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Worthington’s fast-growing communities of color see economic gains but little political power. Yet.

CTN News

 

When Eugenio Lopez and his family moved to Worthington 17 years ago, only a few families of color lived on their block. Arriving from Canton, Miss., southwestern Minnesota seemed like another world.

“We kind of felt like [we were] outside of the group of these people,” said Lopez, whose parents came to the United States from Guatemala. “But, they took us in and they welcomed us with open arms.”

These days, Lopez’s street is a mix of neighbors able to trace their roots to Central America as easily as Central Europe. Like all of Worthington, it’s been transformed by people of color who’ve found work, built businesses and bought homes, and whose kids have sustained the public schools in an era of declining white student enrollment.

Their rapidly growing numbers and economic muscle, however, have not yet translated into political power. While people of color are the majority now in Worthington, politics in the city and across Nobles County remain nearly all white and male. That came into sharp focus in the last election cycle when three women of color ran for city, county and Minnesota House seats, and all lost.

The reasons for that are more complex than racial or ethnic bias or the power of incumbency. But lack of representation is still a concern for those who need support from government leaders to fund projects and provide resources to fill in gaps for needed services.

There are signs of change. Voters in 2019 backed a bond sale allowing Worthington to build a badly needed school for its growing student body, a measure that had failed for years before with some supporters feeling white Worthington didn’t want to pay for a school needed by nonwhite kids.

Immigration School Vote
A yard sign supporting a school funding ballot measure is seen in Worthington, Minn., Nov. 5, 2019.

Stephen Groves | AP 2019

People of color are also increasingly willing to run for office. That includes Lopez, 18, who expects to run for mayor someday. “It doesn’t cause discouragement, it even…

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