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Racial Justice Listening Session Notes with One America.

13 Aug 2020

City of Vancouver: Racial Justice Listening Session with One America

July 28, 2020, 5:30-7:30 p.m.

The City of Vancouver held a community forum via webinar for the City to listen and learn about race, racism and racial justice issues with members of One America. The following summary reflects high-level notes from the participant comments. Nine members of One America shared comments and approximately 14 members joined the webinar. (Note: there may have been duplication for some who joined by both webinar and phone and translators were also participating).

The meeting included both English and Spanish language interpretation through Zoom. Since the technology was not working for Spanish into English translation, this summary includes key themes from comments provided in English. In addition to the notes, observations and recommendations are offered for any future City listening sessions.

One America comment highlights:


  • One America is the largest immigrant and refugee organization in Washington state. It was founded immediately after September 11, 2001 to fight against discrimination and promote democracy and justice in communities of color.
    1. In Southwest Washington, members are focused on community organizing and elevating members into positions of power. One America’s theory of change model begins with community organizing, promoting leaders, and creating the space to form policies, institutions, and political movements, and that impact the lives of immigrants and refugees.
  • In 2017, when the current administration took office there was a lot of hate against immigrant and refugee communities. One America has put in a lot of work to push back against these attacks and to advance immigrant rights, which is exhausting.
  • One America is eager to be part of community conversations leading to real change. A member shared it was a tragedy that their Black brothers and sisters had to die because of racism and discrimination.

Immigrant and refugee backgrounds and experiences

  • The Latino community is a diverse community with different needs.
  • Members shared that during the meeting the City would hear the voices of documented and undocumented immigrants who are Vancouver residents. Residents serve essential functions and are represented in many ways throughout the community, such as:
    1. Store employees
    2. Business owners
    3. Classmates
    4. Co-workers
  • Participants providing comments had diverse backgrounds including:
    1. A 20-year Vancouver resident
    2. A 3-year Vancouver resident
    3. Graduate student at Washington State University Vancouver
    4. First generation Indigenous Mexican immigrant
    5. Immigrant from El Salvador
  • Participants shared their individual experiences as an immigrant and refugee:
    1. Their U.S. born children have more privileges than they do.
    2. Some have challenges with identity, heritage, and belonging that stem from racism in this country.
    3. Some made a long, difficult journey to get to this country and fled from violence in their home country.
    4. While working every day, it is a challenge to have time remaining to learn a new language and new skills.
  • Immigrants and refugees pay taxes, they are entrepreneurs, and contribute to the community. They contribute significantly to business income and make the economy stronger. They are neighbors and an essential part of the community.
    1. Participants shared key statistics about the contributions of immigrants and refugees to society, such as 19% of the labor force in Washington state are from immigrant led households and immigrants paid an estimated $360 million in local taxes in 2018.
    2. Latinos make up 10% of the Vancouver community, yet many are afraid to speak.
    3. Immigrants and refugees want to learn how to participate actively in the community.
  • Immigrant and refugee communities are working hard to provide a better life for their children and their resilience is so strong.
  • Many participants shared how One America has helped empower and support its members through trainings and educational opportunities.

    Racism in Vancouver
  • Participants described barriers with access to services and public benefits.
    1. While there is are asylum opportunities for Latin Americans, there isn't a "refugee-status" designation, therefore people from Latin America (Including Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries) Asylum seekers- have to make the trip to the U.S. border to apply for asylum. Many are intimidated about of the U.S. system, especially those who are undocumented. People can take advantage, such as employers who pay less than minimum wage.
    2. A Vancouver resident wanted to start his own food cart. Information was not easy to find on the City of Vancouver website and was not available in Spanish. It was challenging to navigate the system and is unfair there are so many barriers to opening a business in order to support their families.
    3. A member applied for an opening at the City of Vancouver multiple times and has never made it past the first round of screening. Barriers are experienced by BIPOC that may be invisible to white counterparts. Hiring practices should be revised to encourage diverse candidates to apply. The people who represent the local government should look like the diversity of the community they serve.
  • Immigrants and refugees have been blamed for many issues and have been belittled and humiliated. They have faced systemic racism in workplaces, housing, and school.
  • A member noted they learned of systemic racism for the first time at Clark College, but did not learn about it at Ft. Vancouver High School, even though it is a hub for international students.
  • COVID-19 has exposed many of the issues that BIPOC community members deal with daily.
    1. Many undocumented immigrants serve in essential roles and are not able to work from home. Others have faced job loss during the pandemic due to impacts to the service industry.

One America’s goals

  • Members shared the following goals to achieve equity and inclusion for immigrant and refugee residents in Vancouver:
    1. Work toward equal access to power and opportunity for all communities
    2. Show communities we care and are here for them
    3. Actively work to dismantle racism
    4. Maximize potential of immigrants and refugees
    5. Promote a sense of belonging and appreciation of differences
    6. Provide a more inclusive role in leadership and policymaking
    7. Eliminate barriers that prevent immigrants and refugees from prospering
    8. Provide materials in languages other than English and centralize information for Spanish-speaking communities so they know where to go, especially using mobile devices

Commitments and next steps

  • Members shared their appreciation for the listening sessions and hoped to create a real relationship and partnership with the City.
  • One America supported the City of Vancouver’s statement on July 6 acknowledging systemic racism in the community. They felt Vancouver has the opportunity to be a leader in Washington State.
    • They also asked the City to express to Clark County that there is systemic racism in the County. One America was impacted by the Clark County Chair saying that it is not an issue in Clark County.
    • Mayor McEnerny-Ogle said the City would send members a copy of the letter that the City sent to Clark County about this topic. She said they would continue to work toward the City and Clark County working together as partners to address systemic racism.
  • One America offered to help share information among their members.

One America asked to participate in more conversations in two to three months after the listening sessions conclude. The City of Vancouver will invite One America to future discussions.

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