There's this thing that happens when you're a person of color who happens to be, according to White standards, articulate, well-educated, well-dressed, well-behaved – you are, time and again, asked to explain why "the others" in your community couldn't be more like you.
It's often phrased as a joke, and always meant as a compliment.
It also isn't either, as Councilor Juan Carlos González understands too well. More than once in his life, workaholic González has been the recipient of a dubious "If only all Mexicans were like you" award – a statement that, he points out, betrays a total lack of familiarity with Mexican culture. But the answer to ignorance is education. For González, backhanded compliments aren't a cause for despair, but proof that more and more diverse representation of Latinx communities is still needed across greater Portland.
Facilitating this representation within Metro is one of the councilor's top goals. "I try and speak from my lived experience," he says, "But I also understand that as a straight, cis, educated, documented Latino male, I benefit from a lot of privilege. So I try to create spaces for others with different backgrounds to make their voices heard too. I don't just want Brown and Black people to see their priorities reflected in how Metro spends its money – I want them to be active in the conversation."
His own ability to take part in Metro's policy conversations isn't something the first-generation American takes for granted. "I'm the son of immigrants, but I also proudly identify as American," he notes pointedly, "that's an important part of my identity, too." His father, Francisco, a laborer, travelled to the States as a young man in search of work opportunities that simply weren't available in Michoacán. His mother, Alicia, immigrated from Mexico City for the scandalous purpose of continuing her education – a flagrant waste of time for a woman, according to the machismo culture of the Mexican old guard. The two met in the US, amid the Pacific Northwest's big trees and even bigger promise of social mobility, and sensing in one another a kindred spirit, decided to start a family together. They worked hard to establish themselves as Portlanders – and did.
This experience growing up among Mexican immigrants continues to powerfully shape González' approach to his work on Metro Council. "One of my responsibilities is to deconstruct the deficit-based language we use around immigration. I want to move to an asset-based language of immigrants and their communities." Assets that he's experienced first-hand, like strong family values, an emphasis on the needs of the community, a commitment to providing for future generations, and, perhaps above all, an indefatigable work ethic. "Greater Portland was built by immigrants of all kinds," he says, "and they're still building." And that is precisely why it's important to treat them as fully-fledged and vital members of greater Portland's community – because they are fully-fledged and vital members of greater Portland's community.
All of which is to say: it was never that "they" – those stereotypical other Mexicans, those immigrants – needed to be more like González. He's been quite deliberately reflecting his community, and its values, all along.