King County employees had the opportunity to attend an April 26 May Day celebration focused on protecting immigrants and refugees that featured a panel of guest speakers and a spoken word artist.
More than a seasonal holiday celebrating the arrival of warm weather in the Northern Hemisphere, May 1 has also shared its stage as International Workers’ Day since the 1880s. “It’s interesting that in much of the rest of the world, May Day is Labor Day. But, increasingly, there is more activity and things that are happening around May Day here, nationally and locally in our region,” said Matias Valenzuela, Office of Equity and Social Justice Director. “Increasingly, too, our immigrant and refugee community has been very active, and the advocates have been very active during May Day as a period to fight for immigrant and refugee rights. That’s the connection that we have today, the focus on immigrant and refugee issues.”
More than 40 percent of King County’s recent population growth has consisted of those born outside of the U.S., more than one quarter of county families speak a language other than English at home, and more than 170 languages are spoken here.
Members of the panel shared stories of their organizational responses to immigrant and refugee concerns. The panel was moderated by Office of Equity and Social Justice Director Matias Valenzuela, and consisted of:
- Aneelah Afzali, founder and executive director of the American Muslim Empowerment Network, a new initiative launched by the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS)
- Mozart Guerrier, executive director of 21 Progress
- Diane Narasaki, executive director of Asian Counseling and Referral Services (ACRS)
- Hamdi Abdulle, executive director of Somali Youth & Family Club
- Mauricio Ayon, political director of Service Employees International Union Local 6.
“We are seeing a lot of fear and anxiety – as you can imagine – in light of what is happening, particularly at the time of the executive orders and the travel ban for those from Muslim-majority countries, and there are a lot of questions as well,” said Afzali, whose organization serves more than 5,000 families.
“How do we bridge the gap of all the amazing work that’s been done over so many years in this region, with folks deciding to retire – and the leadership gap – how do we make sure that the next generation of folks get the support, the skills, and the opportunity to take action in their own community so that this just doesn’t end right here, but so that we can continue to see this region progress and prosper?” asked Guerrier. “Half of my staff has varying levels of status, and almost all of us have people in our families who are undocumented, or who have had a criminalized experience. … Why aren’t we actually having concrete conversations around what access actually looks like, and not just simply making policies?”
Guerrier concluded with the thought, “When we think about migration, we often don’t think about race. Race is a very key element in how deportations occur.”
“We’re compelled to assist our community by educating the community about what’s going on, what their rights are, and what they can do in culturally competent and linguistically accessible ways,” Narasaki said. “This is why ACRS is joining with other organizations in hate crimes and ‘know your rights’ trainings to reach our community.”
Last month, King County Executive Dow Constantine and County Council passed a $750,000 funding strategy to help residents navigate the path to citizenship and support community organizations working in immigrant rights and education.
View the King County website for more information about current ESJ efforts.