News

Minority groups skip local politics

By AILEEN CHARLESTON, The Mirror

With less than three weeks until the Feb. 19 elections, voters will decide whether to change Federal Way’s form of government to one in which residents elect their mayor.

However, many minority communities in the city remain unaware of this divisive proposal that has been a central conversation point among city officials and local residents for the past several months.

The lack of presence from representatives of different minority groups in the area was evident during the Jan. 16 debate at Federal Way High School regarding the future of Federal Way’s form of government. At the debate, most of the people who attended were white.

Current city council member and former mayor Michael Park, a Korean American, said that the voting rate in Federal Way is very low — and that not only minorities but the general population as a whole is not interested in the city’s political outcomes.

“The reasons why particularly the Korean, Latino and Ukrainian communities don’t participate in politics is mainly due to language barriers and the fact that they have to make a living,” Park said.

A group of Korean residents said that their main concern was their own personal economy and their children’s education, not the city’s politics.

However, a representative from the Korean station Radio Hankook said there’s a demand for missing information.

“Fifty percent of the calls we receive at the station are from people asking how to get simple things like a Social Security number or a driver’s license,” said a Radio Hankook representative, who declined to give her name.

Francisco Ruiz, a local Hispanic businessman who has been living in the area for over 15 years, contributes to Federal Way’s economy through a privately-owned food business. He said that through all these years, he has never seen any real support from the city toward the Hispanic community, and therefore prefers to stay away from local politics.

Many cities around the area have a lot of groups and non-profit organizations that serve as an informative and helpful tool for Hispanics, but they exist because of city officials who support these types of programs, Ruiz said.

“The information that is available in Federal Way tends to be very local, and mostly geared toward the Anglo part of the community,” he said.

Most of the information available regarding local politics is provided in English. Language barriers typically generate disinterest in local politics for many Hispanics, where many tend to focus more on providing for their families, said Samuel Pagan, pastor at Federal Way Hispanic Adventist Church.

For the most part, local Hispanics lack the belief that they can contribute to a favorable change in the society they live in, Pagan said.

Pagan, who was not aware of the current elected mayor issue, finds it surprising that in such a diverse city like Federal Way, people are not able to elect a mayor they want to represent them.

“This is a place where a multiplicity of cultures has always existed, and although there is great acceptance for diversity, I think that at the same time there’s also a resistance to change,” he said. “Cities have to continually adapt to new dynamics.”

Some people believe that the reason many minority groups stay away from the city’s political issues is due to their lack of involvement, but many minorities feel that the city hasn’t reached out in the right way, and that their opinions will affect neither their surroundings nor necessities.

If people could get more politically informed regardless of their legal status or ethnicity, they would be more aware of the issues affecting the city, like the possibility of having an elected mayor, Pagan said.

“This could make a huge difference integrating the community and creating more active residents,” he said.

Contact Aileen Charleston: acharleston@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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