Ana: So, I want to welcome you all, and maybe one way to do that is to ask you to introduce yourselves. So, who would like to go first? Maria?
Maria: Sure, hi everyone. My name is Maria Klimenko. I’m currently working in the TriMet equity and inclusion department. I have a history of working with immigrant communities. And I’m former refugee, myself.
Ana: Thanks Maria.
Alberto: Good afternoon everyone. This is Alberto Moreno Martinez. I say Martinez because I’m not just my father’s son, but also my mother’s son. I am the Director for the Office of Equity and Multicultural Services at the Department of Human Services. We say Department of Human Services these days because the acronym DHS has multiple non trauma informed meanings at present in many of our communities. And so, we like to distinguish Department of Human Services from the Department of Homeland Security. So lovely to be with you today.
Ursula: Buenas tardes my name is Ursula Loret de Mola. I am currently a teacher at Alliance Benson. We are an alternative program that serves Portland Public students who have not been successful in traditionally, in traditional campuses. And so, our work is really based on trauma informed care too. I’m an immigrant as well, and I’ve been an educator. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. And so, I’ve made my way through different districts, different program, non-profit and education programs.
Ana: Nice. Thank you all, I’m really excited to share space with you. So, let’s just begin with talking about the concept of diversity, equity, and inclusion. And I see a concept at this point because you say that word or the acronym DEI in a roomful of 50 people, you got 50 different definitions and personal relationships to it. So, tell me about what it means to you, for the notion of DEI and the quote-unquote concept of DEI, the work of DEI, to be present in the workplace, especially at a time of incident response.
Ursula: I think, I mean, it goes as simple as just being seen. For me to be seen in the workplace as who I am. And that’s very different layers. Starting from how do I present to my coworkers and my students and to my community. My accent, my ability to navigate different languages and different communities. And so, I think I bring forth, I’m someone who brings a person first. And so, in the work that I do, it’s really important to be vulnerable and to be genuine with my students so that I can build relationships with them. And so, I think that works for me too. And so, having a workplace that sees me, that understands the family is an important cultural value for me, and that a lot of the decisions that I’m going to be making are based on my family and on my community. So that, that’s how I begin to think about diversity and inclusion.
As an educator I’ll, you know, I am an ethnic studies major and I come from the Raza Studies department at San Francisco State. Early on in my career, one of the things that I was taught was to look at students from a strength-based perspective. And so that’s another tenant of my work and how I like to be seen. And so, you know, what are the strengths that I bring to the plate or to the community that I’m working in. And that also includes understanding the trauma that I have lived through, whether it’s immigrating, the different types of integration in my community, et cetera, you know, family dynamics, whatever else I bring to the plate. And then when I think of inclusion, I think of like people with different abilities. And I’m so glad that you talked about like captions. I’m very sensitive to kids who have different needs in the classroom, whether they’re mental health, behavioral, even like physical needs, right? Hunger.
I think a lot about, like as a Spanish speaker, as a native Spanish speaker, I also think about people who are, who speak sign language and the similarities, and how often we exclude people who are hard of hearing or who are blind. And so, thinking, thinking of all those, all that comes up for me when I think about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. And so, as a teacher, I first think of my students and their families, but it also applies to me. I’m my father who just had a heart attack, you know, I’m my mom who is an interpreter in community clinics and also sells like Mary Kay at some point, and she knows everybody and their mamas, you know. And so, I bring that to the table and to my students. And so yeah, that, you know, just seeing people for who they are and what they bring and not to make generalizations.
Ana: Thank you. Maria, what does this bring up for you? Intersection of DEI and workforce wellness, especially at a time of incident response?
