EngageICT: Diversity & Immigration

May 10, 2016 at The Boathouse

Our May Democracy On Tap panel, held at the Wichita Boathouse along the river, looked at how immigration and an increasingly diverse population will impact this year’s elections.

Immigration seems like “something that we’ve just figured out over the past elections cycle,” said panelist Djuan Wash with Sunflower Community Action, “when that is simply not the case.”

Claudia Amaro, a local radio host and family educator who is originally from Mexico, explained that she and her husband are both living in the country without documents. “We’re in limbo, and that’s the way a lot of families are,” she said.

She said she’s seen Wichita’s Hispanic community grow over the years, but it’s “still silent. I think we’re going backwards.”

She said there are many great things happening in Wichita, but the message isn’t getting to the city’s Hispanic community, but she’s hoping to change that with her radio show on La Raza 99.7 FM.

Emira Palacios, co-founder of the Wichita nonprofit The Seed House, also came to the U.S. from Mexico, but after 13 years as an undocumented immigrant, she received her status. She agreed with Amaro that the Hispanic community is overlooked, particularly when it comes to politics.

“We are regressing in a lot of sense,” she said. “I’m very frustrated with the lack of qualified candidates that represent our diversity here in the state of Kansas, and the lack of both parties on really being sensible to the communities of color and even more to the Latino community, in the sense that there isn’t a real effort to really reach out to them and to talk to them and to hear about their issues.”

Brandon Johnson, executive director and co-founder of Community Operations Recovery Empowerment, noted that diversity is “just a buzz word,” and that in a place like Sedgwick County, we need to do a “gut-check.”

“The real word is inclusion. And are we really inclusive?” he said. “Do we represent the population we are serving? Sedgwick County population is diverse, and we need to know how to operate with the people who live here.”

Darryl Carrington, community liaison for Wichita State University, said there have been efforts to dissuade people who are “lower on the economic ladder” from voting.

“We are the majority,” he said. “Nothing’s going to change until we rally as poor people and make our voices heard. We’re targeted because we can effect change.”

Amaro pointed to Garden City, where the majority of the population is non-white, but where political representatives are almost exclusively white. “No one that represents them looks like them,” she said.

Amaro said that although she can’t vote, she is encouraging other Hispanic voters to show up to the polls in November.

“Every time I talk to a state representative and people I always tell them and promise them that this November, a lot more Latinos are gonna vote,” she said.