Citizenship Work: Reaching Rural Washington

By Christine Kiely ’12

During the “Active Citizenship” sessions at the NIIC, important questions were brought up in connection with voting rights and immigrant populations. In all of these discussions, however, the lack of knowledge about rural areas stuck out as a major limitation to the work that is being done. The Seattle metro area was touted many times for the diversity and strength of its immigrant population. The Yakima valley, however, went almost unmentioned during the discussions and presentations during this three-day conference. This brought me to wonder, how does the nature of small towns affect the experiences of citizens in minority groups and what does this mean for those who are working for representative governance? Furthermore, how does the lack of research and advocacy work in these areas affect the political climate of these areas and our ability as researchers today?

Our interview questions for these projects are largely based on previous scholarly research. What I hadn’t noticed before this conference is that almost all of these reports use metropolitan areas for their case studies and surveys. Houston, Chicago, and Los Angeles are no doubt hotbeds of social change and affect the rest of the country in noticeable and significant ways, but this doesn’t mean that rural areas should exist only as a backwater. For these reasons, I believe it is crucial to ask citizens of rural areas what issues have brought about political action in their communities, what access these populations have to internet or other institutional resources vital to active citizenship, and what approach organizations and researchers should have when entering these areas.

It was pointed out in these sessions that at least a million people legally enter the United States each year, but the country does not perform anything near this number of naturalizations. This has huge consequences for the equity and ability of our governing bodies, not only in federal and state governments but on the small scale as well. Each action and attitude in communities this small has ripple effects across the town. The importance of expanding the access to resources and opportunities for all who live in these areas should therefore be of crucial importance in working towards democratization and widespread, active citizenship.

I would like to thank the National Immigrant Integration Conference for including us in these discussions and enriching our research as we go forward in these projects.

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