In the past year, individuals, organizations, and cities have been exploring ways to be more inclusive and foster diversity.
By Chasity Jennings-Nuñez
Embracing their “wokeness” with firsts and acknowledging and supporting significant events that might not be celebrated by the majority. The city of San Gabriel is no exception. The formation of the Human Equity, Access, and Relations (HEAR) commission in February 2021 and other small, but meaningful, steps are resulting in a more open dialogue and new perspectives being considered that represent the diversity of the city.
June 19th is Juneteenth Day
Although the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863, many Confederate States continued to practice slavery. Union General Gordon Granger’s reading of General Order No. 3, on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, delivered the official announcement to the most remote of the Confederate States. And while, not much changed in the actual lives of enslaved African-Americans with this proclamation, the date still symbolizes Freedom Day for African-Americans:
The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection therefore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.
June 19, 1865
For the first time in its history, the San Gabriel City Council has acknowledged celebrations that are particularly significant for African-Americans- Black History Month and now, Juneteenth. San Gabriel’s African American population is small, accounting for less than 2% of the residents, so finding local support and interest in promoting these events, over and above what may be happening on the larger county or national level, is difficult. A small, but persistent, community effort led to City Council proclamations for Black History Month in February and at the June 15th City Council Meeting, Mayor Chin Ho Liao read the city’s Juneteenth Day Proclamation.
Whereas, Juneteenth symbolizes freedom, celebrates the abolishment of slavery, reminds all Americans of the significant contributions of African Americans to our society and is a time for reflection and rejoicing, assessment, self-improvement, and planning for the future;
[We] do hereby proclaim June 19, 2021, as ‘Juneteenth Day’ in the City of San Gabriel, and invite everyone to recognize this month to celebrate the contributions of African- Americans.
On June 16th, Congress passed legislation to make June 19th, Juneteenth, an official Federal holiday. It heads to President Biden’s desk, and it is expected to be signed, making Juneteenth the newest federal holiday since MLK Day was officially recognized in 1983.
After being contacted to investigate ways that The San Gabriel Library could participate in a Juneteenth celebration, Martin Delgado, the interim Manager, was receptive and excited about the idea. He and Joanna Ward, Children’s Services Librarian, decided that a Juneteenth book display would be a great way to educate the community. “I am fortunate to work for LA County Library, a library system that advances equity, diversity, and inclusion in all our programs and services, including our collections. I look forward to promoting books and other library materials that will help San Gabriel Library visitors celebrate and reflect on the importance and history of Juneteenth,” said Ward.
In another first, the City Council also read a Proclamation for LGBTQ+ Pride Month and cited the city’s newly formed HEAR commission as a future instrument to help create a city where all members “including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex and asexual have the right to feel safe, not be discriminated against and to live without the threat of harassment” and invited everyone to observe this month of pride in LGBTQ+ contributions. Camila Cameleon is the first trans-woman person of color, President of the San Gabriel Valley LGBTQ+ Center. The SGV LGBTQ+ Center was formed in 2011 to promote a safe and inclusive San Gabriel Valley for people of all orientations and gender identities. She expressed in her comment to the city council how appreciative the center is for the recognition by the San Gabriel City government, especially in a year when so many of the usual Pride month celebrations and public events have been cancelled or made virtual. “The Center applauds the leadership regarding this effort and remains committed to supporting you in further advocacy efforts for the LGBTQ+ community year-round.”
While proclamations may seem small, they open the way to considerations for larger city acknowledgements, and there is already discussion of displaying the Pride Flag in a prominent city location and a future Pride parade or event.
On June 15th, the SG City Council also approved the 1st Annual Work Plan for the HEAR Commission. The work plan outlines the areas of focus for the remainder of 2021 for the newly formed commission, as well as projects that will extend into the coming year. It included recommendations for implicit bias training for city employees, working with local Native American tribal leaders to provide education and celebrate Native American Heritage month, facilitating community participation and access in city government by having the city council agendas available in Spanish and Chinese, and working with the SGPD to evaluate demographic data around traffic stops and police calls for suspicious people/vehicles, which together accounted for over a third of police calls in 2019.
The City Council members praised the commission and city staff for their collaboration and hard work. Mayor Liao said, “I applaud this HEAR commission. They have done so much in such a short time. We need to work together. We don’t want to leave out anyone, we don’t want to discriminate. We don’t want to let people feel that they are isolated, they are not important, they don’t have any voice in this city, so we have to [find ways] to include them.”
Changemakers are hoping to utilize the momentum from the events of the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd and others to further social change. These proclamations and the support of San Gabriel public institutions and city council are tangible efforts to promote diversity and inclusion and progress down a path that leads to a stronger, more vital city.
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