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Council reflects Lathrop’s melting pot population

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POSTED December 10, 2012 12:05 a.m.

LATHROP – When Paul Akinjo came to the United States in 1981 it was purely out of curiosity.

The Nigerian-born business owner – who will be sworn in on Monday, Dec. 17 at Lathrop’s newest city council member – had planned to travel and get a taste for American culture while he was still relatively young.

One month turned into two. One year turned into two. And before he knew it 30 years had passed and the customs that he was initially so inquisitive about had become a part of his daily routine.

It was expected and it wasn’t necessarily planned. But Akinjo made it a point to get involved however he possibly could in his adopted country since then – spending a brief stint in the military and always paying attention to the happenings in governments across the globe.

And by the end of the month Akinjo will be part of the Lathrop City Council that is reflective of the diversity within the community as a whole – something that is a tradition in Lathrop’s local government.

“There are so many people in the community now with different religions and different backgrounds,” Akinjo said of those that he met when canvassing neighborhoods. “I think that’s a great thing for the community – it can be a tricky thing at times. But I’m looking forward to representing the people of Lathrop as a whole.”

But he’s not the only immigrant to make up the five-person panel.

Newly sworn-in Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal came to the United States from the Punjab region of India in 1985 to be closer to family and give him opportunities that weren’t afforded to him at the time.

The blossoming Punjab community in San Joaquin County – that he says makes it easier today for people who immigrate because they don’t have quite the culture shock – didn’t exist when he made the decision to come to America.

“It’s grown a lot since then,” Dhaliwal said. “It was a relatively small community at that time. I think that it makes it easier today for people to adjust.”

As a city Lathrop has even blazed trails when it comes to traditional minorities ascending to seats of power and representing the changing makeup of California’s cultural melting pot.

In 1993 residents elected Apolinar Sangalang as the first Filipino mayor in United States history. Former Mayor Gloryanna Rhodes was of Puerto Rican descent while outgoing Vice Mayor Christopher Mateo was a native of Baguio City, Philippines. Former Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos is of Guamanian ancestry.

“I think it says a lot about the people that live here. That we’re accepting,” said Adam Rollinger. “Everybody really seems to get along, and I think that’s the important thing to remember.”

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