Last Friday night's community meeting with the state's Commission on Hispanic Affairs was a real eye-opener for me and very, very interesting for several reasons.
First, that meeting was the first time I ever needed a translator. It was a frustrating experience. I had an ear piece in one ear and had to tune out the person actually speaking and focus on the translator. It made the spirit of communication much more difficult than anything I've ever experienced, and I felt empathy for those who face this language barrier on a day to day basis. Hopefully, one would adjust the level of one's patience to compensate for it.
Secondly, I don't feel that much got accomplished at the meeting, except for the fact that the Hispanic commissioners walked away with an understanding of how frustrated Hispanic citizens who attended that meeting feel.
They tried to cram too many timed speakers into the event, including people who weren't on the agenda. English-speaking presenters had to pause every couple sentences while the stop-watch ticked away, waiting for their words to be translated.
A married couple from Walla Walla came to speak of successes in their community for making Latinos feel more a part of the community there. Because the husband (a monolingual English speaker) did most of the speaking, he had to keep stopping for translation while, again, the clock ticked away. The guy never got to finish. He ran out of time. What a long drive for basically nothing.
Then there was a guy from the Human Rights Commission, who was not on the agenda. I learned very little about his organization. He ran out of time, once again stopping while the translator did her job.
Another lady presented some information about the Employment Security Department. Evidently someone, somewhere, thought this had to do with Sunnyside's gang ordinance. The way I understood it, this meeting was for the purpose of discussing the city's newly implemented gang ordinance, of which not much was done.
What did come up, though, was the revelation of the percentage of Hispanics in Washington state (9 percent) and the percentage in Sunnyside (74 percent). What also came up was a complaint that too many Hispanics get arrested. Do the math. It makes sense to me that this would have more to do with demographics than bias.
Another thing that stood out was Interim City Manager Mark Kunkler's inability to answer the question as to how closely the city has worked with the Hispanic population. Seem's to me, now's a good time to note that the city council needs more Hispanics, just to keep up with the demographics.
I feel the meeting ended on a strange note with comments from Hispanic commissioner Victor Chacon, who, by the way, doesn't represent this area. He represents Asotin, Columbia, Garfield, Walla Walla and Whitman counties.
Chacon lectured the panel. In one breath he said there's a huge gap between mainstream culture and folks who work hard through the sweat of their brow...
This is the same man that said solutions will be short in coming if an "us and them" mentality continues.
I don't know what the spirit was behind the meeting, but I walked away with the impression of a very frustrated, and often angry, Hispanic community who was given no real next step of where to go in terms of their frustrations.
It was a venting session. Lots of problems. No tangible solutions or steps toward resolution.