The Myth of Rural Oregon

The myth that rural Oregon is populated by a homogenous bunch of straight, conservative, Christian white folks is just that, a myth.  Always has been, always will be.  Rural progressives know that just about better than anybody.
From the Umatilla Reservation in Eastern Oregon to the growing Latino population on the coast, to the farmworker families of the valley and Southern Oregon, rural towns have been racially diverse for many years, and are becoming more so.  (And that’s not to mention the mosaic of gender identities, faith beliefs, and politics!)  I’m not talking Chicago diverse, but let’s get real: the 2010 Census numbers show Hispanics to be 12% of the state’s population, and that 16% of Oregonians are black, Native American, Asian, or some other non-white race.
Find 2009 census estimates for your county here:

It’s no surprise that these changes cause questions, insecurities, tensions in communities.  Sometimes they even erupt in campaigns or hate crimes that target a certain minority group.
It should also be no surprise that human dignity groups are stepping up, and beginning the conversation about how to keep our cool, embrace the changes, and build a welcoming community.  We’re asking questions like:

  • What are the strengths of a multicultural community, what do diverse cultures add to our collective prosperity?
  • Who is invisible in our community?
  • How does our community welcome newcomers, or people outside of the mainstream?
  • How do we include minorities in civic & social life?
  • How do we make space for minorities to shape the identity of our town?

Umatilla County:
For some human dignity groups it’s pretty darn easy to identify who is left out – like in the case of Frank Roa of the Umatilla Morrow Alternatives (UMA).  Growing up gay and Latino in Hermiston, he says “you can walk into a room and know you’re not welcome right away.”  As an organizer and leader in the community, Frank has built a strong organization to address this gap – through UMA he has built relationships with both white allies and straight allies in the community.
One story comes straight out of an ROP living room conversation earlier this month, on the theme of Building a Welcoming Community.  It was attended by UMA members of many races & gender identities, as well as leaders from Guardianes de la Raza, a new Latino rights group, the Black International Awareness Club, and white allies in faith leadership.  The fledgling coalition will continue meeting to identify individuals’ strengths and find collective actions they can take to push the community to be more inclusive.
Clatsop County:
This Sunday, ROP will host a screening of the film Welcome to Shelbyville, along with local groups Lower Columbia Hispanic Council (LCHC) and PFLAG of the Oregon North Coast.  Norma Hernandez, director of LCHC, is working with the mayor of Astoria as part of a taskforce called the Clatsop County Diversity Council, which is addressing a string of racist incidents through community-wide conversations about racism and welcoming values.
ROP is proud to be a part of this problemsolving as well.  We’ll bring tools, stories, and resources to the Caucus this year to get even more of us thinking about how to make a welcoming community based on the values of respect, fairness, compassion, and inclusion.  Be sure to check out this morning workshop: 
Creating a Welcoming Community
In a time of racial tensions and demographic change, what can human dignity groups do to building a safe & welcoming community for immigrants?  We’ll look at how the concepts of racial justice and solidarity can help us to organize for multi-cultural and prosperous communities in a way that is fun, effective, and empowering.  Groups that are already organizing to build a more welcoming community are especially invited to attend.

See you at the Caucus!
PS. For more inspiration, see this Resolution affirming “the City of Wilder as a city that welcomes and respects the innate dignity of all people,” passed in the small town of Wilder, Idaho.