When Ken Wong first came to work for the City of Redmond more than six years ago, he immediately noticed a lack of diversity in the city staff and program participation.
Since then, the teen and 50+ programs administrator has made it a point to address this discrepancy. And now with the 2010 Census results showing a significant increase in Redmond’s minority populations, he recognizes that it has become particularly important to make sure Redmond programs and events are diversity-driven.
“Diversity is an issue that hits home for me,” said Wong, who is Chinese American. “Seeing the changes in our community means we need to be proactive in how we program, advertise and invite citizens to our programs.”
According to the 2010 Census results, the total population for Redmond has gone up from 45,256 in 2000 to 54,144 in 2010 — about a 19.6 percent increase.
With this growth has come an increase among minority groups, particularly in the Asian population. The number of Asian people in Redmond — not including individuals of multiple races — went up from 5,893 to 13,733, making up about 25.3 percent of the city’s total population. The number of blacks and Latinos in Redmond has also increased, while the American Indian/Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander populations have remained about the same — again, not including individuals of multiple races.
Nancy Chang, a program coordinator for teen programing outside of the teen center has been with City of Redmond since 2003 and although she is not a resident, she has seen the shifts in the city’s racial makeup.
“It’s really cool to see the (minority) demographics grow throughout the years,” Chang said. “I felt pretty fortunate (to witness it).”
This trend is also reflected in the schools. During the 1999-2000 school year, the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) was 82.8 percent white, according to LWSD communications director Kathryn Reith. For 2009-10, that number decreased to 68.5 percent. The Asian student population went from 10.2 percent to 16.9 percent and Latino students went from 4.1 percent to 7.3 percent during that time period.
The change at Redmond Elementary School — one of the more diverse schools in the district — is even more significant. Principal Joyce Teshima said from the 1998-99 school year to 2009-10 school year, the Asian student population went from seven percent to 22 percent. Latinos went from three percent to 18.5 percent. The percentage of white students went from 65 percent down to 45.6 percent. Teshima added that some students attend her school because of the English Language Learning programs, but said many of her students are already living in the Redmond Elementary zone.
Both Teshima, who is in her second year at the school but has been with the district since 1991, and Chang said one of the reasons for these changes could be because of the area’s growing tech industry and the job opportunities that come with it, which attracts a variety of people — including many international individuals and families.
Wong said in addressing these changes, the City of Redmond’s teen center now has a diverse staff to create a more welcoming feeling and offers programs that target specific groups but educate others such as the recent Chinese New Year celebration. With the teen center’s after-school programs, beginning three years ago, they have been targeting youths of all ethnicities — starting with Latino youth — to ensure they are succeeding academically, Wong added.
He said the Redmond Senior Center (RSC) is also becoming more diverse in its programing. Like the teen center, they have an annual Chinese New Year event. The RSC also has an Indian lunch program that brings in a diverse mix of individuals. Additionally, Wong said they partner with Lake Washington Technical College to offer an ESL program.
Cecilia Contreras, who has lived in Redmond for 38 years, appreciates such programs and activities in the city and in schools. She said they offer opportunities for the Latino community — which has always been present in Redmond but has seen a spike in population recently — to feel welcome and safe. She added that this inclusive environment is one of the reasons why she and her family, who are of Mexican descent, have stayed in Redmond and probably contributes to why people move to the area and end up staying.
“There are things in Redmond that don’t seem visible, but are there to help the (Latino) community be successful just like everyone else,” she said. “What I see — there’s an effort being made.”
Despite the progress, Contreras who is part of the Eastside Latino Leadership Forum, said there is still work to be done. She said she would like to see more Latinos in visible, decision-making positions.
“We also need to find ways to address the marginalized populations in our community that may not have a voice or access to programs,” he said. “We try to find out what the needs are of the less connected. We do this by informal interviews, talking with complex managers about issues they have seen and working with youth and adults to see what we are missing.”