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"Report from San Jose,"

by Jose Podilla March/April 1998 issue of Poverty & Race

San Jose presented an ideal setting for the subject of poverty and race. This is a community where the wealth of technology represented by Silicon Valley contrasts with a diverse minority population of 42% represented by Latinos (21%), Asians (17%) and African-Americans (4%). But "minor-ity" children, with a 53% majority, indicate the direction of demographic change. If the intent was to present a microcosm of the debate and dynamics of the race-poverty intersection, it was captured quickly if not confusingly.

In keeping with its charge to be bout dialogue and diversity, the forum presented the opportunity for the full range of public opinion to be articulated, from local views to studied opinions. Local community views ranged from white fear to minority frustration. The minority perceptions ranged from the African-American parent who sees racism as the public treatment of her son as a "black problem" to the Latino elected official who sees Latino children treated as raw material for low-wage labor and not college material. The European American view was both on the literature table and expressed publicly. The anti-immigrant message was presented as a current immigration policy that imports poverty from the Third World, causing the white community to fear becoming a minority within an America that belongs to them, just as Mexico belongs to Mexicans. But the public expression is much broader than these anecdotes express.

The academic and activist panels reflected how poverty impacts on every major racial-ethnic group in the country - blacks, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans. If the seriousness of the subject is reflected by academic study, the right people presented, with views from Douglas Massey, William Julius Wilson, Matthew Snipp (on Native Americans), Raquel Rivera Pinderhughes (on the Latino underclass) and Harry Hum (on Asian and Latino immigrant economies), The academic panels clearly presented the complexity of the poverty-race intersection and the divergence of views regarding cause. Their views, as expected, reflected the contrasting causations expressed fully in their academic writings, but when presented in the abbreviated stage of a public forum left the public less than clear about where the intersections occur.

The activist panels were intended both to educate the Advisory Board on on-the-ground" issues of race and poverty and to present "best practices," That was done, with coverage of community development in each major community. The Native American panelist, Dennis Turner. was the most political, in asking that the historical obligations assumed by the U.S. government through treaties be respected. Rural poverty was given less attention in the debate because of the focus on the racial aspects of concentrated urban poverty.

In practice. the forum dynamic reflected more of a conversation than dialogue. with strong input from invited opinion. It is one form of democracy at work but leaves the exchange as discussion and debate and the Advisory Board as less than fully engaged listeners. But in the need to address a complex subject in a short period of time, the public is left in the end with a number of lingering doubts. The sense of urgency regarding the human effects of poverty are lost on the public and media. There is no sense
that a new paradigm of race relations is in the making. Although the forum served as a pulpit to describe current fiscal proposals and efforts by the Administration to address the problems of poverty, there is no sense that the Administration will place poverty as an agenda that deserves the country's full attention and extraordinary Presidential leadership.

Notes:

On Feb. 11, the Advisory Board to the President's Race Initiative held one of its all-day hearings/meetings in San Jose. PRRAC Board member Jose Padilla, head of California Rural Legal Assistance, was one of the panelists.
We asked him for his impressions of the event. The Advisory Board's next public meeting is March 24-25 in Denver. Phone them (202/395-1010) for details and inf. on other future sessions.


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