Strip malls along Buford Highway offer different food from many countries. Between 2000-2010, 30 pedestrians were killed and 250 injured trying to cross the highway.

NASHVILLE, TN –The Georgia state legislature will begin a special redistricting session next week to finalize congressional, state, and local election maps. Elected officials will vote on them sometime in November. Governor Brian Kemp could veto the proposed maps but probably won’t. Georgia is one of 23 states where Republicans have a trifecta in state government.

After the 2010 census, gerrymandering gave Republicans an 8-6 majority of congressional seats in Georgia. Clarke County was divided into three districts, only one of which was represented by a Democrat, yet Joe Biden won more than 70% of the votes there in 2020. Clarke County is big enough to have two congressional districts, both represented by democrats.

In 2018, activists organized the Georgia Immigrants Rights Alliance (GIRA), a coalition of more than 50 groups dedicated to advancing immigrant rights. Redistricting is one of several issues they work on.

“This process is going to be used to take voting power way from immigrant communities to elect candidates of our choice,” said Ramachandran.

Karuna Ramachandran

“We should be having more representation in government not less, so we are very concerned about that, “ said Karuna RamachandranShe is Director of Statewide Partnerships with Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta (AAAJ). 

She said the legislature has not included public input in the process. She faulted lawmakers for their lack of transparency, for not allowing public input on draft maps, not sharing the timeline, and not publishing the criteria for drawing the maps.

“Advocates have repeatedly asked for a process where our communities can be involved because if we don’t have any way to get involved, how can we safeguard our communities? How can be sure our districts are not to be gerrymandered?” she asked.

During July, the Georgia House and Senate reapportionment committees met nine times for public comment. One on-line meeting was also held.  The hearings were broadcast and are archived here: at www.legis.ga.gov.

Also in July an ad hoc coalition called the Georgia Redistricting Alliance sent a letter with 63 signatures to elected officials demanding better access to the process, transparency, and language access. The process has been English-only.

Glory A. Kilanko is the Founder and Chief
Executive Officer of Women Watch
Afrika, Inc. 

“If we don’t come out to be counted we continue to allow ourselves to be referred to as the “hard to count” population,” said Glory Kilanko, Founder and CEO of Women Watch Afrika. She was referring to the 2020 Census count. “The time has come when we must come out and be counted so we can change the narrative and tell them we are “hard to be ignored communities,” she said.

A 7-mile stretch of the Buford Highway, aka the International Village, runs northeast from Atlanta; the corridor stretches across four districts. It has Chinese, Thai, Mexican, Central American, Vietnamese, Dominican, Indian, Cajun, and Korean restaurants. The area is made up of strip malls separated by apartment complexes with few sidewalks connecting them. 

Victoria Huynh is Vice President of the Center for Pan Asian Community Services, Inc. in Atlanta (CPACS)). In 2018, CPACS provided health and social services in 25 languages to 70,000 people.

 “So when we look at redistricting we see it as a public health issue. We’re looking at it as a transportation issue, education issue, immigration issue,” Huynh said. 

She said they started doing census work in 2018 as part of a coalition to make sure that minority communities were represented in the count.

“Who is going to represent the community if our communities are not showing up in the data? And how do they know they existed? ” 

Victoria Huynh is the Vice President of the Center for Pan Asian Community Services, Inc.

Huynh said the first part of the work was the census and that part two was redistricting. “How would the data be used to garner more resources and what would that look like for our community?” she asked. 

Huynh grew up in the International Village along the Buford Highway that drew immigrants and refugees after the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. She has lived in the corridor since 1999, seen the growth, but not a lot of resources come into the area.

“As you drive down this 6 lane plus highway and look right and left you see these multilingual signs where you know that different communities coexist and thrive and you think ‘are resources coming in this are to support these businesses? Are resources coming into this area to support the kids and families who attend the schools, or who use public transportation going to work everyday?”

As a teenager Huynh rode the bus 20 minutes each way to school. “But there was a much nicer high school with a magnet program just five minutes down the street. What wasn’t I at that school?” Answer: she lived in the wrong zip code. 

“And if my family needs to speak to our representative, who do I speak to? I live along the corridor but it’s fragmented into four different districts. And all the businesses that are in an association–– if they all have the same issue, do they have to speak to four different representatives and work through four different municipalities to get what they need?” 

Beyond the International Village, about 75 miles out along the Buford Highway, you come to Gainesville. A lot of Puerto Ricans settled there after Hurricane Maria and found work in the poultry processing plants. 

“In Gainesville, we have the second highest number of LatinX voters,” said Maria Rosario PalaciosFounder of Georgia Familias Unidas.

Maria Rosario Palacios is the Founder of Georgia Familias Unidas.

 She said in some school districts 70% of the students come from Latin American countries. Palacios said the school clusters in Gainesville are being redrawn and wonders how that will impact the resources allocated to the southwest part of town. “You’re not going to get the same kind of resources you would get on the Northeast side of Gainesville,” she said. 

Browns Bridge Road runs into the center of town from the southwest.  It changes to Jesse Jewel Parkway and the demographics shift from mostly Hispanic to mostly non-hispanic at that point. The Latino community is clustered along the Atlanta Highway heading south. 

“The majority of the small businesses there are owned by LatinX folks… and a lot of people call it ‘Little Mexico’. Between that West to East road and that Southwest Rd taking you to I-985, you will find the bulk of our community members. And what is missing in these communities? Sidewalks. I mean the small businesses that are there depend on pedestrian traffic,” she said. 

The news frequently reports someone walking along the road to the grocery store got run over by a car. Palacios wondered why the city doesn’t have sidewalks in a predominantly LatinX corridor but have them elsewhere that aren’t used that often?

“The only answer I can truly give you is an unrepresented process of redistricting, elected officials who don’t have to worry about the districts of our LatinX voters because they can pander to the At Large constituencies on the Northeast side of town.

This has very real long-lasting intergenerational impacts for our community members and it’s something we should address. We should have addressed this a longtime ago. We should have addressed this over 30 years ago when the many immigrants from Mexico, Central America and South America came to build up the poultry capital of the world that feeds the entire country. But since we didn’t address it then, we should address it now. “

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