What a Beautiful Night in the Neighborhood. Would It Be Mine? Could It Be Mine?

This past Thursday, I went to a special neighborhood meeting that was called because a local non-profit, Casa Latina, wants to relocate all of its services to our neighborhood, and some of the neighbors are concerned. Frankly, some of them are terrified and, as usual, those damned isms are the culprit.

Racism, classism, and xenophobia, to be more specific.

See, Casa Latina is an organization with the purpose of helping mostly Latina/o immigrants to pursue work, education, and personal empowerment. They have ESL programs, women’s empowerment programs, and they also have an active day-labor center, which helps immigrant workers to find day-labor within more dignified conditions than they might otherwise find. Basically, they are doing really good, important work.

My neighbors all seem to agree. Except some of them don’t want that work to be done “in their backyard.” “Can’t you do your good work somewhere else, doesn’t our neighborhood have enough non-profits doing good work?” (actual statement) “Our neighborhood is finally moving away from being a social service magnet, this is taking us in exactly the wrong direction.” Basically, the message was: go help poor Latina/os elsewhere. Here they’re good enough to build our houses and cut our lawns, but god forbid that they actually stick around and set up shop here!

It seems that our neighborhood, Jackson Place (sort of within and between the International District and the Central District in Seattle, right along Jackson st.), is definitely undergoing a process of gentrification, with fancy condos going up and businesses moving in (target is also looking to relocate nearby), and so Casa Latina is exactly the kind of thing that some folks just don’t want. It’s bad for the property values, you know. More white professionals? All for ‘em! More poor brown people? What, what?!

So basically this is how the meeting broke down: the majority of the members were older Asian folks, with some older white folks. The majority were against Casa Latina (but this was just the last in MANY community meetings about this project…and this one was organized by the angry neighbors who seem to have not have heard about the MANY other meetings!), and there were a handful of us who welcome Casa Latina. Also, there were a number of women from the Casa Latina board strongly and clearly defending their project and their organization, and there were two Mexican immigrant men who spoke very emotionally and painfully about the effect that racism and distance from their homes has caused them here in Seattle.

In my view, the “antis” already had their minds made up before the meeting even started. The majority of them were defensive, distrusting, and snotty as hell…basically insinuating that Casa Latina has been planning this project deceptively and with some kind of sweetheart deal with the city, and that they are trying to sneak these new offices onto our streets without telling any of us. When the women strongly explained that this was not the case, it seemed like most of the folks weren’t listening. And there’s a reason for this: the isms had drowned out all other noise in the room.

Only five minutes in, the real issue was out in the open: the anger had nothing to do with lack of open communication or planning protocol or anything, and it had everything to do with the image of poor Latino men out on the street-corner waiting for work.

Latino men. That was the issue. Period.

“I’ve been living here twenty years and we have fought prostitution, drugs, homeless people, people sleeping in benches…and we are terrified of this. We don’t want you here in our neighborhood,” yelled the angry white man who then proceeded to interrupt pretty much everyone else in the room as the night went on.

“Just tell me, are these people legal, or are they illegal?” Another white man chimed in.

“Sir, we don’t ask.”

“Well, then you’re supporting criminals!”

“You don’t even do a background check? We have children going to school nearby, how can the city allow this?”

Fear. Fear. Fear. The image of Latino men, huddled together in the morning, speaking in tongues…who knows what they are saying in that language of theirs…perhaps they are planning on kidnapping our children…or selling drugs. You know, because drugs do come from, you know, those countries down there.

God, it was just a few rifles short of being a Minuteman meeting…and the sad thing was that some of those angry folks weren’t white…they were Asian. It was actually quite devastating, especially in that the “antis”‘ petition actually compared the deal that the city made with Casa Latina to the JAPANESE INTERNMENT! What the?!

There were some allies who spoke up, and the two Mexican men held their ground (even when one of them told the Asian folks that their minds had been poisoned by the racism of white people…every one gasped and laughed at him…despite him being completely right), and frankly Casa Latina is going to win this, because the actual majority of the neighborhood supports them…but it was so painful to watch as stereotypes just rolled along and just got worse.

But I could only smile during the last minutes, when things were really made clear. The old angry white man, who had been yelling and interrupting, all to much applause, decided to tell us a story about how there were three groups doing neighborhood break-ins. One group was caught, and they were three Latinos. (At this point, I loudly said, “OH GOD, here we go!”). He told us that they had climbed up and broken into like the third story of the building…

“They were Latinos who broke in like this. Not black people. Black people just do not break into buildings. Black people will break into your car, or steal other stuff, but they don’t break into buildings.”

And with that, I hope the rest of the “antis” really got to see what position they were associating themselves with. The same old bullshit, dressed up as civic concern for the neighborhood. Those old White Citizen’s Councils were all about being civic minded as well.

Every day more lines are drawn in a not-so-new war against immigrants. Before Thursday, I didn’t know that our own block would end up being a battlefield.

Viva Casa Latina…

Pero, realmente, viva la revolucion…porque una chiquita organizacion como esa no va a poder ganar lo que realmente necesitamos…un cambio completo de este sistema tan injusto, corrupto y criminal. Poco a poco…

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Are you serious? It is a neighborhood issue, not race issue. This is an issue of putting a business that serves over 12,000 individuals a year (according to Casa’s exec, Hilary Stern) in a residential community.

My friend, you are more xenophobic than anyone at any of these meetings, and I was there with you.

Okay. I am up for discussing this a bit if you are. Seems like you might be if you somehow found this, my own personal blog, and have decided to comment on it.

Of course I would agree with you that it is ALSO a neighborhood issue, but that does not take away how racialized it is. You were there, you heard some of the comments that people were making, and how racialized so much of it was.

