I was appalled by the violent racism and anti-Semitism I saw broadcast from Virginia on Saturday.
Unfortunately, scenes like that have become all too common. And too often, the scene isn’t a college town in the Piedmont. It’s the Portland waterfront, it’s 82nd Avenue, it’s a dad headed home in Lake Oswego, it’s a woman driving in Aloha. It’s a black man murdered by white supremacists in Gresham. It’s racist graffiti in someone’s home – their personal sanctuary – in Troutdale.
We like to think that our work to make a great place in greater Portland revolves around fixing traffic jams, improving recycling, restoring natural areas and building great parks. But the true test of a great place is great character, and increasingly, we are seeing that character diminished by racists and xenophobes who don’t see diversity as a strength. It’s also diminished by the silence and complacency of good people.
It’s important to recognize the systemic racism in Oregon that continue to shape what this state is today. It’s also important to recognize some of the historic successes and contributions made by immigrant communities in Oregon.
In my home town of Hillsboro, I think of Japanese immigrants like the Iwasakis, who came in the 1910s to farm the fertile soils around our once-small town before they were interned in World War II. Their story of racism also is a story of how we can overcome racism.
While the Iwasakis were imprisoned at what is now Metro’s Portland Expo Center, their neighbors, Herman and Edward Freudenthal, leased their farm. When the war was over, the Iwasakis recovered their land, had money available to start over for them, and thanked the Freudenthals by helping to construct a Lutheran church in Hillsboro (that later became the Walters Cultural Arts Center). Today, Iwasaki Brothers is one of the state’s biggest nursery operations.
Stories like this – people overcoming systemic racism, together, to build a more prosperous and equitable society, abound in greater Portland. We must tell their stories so that the sinister, seductive narratives of xenophobia and nationalism seem as ludicrous as they truly are.
When we make a conscious decision to support communities of color, our entire region benefits. It makes our economy stronger, it makes our parks more welcoming, it makes planning for our future more reliable and it improves our environment. The racists and xenophobes and trolls who are testing us will tell you that equity is a liability. Every bit of research, every bit of historical evidence, it all shows clearly that equity and diversity are strengths.
I am committed to ensuring that Metro removes barriers that hold people of color back and provides equitable access to its services to all of our region’s residents. We can never completely rid the world of a handful of small-minded people who would intimidate and do violence to those who don’t look or pray like them. We can, however, commit to work harder than ever to compensate for and counter their bigotry, and create a light that shines so bright that the shadow of racism can’t be seen in our region.