants. Ethnic communities were also encouraged to support the younger generation as they have social media skills that older generations may lack.

While the Ethnic Heritage Council of Seattle’s roundtable produced a number of promising suggestions, it was widely acknowledged that in order to reduce the inequalities that currently plague King County, there must be a concerted effort between community leaders, businesses, philanthropic groups and political actors.

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