If you want to make a case that I am more xenophobic than ANYONE else at that meeting, go for it, I am listening because I certainly want to make some changes if that is how I seem.

Please, share some more of your analysis here.

Very well,

1.) We, the group of concerned citizens are made up of: Vietnamese/American, Chinese/American, African/American, Japanese, Caucasian (Italian, Irish, Swiss, German). We are being called racist by the Latino individuals within CASA Latina. How is it that we are racist? We are made up of many races.

2.) We are concerned about the location of this. Hilary claims to serve 12,000 individuals per year (This is inflated, however it is likely that many are served) and this is to take place in a residential neighborhood near schools, churches, elderly living centers, etc. This is NOT a good place for this.

3.) The ONLY reason this is being done is because Paul Allen wants them out of Belltown for his new building projects & Donald Trump is considering several parcels there and our city officials want them out of there.

4.) We, the citizens of this area have canvased the neighborhood and collected over 1,200 signatures of residents and 125 businesses that were not notified of the impending move until it was too late.

5.) Hilary Stern/Yvonne Sanchez and their group intentionally kept their move quiet and reported to the council that not only were there no objections in the community, but that we whole heartedly embraced their presence. The fact isthat we never knew they were coming.

6.) I find it odd that our city officials will give a group that promotes the hiring of undocumented individuals for cash under the table. I can not pay my employees cash under the table, if I did, I would be in big trouble with the gov’t. Hilary admitted that over 75% of their clientele are not legal.

7.) We have spent a great deal of time cleaning up this neighborhood and now we are going to bring in an agency that works with day laborers. Have you been to Home Depot? Have you been to Western Avenue? This is what we will have here, now.

I guess what i am trying to say is that NONE of us are looking at it from a race standpoint. We are looking at it from a behavior standpoint. The behavior of these individuals is poor due to the facgt that they are male & are day laborers that can not hold down a regular job. I have the same opinions of Operation Nightwatch, and they serve mostly mid 40’s white males. I do not want them here either. If I had to choose, I would take CASA Latina over Nightwatch, however, I am not happy with the placement of either. So i am paying through taxes to facilitate illegal activity and thereby condoning it and now i have to spend even more money to fight something my gov’t has dumped on me.

If you get a chance, read the article in the PI about CASA Latina and read the comments posted. it is quite interesting. Just Google: CASA Latina Seattle and click on the “News” baloon.

There is my two cents.

Okay. Thank you for you two cents.

Give me a day or two and I will respond to your points as I can.

Clearly you are actively involved in the opposition so that’s good to just know and have out there…so that I can have a sense of who found my blog and is responding to it.

Thank you for your time, Jeremy. I do look forward to hearing what you have found out. I will check your blog often. (I think a few others are watching it, too.) It is unlikely we will 100% agree, but if we all agreed, life would be pretty boring!

I have to add that I am not in opposition of CASA Latina’s presence here, infact I don’t think that any of us are. We are concened about the behavior that is associated with a day labor facility. We have looked into what that brings with it, and it is not good. I do have an issue with my taxes supporting an organization that assists undocumented individuals in gaining unlawful employment, but that is actually a seperate issue from the day labor clients issue.

Thanks again for writing (and hi to all other folks reading this!). By this weekend I will post my response.

In the meantime, let me just say that if you do read this blog beyond this one entry I wrote, you can tell that I am quite the radical (and a really sweet and shy one, at that), and so that clearly is a strong foundation for where I’m coming from on this or any issue. It also made me scared at first when I found that someone had just stumbled upon by blog and was reacting to it…this really isn’t intended for wide distribution…but google is a powerful tool, I guess.

Also (and I’ll write more about this in my response), my partner is Guatemalan, who knows people who have struggled very hard to make their way here in the US and so I am particularly sensitive to this issue…particularly as it relates to a larger context of a growing anti-immigrant backlash in this country.

See you soon.

None of us are anti-immigration, I believe. We are mostly children of immigrants and some are the grandchildren of immigration. Legal immigration. The three issues are:

1.) CASA Latina deceptively obtained money from our city and we are going to make certain that it does not happen again.

2.) CASA Latina wants to bring day laborers which CASA Latina admits are 75% illegal to a residential neighborhood.

3.) Our (yours, too) tax dollars are funding an organization which promotes under the table employment of illegal, undocumented individuals. We will not stand for this.

No need to be scared, I have no idea who you are. I know you live near my residence and/or business and that is all. I don’t even know if you are male or female. (assuming male) We have likely crossed paths, yet neither will ever know it.

I am delighted that you bloged on this topic. We need more conversation on this from both sides.

So I took a look at your blog and realized that this is a personal blog. Up to this point, I have only accessed this page. Possibly I have overstepped by posting this much on your personal blog. I did not intend to hijack your personal blog, I just happened to find it while searching google. I am sorry if this has caused an issue. Possibly you could move all of this over to another blog site if you want to continue this dialogue? Possibly you would prefer to just drop it and delete it? Quite obviously, your call.

Left-of-center

I would like to point out that this is truly an issue that we are having with our city council. If it was not for them, Casa latina would be out of business at this point. They have lost close to $150,000.00 in the last couple of years and their organization is dwindling. I honestly believe that the residents of this neighborhood will have to endure their presence for a year or two, however, once all of the truths surrounding Casa and it’s highly paid members is exposed, there will be such a public outcry that it will ultimitatly fail on it’s own.

Left-of-Center:

While you are ultimately correct that they will fail, the problem lies within the fact that it will take many more years for this area to no longer be a “pick up spot” for these day laborers and that they will hang out here.

I have seen what the day laborer presence has done to Hope Depot & Western Avenue. Both of those areas have become eyesores. None of us want this to happen to our area and we would like to clean up those areas.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but why are we spending tax dollars on what the city considers an illegal operation?