Maria: Yeah. Well, I think that the point that Ursula made about being seen is really important. And I would also add to that with your experience being acknowledged. So, I’m from the Slavic community. I’m also a person who is, I guess mixed ethnicities. I have a Cuban father, Ukrainian mother. And I think that oftentimes we have a very preconceived notion of what equity and diversity means. I would say almost it’s akin to a brand, and people think of it as looking a certain way or having a very specific experience because I work a lot with refugee and immigrant populations. I mean, personally, I was motivated to get into this work based on my own experience. I came here as a child when I was about ten years old and I always felt like I didn’t quite fit in very well. I didn’t feel a sense of belonging, but I couldn’t really articulate very well why. And I think that part of it is cultural for honest, right?
There’s definitely a sense of stoicism in the face of problems, not complaining, not really taking the time to think about your mental health and sort of always focus on the thing that’s immediately in front of you, meeting your basic needs. And I also think that, you know, as people who physically present the way we do, I do think that we tend to get excluded from conversations around equity and diversity, when in fact, there are pretty big disparities within the Slavic community or people with a refugee background. And I think that’s especially apparent now, because what can be for some people, an inconvenience, you know, really brings up a lot of refugee trauma triggers, particularly when you look at things like food
shortages. So, I think that can run a lot deeper than maybe people who belong to the mainstream population can quite understand or acknowledge.
And that being said, I think that we tend to put people into easy to dissect categories. So, you know, you’re either one thing or you’re another thing. And I think, at least in my particular experience, it’s always been difficult to represent or belong to several different worlds, right? Because when people look at me, they probably don’t think Latina right away. So, I think that there’s a lot that we miss just by looking at people on the surface level. So that’s why to me, the work of diversity and inclusion is really nuanced. At the same time, I think that there’s a lot of historical, legal experiences with communities of color that run very, very deep. And there’s certainly a difference between things that we’ve experienced as maybe newer immigrants as opposed to people who have faced historical oppression.
And so, I think it’s an opportunity to learn from each other’s experience and come together in areas where we can truly understand one another. And another thing that I wanted to add is I think that people sometimes mistake diversity and inclusion work as a one size fits all approach. And I think if you’re dealing with a person who is from the African American community as opposed to a Somali immigrant, you know, there’s, certainly a common experience of what it feels like to be marginalized. But there’s also very specific traumas and experiences that are unique to different people. And so as convenient as it is to talk about, you know, the black community this, or people of color that, immigrants this, refugees that, I think it’s really important to also acknowledge people’s unique experiences as well as their collective ones.
Ana: So many fine words of wisdom from Maria and Ursula, what else you got Alberto?
Alberto: It’s hard that add any more wisdom than they’ve already shared. Thank you to both of them. I think diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility is especially critical during this time. Because I think it’s attempting for systems and structures and organizations, especially dominant system organizations that think that work is a burden, as an add- on to what are already full plates. But I think we need to look at diversity not as weakness, but as strength. That is that in Oregon, we’re created not in spite of our diversity, but because of that, because our survival as a species depends on that, which genetic and cultural diversity. We know that our communities portage creates resilience, especially as I hear my colleagues talk about immigrants and refugees. They come not only with great need, but they also portage, I think, wonderful, culturally imbued strengths which are rarely talked about or recognized.
For example, we know that the science is beginning to show that those first-generation Latino immigrants who arrived in US had better health outcomes than their second generation born counterparts, meaning that there’s something about our diets or something about our traditions, something about the way that we structure as families and extended families, something about the way we praise, something about the way we walk in the world, something about our relationship with the environment that has culturally
imbued protective factors. That make us not weaker, not a liability, but an asset, and strength in these times.
And so, the challenge and the opportunity for dominant system friends and allies is to not see us alone as disease vectors, but to see those curative elements, those transformational elements, that we carry and are very sacred helix of our DNA, which make us collectively as communities stronger. And so that is both the challenge and the opportunity. And I think it’s also an invitation to our friends and allies to look at this differently. To see us as value added. To see our many beautiful strengths. Thank you for asking.
