Pat Murakami is running against Lorena González for her citywide council seat. This is not the first time the two of them have faced off. Twelve years ago González was a young law student, working part time in Casa Latina’s wage theft program, helping Latino workers recover wages that their employers refused to pay them. Murakami was the President of the Mt. Baker Community Club, a social club in the wealthy part of Rainier Valley. As a leader of this club, she led the opposition to Casa Latina’s proposed purchase of a building on Rainier Avenue.
I was the Executive Director of Casa Latina at that time. While many neighbors had concerns about our move into the Rainier Valley, most were willing to listen to us. But Murakami was different. She was convinced that Casa Latina’s move to the neighborhood would increase crime, be a danger to children and elders, and would result in public drunkenness. Even though we assured her that our program model would not create a sidewalk day laborer presence, and that Latino immigrant workers were nothing to fear, she did not believe us.
Murakami organized neighbors to write letters opposing us to the City Council. She built her opposition on racist and classist fears about Latino immigrant day laborers. She criticized Casa Latina for not doing sufficient community outreach, and then followed me every place that I did outreach so that she could criticize and contradict me. When I went to visit with the principal of a nearby elementary school, she was there. When I went to visit with the congregation of a neighboring Black church, she was there. When I went to visit with an association of Black Pastors, she was there. She made it clear that her goal was to ensure that Casa Latina did not succeed in our attempt to build a center to help Latino day laborers and their families succeed.
I will never forget the community outreach meeting for Casa Latina that she organized at the Mt. Baker Community Club. It was packed, standing room only, and so explosive—people were crying, yelling, and storming out—that the Mayor of Seattle asked Casa Latina to stop doing outreach and instead agree to a mediation process with the neighbors. I agreed, and after 6 months of meetings and getting to know our programs better, most of the neighborhood leaders who previously opposed our relocation to the neighborhood had changed their minds. But not Murakami.
After the long and expensive process, Casa Latina decided not to buy that building on Rainier, and instead bought property on 17th and Jackson in the Central Area of Seattle. Most of the neighbors in this new neighborhood welcomed our move to the neighborhood, but some still had concerns. These neighbors, however, listened, became our partners and gave Casa Latina a chance. Instead of fear, they saw opportunity. Instead of racial stereotypes, they saw people. Today, our new neighbors believe we have become an asset to the neighborhood. Crime has gone down in the immediate area around our building. There are no day laborers waiting for work on the sidewalk. They are all inside our worker center, as promised. On nice days in Seattle, our courtyard in the back is filled with day laborers, domestic workers and their families playing music, eating delicious food and celebrating community and culture. After work hours when our worker center is closed, Oaxacan, Garifuna, and Chilean dance and music resonate throughout our building as Latino cultural groups use our space for practice. Together with our new neighbors, Casa Latina has become a place of refuge, a place for celebration and healing and a place that honors all the things that make for a strong community. Even though Pat Murakami sowed the seeds of discord, we were able to produce something that is beautiful and productive.
As a city council candidate, Murakami is at it again—sowing seeds of discord built on lies. At a recent public forum in South Park, she claimed she is Latina. She attacked González as someone who has done little to support the Latino community.
Gonzalez grew up in a farmworker family in Washington State and has worked for social justice her entire adult life. I met her as young law student working at Casa Latina and I later admired her as an effective lawyer who sued the Seattle Police Department (and won) when a young Latino immigrant man was beaten and racially insulted by police officers. She co-chaired Casa Latina’s capital campaign and helped us raise the money to buy our new building. She was a strong advocate for immigration reform as the President of the Board of Directors of One America. And now, in her first two years as a Seattle City Councilmember, she sponsored a bill that established a fund of $1 million dollars to provide legal counsel to Seattle residents that are detained by ICE. She has not forgotten her roots. Lorena González is a true champion of our community.
Murakami has sowed division and suspicion in our community. She has spread lies about Latino immigrants and the organizations, like Casa Latina who serve them. And now she is attacking a longtime social justice warrior. I cannot be silent and watch as Murakami tries to convince people that she cares about the Latino community. She is a fear monger who should not be elected to the city council.
Let us judge these two candidates by their actions and their words.
Hilary Stern is the co-founder of Casa Latina in Seattle and was its Executive Director for 22 years.