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Farmworkers forum yields substance


The Apopka farmworking community lives in the shadows. They keep their heads down and generally don't make waves, interact with politicians or go to City Council meetings. They do not vote in large “super voter” blocs or even speak the language.

But they do a great deal of the work in Apopka. And its backbreaking labor for low wages, limited benefits and a small voice in the community.

Alice Nolan Alice Nolan

On Thursday night this hard working, quiet community reached out to the candidates of Apopka. They spoke their minds to the candidates for the City Commission. Most of them spoke in Spanish and had to rely on translators to convey their words... something many of them have to do in their every-day lives to communicate. The six candidates, and about 100 spectators packed into the Farmworkers Association of Florida (FWAF) headquarters in Apopka to watch the Candidate Forum sponsored by the FWAF, Hope Community Center, The Florida Immigrant Coalition and MiFamilia Vote.

It was uncomfortable. It was hard to follow. It was unorganized. The moderator from Univision didn’t show up. They started 30 minutes late.

But it was a little slice of democracy despite the minor wrinkles.

Doug Bankson and Commissioner Sam Ruth Doug Bankson and Commissioner Sam Ruth

Oh yes, and eventually there was a forum…

All six candidates for Seats #3 and #4 answered questions from the audience, and then waited as an interpreter translated their words to the mostly Hispanic audience. Despite the inconveniences, there was substance to this Forum, and the Hispanic community was able to voice its concerns and get to know their would-be City Commissioners.

Commissioner Bill Arrowsmith, the incumbent of Seat #4, opened the Forum by pointing out he has been with the FWAF since the beginning.

“When the sisters came here back in the 70’s I was here then and I got to watch them build this community,” he said. “One of the big things that we have here today is the Community Help Center. I have helped orchestrate millions of dollars of loans to them.”

Young Kim, a candidate for Seat #4, featured his time in Apopka in contrast to his experiences in California.

“I’ve been here since 1988. I’ve experienced integration in California. They have bi-lingual buses. Things that are absolutely necessary for the Spanish population.”

One question that seemed to be of primary focus to the audience was how to better integrate itself into the Apopka community. Doug Bankson, challenger for Seat #3, sees education as the silver bullet to integration.

“I think it’s important to remember that lack of knowledge is not the same as lack of intelligence,” he said. “I’ve been to South America five times to teach at Bible schools and ministries. And when I went down there I didn’t understand the language. It didn’t mean I wasn’t intelligent; it was just difficult to communicate. I learned one thing “donde esta bano” (which means where is the bathroom?). And so I think a big part of the integration has got to be education. And that’s where what you do here (FWAF), the work you do here, to empower you to be able to communicate. Communication and understanding helps build the bridge. Then you don’t feel that you are not a part. Remember we are one race – the human race.”

Commissioner Bill Arrowsmith, Kyle Becker and Young Kim Commissioner Bill Arrowsmith, Kyle Becker and Young Kim

Alice Nolan, a candidate for Seat #3, believes it is in keeping the lines of communication open that will allow the Hispanic community to flourish.

“To better integrate is to reach out to leaders like the FWAF to see what your needs are and to keep the dialogue open. With this communication, it can open doors and we can work together on matters. But in doing this we need your help to keep in touch with us. And don’t be afraid to reach out because we don’t speak the same language. We will find someone. I promise you.”

Kyle Becker, challenger for Seat #4, included health options and job assistance in his response.

“We have to involve all of Apopka when we’re making decisions. We have to make sure we’re not operating in a vacuum. Apopka is 25% Hispanic. We have to involve everyone in the process. Apopka has a 17% poverty rate. And I want to work with you (FWAF) to make sure Apopka has health options, schooling options, and job assistance options. This is why I’m here. The social programs that are needed to make sure that all residents of Apopka have the same opportunity to thrive no matter if you’re in the North, South, East or West Apopka.”

Commissioner Sam Ruth, the incumbent for Seat #3, stressed the job theme Becker touched on and reminded the audience their votes count.

“One of the things I’m excited about is… in my lifetime this has been an agricultural community. But there are so many new things that are coming here that are going to require workers for restaurants, construction. We’re going to be re-identifying ourselves, and when the old rules of the agricultural community start to move away, it’s going to create an environment where we’re all socially involved. Six months ago when we did our visioning process we had a three-hour conversation. And the information we retrieved we’ve already started the implementation of those policies. Make sure you remember your votes do count. Your needs are being heard. We’ve only just started this process... so help us push it along.”

The Forum ended with information on voting options (in Spanish) to the audience – voting precincts, absentee ballots and early voting. It was a combination of townhall-style questions, answers and community outreach.


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