Reaching out to Lodi’s Pakistani-American Community
The City of Lodi, California is home to a diverse population of 65,000 people, including many Latino and Pakistani immigrants and their families. Pakistani people began immigrating to the area in the 1920s to work on nearby farms, and today about 5 percent of residents are Pakistani. Until recent years, the Lodi Pakistani community mostly remained relatively isolated. When the FBI announced that they had discovered a terrorist cell in Lodi in June of 2005, the resulting flurry of media attention and threats spurred city officials to work to establish lines of communication with this part of the community.
Lodi’s Outreach to Pakistani Community
“There was no plan for outreach, other than let’s try to start communicating,” says city manager Blair King. Soon after the city realized the urgent need, a Pakistani immigrant named Roger Khan ran for the city council. Khan and a group of young Pakistanis worked with city officials to create a cricket field, and this helped the city establish some good relationships across the cultural divide. Then King asked Khan how he could talk to more people in the Lodi Pakistani community, and was invited to Khan’s house for dinner. King was surprised when he arrived that there were 100 Pakistani men waiting to speak with him (and no women). This meeting was the beginning of an ongoing dialogue between city officials and members of this formerly isolated part of their constituency.
When Lodi officials looked into designating an area of the city for redevelopment in 2007, they realized that many of their Pakistani residents lived in the proposed redevelopment area. The city decided to have a town meeting to explain redevelopment and gauge the reaction of residents. King knew that conventional outreach approaches would not bring out Pakistani residents. With translation assistance from the Institute for Local Government (ILG), the city produced outreach materials in English, Spanish, and Urdu. City workers hand delivered the Urdu-language materials to Pakistani residents. They also targeted recruitment of Latino residents through the Hispanic subcommittee of the local chamber of commerce.
About 200 people attended a meeting in July of 2007 hosted by the city council and the planning commission to hear about the proposed redevelopment plan and to offer their feedback. Importantly, this meeting took place not in an official city building but in a club near the mosque. ILG provided translation of the participant materials and simultaneous translation equipment so that residents could speak and listen in English, Spanish, or Urdu.
Cultivating Civic Leaders
Since that meeting the city has held over 25 public meetings on the proposed redevelopment plan and has continued to make a concerted effort to include their Spanish and Urdu speaking residents in this public dialogue. Lodi is currently working to cultivate civic leaders from their ethnic communities through leadership classes sponsored by the chamber of commerce, and King has established a relationship with the leader of the local mosque. The city also tries to hire Spanish and Urdu speaking staff in order to provide service to all segments of the community.
“I hope that there is a sense of greater comfort for immigrants to communicate with city officials now that this line of communication has been opened,” says King. He reports that people do call and e-mail him more frequently since the city began engaging the public on redevelopment. King recognizes that many city issues such as being a good neighbor, mobile food vendors, and zoning and code standards could benefit from inclusive public involvement.