There has been a palpable sense of unrest that has been fomenting in San Francisco over the last several years. The City’s economic landscape and demographic impact of the influx of affluent transplants have exacerbated extra pressure on already strained safety nets for working class and low-income residents. Central to the existence and continued access to these safety nets are the hundreds of community-based organizations that provide the equally abundant programs and services to The City’s diverse population.
At Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, we are proud of our efforts to fulfill our mission through the provision of culturally and linguistically responsive programs and services — truly helping preserve and enhance the ethnic, economic and cultural diversity of Bernal Heights and surrounding neighborhoods. It is through this work that we have known of and worked in collaboration with the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, a sister organization that shares the value of culture and language as a means of creating an inclusive and welcoming city for many of our immigrant families. Our role as nonprofit community-based organizations is not only to provide the kinds of programs and services The City of San Francisco is not able to directly offer, but we also serve as the foundation for building a cohesive and engaged community.
We worked closely with AROC on language access through the San Francisco Language Access Network, a citywide collaboration of community-based organizations working closely with the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs on ensuring San Francisco’s immigrant population is able to access programs and services unhindered by language barriers.
BHNC also had the honor and privilege of working closely with AROC and other organizations in the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Defense Committee, a coalition devoted to ensuring the basic rights of immigrants are respected and valued, and that The Citys immigrant families are not torn apart by narrowly focused and racist policies.
When I heard the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education recently unanimously voted to approve the Arabic and Vietnamese Language Pathways for the school district and that AROC and the Vietnamese Youth Development Center organized to get the resolution passed, I was not surprised. Access to language and culture as a means to build and strengthen community are part and parcel of what I know to be the core of AROC’s work. I am looking forward to their continued engagement and prominence in that realm — not only because I know many community members, including our Arab and Arab-American neighbors and families in Bernal Heights will benefit from it, but also because AROC’s leadership in the immigrant rights community will continue to benefit the entire city.
What is surprising and of great concern are the attempts by the Jewish Community Relations Council to discredit AROC’s community-centered work. It is a concern because it harbors the kind of ignorance, divisiveness and vilification that only seeks to fuel anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia — creating an atmosphere that would make it dangerous for people, such as the longtime owner of one of our neighborhood cafes, or the neighbors and community members who attend the local mosque in Bernal Heights, to live and thrive in a city that is already becoming increasingly divided.
I am puzzled by the impunity and free rein that JCRC seems to enjoy in targeting an organization with a long history of human rights and community engagement work, and am alarmed that it is happening in a city that has a reputation for being a haven for a diverse population of immigrants.
I am hopeful there will be a strong show of leadership — not only from the SFUSD, but from The City itself — to ensure community needs and voices are prioritized, and that CBOs like AROC remain robust and present in keeping San Francisco a vibrant, welcoming, culturally and linguistically diverse city.
Rachel Ebora is the executive director of Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center.