Q&A with Bend's New Director of Equity and Inclusion | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Q&A with Bend's New Director of Equity and Inclusion

Andrés Portela brings a health equity background to new role at the City of Bend

Andrés Portela is the city's new director of Equity and Inclusion, a role he feels ready to take on after spending nearly a decade working for equity in Arizona. In some ways, he says, coming to Bend means getting to join a movement he's been following from afar for many years.

click to enlarge Q&A with Bend's New Director of Equity and Inclusion
Courtesy Alexa Osaki, Communications Director for AZ AANHPI
Equity and Inclusion Director Andrés Portela started at the City of Bend July 10.

* This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Source Weekly: I think it would be nice to start with your history and get a little bit of background on what you were doing before coming to Bend.

Andrés Portela: I was working with the Pima County Health Department in the Office of Health Equity. And in that space, I was thinking about, "How do we operationalize equity in the context of health?" So, thinking through, if we put somebody in a specific community, what would it take to have them live and thrive.

SW: What about this job, and Bend, in particular interested you?

AP: It's become a funny anecdote. The City of Bend started the work in 2016. And in 2016, I had just jumped into Civil Rights. I'd just jumped into working at Southwest Fair Housing Council. And in that work, I was saying, "I'm going to start the first Office of Equity in the City of Tucson."

It was an ambitious goal. And there wasn't the political climate for that to actually happen. So, I started to pull resources on who was doing the work outside of Tucson. And I stumbled upon Bend and some ordinances that they had passed. And that's where we got to 2018.

In 2018, I was in the thick of really trying to bridge the gap between community and elected leaders. And I, again, referenced some of the policy coming out of Bend. And that's when I set up Google Alerts on the City and their equity work. I then got a Google Alert for a job and I sat on it for a little bit of time, and decided to apply to come and work at the City.

SW: What do you think of Bend so far? Had you visited the area before taking the job?

AP: Before taking the job, I came out maybe twice. And I think what pulled me in was the eagerness and willingness of the folks at the City of Bend to do the work.

And then also being a part of the community. When I first came out there, I walked from end to end as a person of color entering a space that is just very different for me. I wanted to make sure that I could feel safe, and I didn't feel unsafe walking through the City of Bend. And so, for me that was extremely important.

SW: What does the term "diversity, equity and inclusion" mean to you and to the City? I feel like it is a term we hear a lot but it's not clear what it might entail.

AP: I think it's extremely important that I don't define it for the City yet. I'll define it for myself. And then I'll tell you where this is going to lead. For me, I think of it in the space of opportunity.

If I place anyone, anybody, in any part of Bend; do they have the resources to thrive? That's thinking about transportation, access to education, utility services, any form of our local government; do they have the resources to thrive? That's how we achieve inclusion.

And then, in doing that, we can start to focus on social, cultural, all of those different things. And so then, that's where we start thinking about, "How do we diversify? How do we become inclusive?"

That's how I would define diversity, equity, and inclusion. Equity is thinking about the resources that are currently at play. And then for folks who don't have access to those resources, inclusion is figuring out once we introduce those resources, how do we get them to adapt. And, diversity is making sure that all the players are at the table.

SW: I was looking at some of the ways that other places have measured inclusivity at the city level. Metric wise, you're looking perhaps at income segregation, housing, affordability, and then racial segregation or racial gaps in homeownership, poverty, educational attainment, and then as well as the city's share of the population that is people of color. How do you think of those measurements? Have similar surveys been done in Bend?

AP: I believe that the City did some equity mapping prior and that remained internal... and I'm grateful that they didn't make that large leap public yet. I plan on doing that, but we needed to have a plan before we just have a bunch of metrics and say, "This is how we achieve equity." There really has to be a plan from ideation to action. And so, I do think those measures are extremely important.

SW: Given high profile examples of racism being an ongoing issue in Central Oregon. I'm curious what you see the city's role as, or what you see a city's role in if you don't want to talk about Bend, specifically, in addressing racism and discrimination so that it's safe here for all people.

AP: I won't speak for the City of Bend. However, in the role that I'm going to jump into...the frame that I look through is personal, interpersonal, system, and system wide. So, it's four levels of change. And in that I'm creating a case for how that deep level of work, of like, "racism has no place in our communities," "xenophobia has no place in our community," "sexism, racism, all of the isms have no place in our community" and why it's everyone's imperative to be actively against it.

I think what we need now is that push of, and I think this is why I was hired, was to create that push on how we include it into every department throughout the city so that we can start to see the result of hate crimes going down. We can see folks fully inclusive and a part of the community. We see economic initiatives being able to bring folks in that that are of different backgrounds, and understand that they have to be culturally competent and culturally informed in order to get folks to stay. Because we don't want to just create opportunity for folks, we do want to create opportunity in the way that will stick, not just we're creating it for the sake of creating it.

SW: As you take on this work, which departments within the city government, and which outside organizations do you see partnering with?

AP: I'm willing to partner with anyone who's willing to do the work. Genuinely. I have met with so many folks; nonprofits, city employees, government, employees, state, county, parks, all of them. I've met with just about all of them thus far. And there has been a deep desire for all of us to do the work multi-jurisdictionally, but also on the ground.

For me, my work starts internally. So, for a while, I may just be a friendly face in the community. But really, the work that we're doing internally is so that we can start to work on the structural inequities.

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