If you’ve ever wondered who supports the language line at the Seattle Office of Economic Development, we have Lake City Collective to thank. Lake City Collective, founded in 2019 by husband and wife Peggy Hernández and César García, is a grassroots nonprofit doing action-advocacy work on issues that primarily affect BIPOC communities in the Lake City neighborhood of Seattle and surrounding areas. Lake City Collective’s knowledgeable staff helps non-English speaking small business owners navigate the city’s complex bureaucracy with ease. To celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, we caught up with Cesar Garcia of the Lake City Collective to learn more about the organization, advocacy work, and cultural heritage.
OED: How and why was Lake City Collective formed?
Caesar: In North Seattle, we saw that people of color, especially recent immigrants and refugees, were not connected to the government in the same way that other communities are in other parts of the town. When we started to organize ourselves, we thought it would be easy to start as a Latin American organization, because we are Latin Americans. But even in our own neighborhood, there were Chinese families, Native American families, Vietnamese families, etc., whose children play together, who help maintain the landscape, and who all face the same problems. Lake City Collective was formed to give us all a voice, a place at the table to improve our living environments and connect us with better opportunities. As recent immigrants, we believe in working to preserve our traditions and home language even in a new country, so we also host many community and cultural events.
OED: How did Lake City Collective connect with OED?
Caesar: At the time, there was an organization in the North Seattle business district that was struggling to reach out to ethnic businesses in the area. Lake City Collective stepped in to raise awareness in the district, learning all about the Office of Economic Development along the way. Prior to founding Lake City Collective, I worked as a Community Liaison Officer for Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods, where I gained important insight into how city government works – information I now share with staff. by Lake City Collective.
OED: One of the main offerings of Lake City Collective is language interpretation services. How does the tongue line work?
Caesar: When someone calls the OED mainline and chooses an extension with a different language, they may leave a voicemail which we review and call back later with bilingual staff. Lake City Collective’s dedicated staff don’t just translate – over time they’ve learned a lot about navigating contracts, licenses, permits, working with different municipalities, etc., and share that knowledge with callers who ask for our help. Our interpreting services are offered in Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Amharic, Somali and Korean, as well as other languages not listed. For example, our Thai specialist was instrumental in reaching out to the Thai community in Seattle to share information about the services offered by OED.
OED: What was the highlight of your work? Moments of pride?
Caesar: I think the most rewarding part of our job is when we meet small businesses in person. It is important to get to know business owners to understand their background, history, obstacles and needs. We see businesses as families, and they are often family businesses. Our main objective is to help these companies to become independent. So it’s exciting when they learn to navigate and connect to the city to use resources. We often learn together, in community with each other, which makes this work worthwhile.
OED: What are your hopes for Lake City Collective in the future?
Caesar: Thanks to the Office of Urban Planning and Community Development, we recently obtained a half-block parcel of land that we would like to transform into a multicultural centre. We hope to work with the community, including small businesses, to determine what the center should look like to better serve various ethnic groups. We also hope to grow our business support program – we have a lot to contribute in terms of digital access and navigating bureaucracy with cultural understanding. It would be wonderful to have full-time staff regularly scheduled for all the languages we offer, as at the moment we only have part-time staff. More staff and a permanent home is our vision for the future.