Diverse Communities’ Voice Elevated at Fresno’s City Hall

Major talking to the press

Fresno’s Office of Community Affairs (OCA) was founded in October 2021. The OCA’s goal is to engage all Fresno community members by serving as the City’s liaison to key constituent groups, associations, multicultural and immigrant populations, faith-based, civic, human service, and others including community benefit organizations. The OCA is a division of the Mayor’s Office, under the oversight of Deputy Mayor Matthew Grundy.

OCA hires diverse leaders
Fresno’s cultural richness was recently recognized by U.S. News & World Report, ranking it the nation’s ninth most racially diverse city. Oftentimes, however, these populations fear and distrust government. To ensure the city’s diverse populations have a trustworthy representative that listens to their needs, speaks their language, and can connect them to municipal and community resources, the OCA office hired four liaisons. OCA liaisons represent the following communities:

  • Asian Pacific Islander
  • Asian-Indian
  • Black, Indigenous and People of Color
  • Immigrant and Latino

Sandra Lee, OCA liaison to the city’s Asian Pacific Islander (API) residents, has worked for social service agencies and local non-profit The Fresno Center for New Americans, now known as The Fresno Center. While at The Fresno Center, Lee focused on housing and workforce connections for Hmong refugees resettling in Fresno.

The API liaison position was established in response to a growing concern over pandemic-fueled hate crimes targeting Asian communities nationwide. To counter potential violence and provide a voice for these communities, the City Council passed a resolution establishing a permanent API ombudsman post. In Fresno, the API community includes Hmong, Laotian, Cambodian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean and Japanese groups, among others.

Lee is drawing from her previous firsthand knowledge when assisting API residents, “Our community is very diverse with many nationalities under the API umbrella. We tend to lean towards organizations where we feel understood. That is why it is so important to have a person that looks like us that we can turn to when we need help.”

Liaisons understand community barriers
Harjinder “JR” Saini represents the Asian Indian community. Sinai has extensive experience working in the private sector and is a former business owner. He volunteers at the local gurdwara, where he listens and connects with Sikh residents to learn about their needs.

“Members of our community are business owners, farmers and professionals in our city. Their families have needs for their young people and seniors,” Sinai shared. “Many times, these needs are addressed from within the community without outside help, which may delay the help. With the OCA, the barriers that existed will no longer be an obstacle.”

According to the American Community Survey, Fresno is also home to more than 60,000 foreign-born residents. The OCA’s immigrant and Latino liaison, Alma Martinez, is tasked with serving these communities. In her prior role as a journalist and talk show host at Radio Bilingue, a local non-profit radio station with national reach, Martinez focused on immigrant issues and civic participation.

Trust is essential for communities to come forth and seek aid. Negative national political discourse around immigrants has dissuaded many from seeking help. “Being an immigrant myself, I understand the hardships and barriers families face. Making government accessible to them through a representative that looks like them and speaks their language is key to building trust,” Martinez said.

OCA teams up with PARCS to serve the BIPOC community
The OCA partnered with Fresno Parks, After School, Recreation and Community Services (PARCS) department to outreach and serve the city’s Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) communities. PARCS hired longtime southwest Fresno resident and Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church Senior Pastor, Booker T. Lewis to lead outreach efforts in southwest Fresno. Lewis has extensive community engagement, advocacy, intervention, and mediation experience. He will focus on learning up close about the recreational needs of the community. He will also partner with the OCA to build a platform unifying people who differ in race, religion, culture, denomination, economics, politics, and other areas.

Lewis shared his approach to this new role, “As a community, we all have a responsibility to do good toward one another, to strive for absolute and purest reflection of justice, to fairly address oppressive situations and systems, to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves and defend those who cannot defend themselves.”

Lewis will not only focus on community resource connections, but he will also assist in outreach and engagement activities for the city’s Parks, After School, Recreation and Community Services Department.

Mayor’s commitment to Fresno’s diverse communities
The OCA upholds Mayor Dyer’s One Fresno vision of an inclusive city, responsive to all residents. “These leaders represent the communities that make up the cultural richness of our city. Their role is to serve as bridge builders, ensuring that all city hall and community resources are accessible to the respective communities they serve. Our OCA liaisons hold up our one Fresno promise,” Mayor Dyer said.

The Office of Community Affairs is a permanent department in the city mayor’s office. To learn about the OCA, please visit: https://www.fresno.gov/mayor/office-of-community-affairs/