Over two years ago, the Bend City Council signed a unanimous resolution declaring Bend a Welcoming City—becoming one of about 150 communities in the U.S. to join the network aimed at fostering inclusion and understanding among immigrants and refugees and the wider community. Welcoming Week, which takes place this week, include events such as a kick-off party, trainings, a celebration of the passage of HB2015—which made driver's licenses available to all Oregonians, regardless of immigration status—and Latino Fest, a day-long celebration featuring food, music and dance, held in Madras Saturday.
Meeting elected officials
Also on the schedule of events is a Monday evening bilingual meet and greet with local elected leaders, an event where Spanish interpreters will be on hand to allow local people to ask questions about local government, and to foster relationship-building. Elected officials from Bend-La Pine Schools, the Bend City Council, Deschutes County Board of Commissioners, Bend Park and Recreation District, and the offices of Rep. Cheri Helt and the offices of Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley will be there, said Joanne Mina, Latino Community Association volunteer coordinator, who organized the event.
Mina is aiming to bridge the gap between what she sees as the sentiments the Latino community has about local government, and their active participation in it.
"We want folks to be civically engaged, no matter who they are," Mina said, underlining that as the 2020 election gets closer, civic participation gets even more crucial. "Whether you're participating or staying on the sidelines, we all are shaping our community right now."
"We learned a lot from last year's event," said City of Bend Community Relations Manager Joshua Romero, recalling how some people came to last year's meet and greet, asking practical questions such as, "is the water in Bend safe to drink?"
For Romero, it was an eye-opener about the needs and priorities of a segment of the local population that may not always be as vocal. Romero explained how the event spurred city staffers to begin taking a look at other processes and information they can adapt to support non-English speakers.
Becoming an ally
On Wednesday, facilitators from Allyship in Action will hold Allyship Training at Pilot Butte Middle School, exploring the history of racism and immigration in Oregon, and teaching attendees how to best support people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals and other marginalized groups.
Locals LeeAnn O'Neill, Kerani Mitchell and Erin Rook launched Allyship in Action in February, as a consulting firm centered around diversity, equity and inclusion trainings. The three connected at past Welcoming Week events, where together, they observed that most local DEI trainings came from groups outside Central Oregon. They wanted to offer a local option, as well as allowing other local consultants to share Allyship in Action's resources.
"We have more diversity in our community than a lot of people realize," Rook, who works in educational equity at Oregon State University-Cascades, said. "I think it's really commonplace to talk about un-diverse or white Bend is—and certainly there are plenty of white people in Bend. But we do have significant communities... folks who are not white, not straight, not English as their first language."
O'Neill, a bilingual family law facilitator for the Deschutes County Circuit Court, said Wednesday's training is meaningful both personally and professionally. "As someone who has worked to increase access to justice for Spanish speakers, I know how important it is to address the inequities faced by Latin immigrants in particular," O'Neill stated. "Because I am adopted and speak English as my first language, I have privileges that other immigrants don't. I want to help others understand how they can use their privilege to support immigrants in our community, too."
Rook said the Allyship Training event had only a handful of spots left as of press time, though they will open up a waitlist. Those interested in Allyship in Action can find more information at allyshipinaction.com
City of Bend Welcoming Week
Fri., Sept. 13-Sat. Sept. 21
Various locations in Bend
See all events at: bendoregon.gov/government/departments/city-manager-s-office/welcoming-bend
Sat., Sept. 14. 11am-5pm
Sahalee Park, Madras
Sponsorships still available