Ana: Yeah, thanks for that. I’m curious if there are specific examples, especially these days, that you could share with us both intrapersonally or interpersonally, or actually organizationally through policy or procedure. Examples of DEI in action in a way that supports the wellness of the workforce.
Ursula: Intrapersonally me as a white looking Latina, I think it’s important to see who, you know, whether to check myself and be self-reflective and making the judgment, right? So, whether it’s I see youth hanging out on the street or a single mother taking her baby to the store without wearing masks. I need to be able to check my judgment in terms of workplace productivity, whether I am motivated to work or not. In my head, I’m like you know, it’s this idea that immigrant always producing, always working. I was having a conversation with a really good friend of mine who is a mental health provider in the San Francisco Bay Area. And she was talking about how as the provider she has to continue. She feels like she has this need to continue to work and work and work, because she is the first generation immigrant and she needs to produce not only to prove to like herself and her community, but there’s also the idea of like we have no choice but to continue to produce and continue to work because we have no idea what’s going on.
And so, I think interpersonally, I also tap into some of the traditional knowledges that I’ve been able to acquire or to learn. I listen a lot to what some of the native elders are doing, try to understand more about the traditional teachings. Interpersonally, I’m really blessed to have this class where I work with a local musician and the history teacher. So, we have this class that we call and it’s really about taking what the kids want to talk about and bringing it into the classroom and into our space. And it’s the only community-based class that we have in our program. And it’s been the only class that we’re successful in continuing to have attendance. And the kids are going there for community and they’re going there to talk about things, right? And we asked them what, we always ask them what they want to do, and what they want to talk about, and what they want to do is do art, what they want to do is talk about being inspired. They want to learn about their traditions, their ancestors, their history. They want to learn about what else is going on in the world because they’re really actually just exhausted from hearing so much about COVID-19.
And as I was preparing for this, I got really excited because then we could talk, I could prepare curriculum about adjusting the disparities in the Latino community and health, and
education, et cetera. And I was ready to plan curriculum around COVID-19. They don’t want to talk about that. And so, I think intrapersonally, we have a lot of work and checking ourselves, being patient. And because we also have to model it interpersonally in our work. Now I work with kids, I used to work with adults in non-profits, I have to be a model, a model of like being able to acknowledge that my mental health is not 100%. And then how do I negotiate? And I had a student last week bring up how he’s been depressed. So, it important for us to also take a moment to say, hey, you know what? Look at the growth that you have done. And you’re here today, and you’re coming to class, and you’re showing up. And so, I think it’s also a lot about like pick your, interpersonally, taking the time to acknowledge the work that you’re doing to show up, however you’re showing up in your life.
And also, the model that for those who you’re working with and you’re working for, and you’re working, you’re teaching, whatever. However you’re involved in the community. And I think especially as first-generation immigrants, we also are interpreters in our community, we’re sharing information, we’re helping people access resources. You know, and we, immigrant and refugee communities, we have a lot of taboos around mental health. So even having conversations that, hey, let’s talk about our mental health, my dad will tell you that he’s not crazy and he doesn’t need help. And so, you know, but how does behavior affect me and then how do I show up at school? And so, I think it’s the moment to like slow down, talk to people, take breaths. And like you said, just kind of acknowledge what is going on in your body and just try to like process this. Yeah.
Maria: Yeah. Well, I just kind of wanted to talk about, and I think it’s a little bit related to Alberto’s point earlier, when you look at health outcomes for second versus first-generation immigrants. And to me, it’s kind of having a very standardized expectation of behavior. What does it mean to be safe? What does it mean to be healthy? What is your community’s relationship to the government? So, I think when we look at the way that resources are being distributed during this crisis, the way that information is coming out. Sometimes people think that just having language accessibility is enough without really examining the things that you’re asking people to do and how that’s going to resonate in that community.
And I think a lot of it has to do with, I mean, let’s start with what it means to be healthy. What does it mean to be, to have a healthy diet, right? I think that things like a lot of the nutritional education programs I’ve seen or the way that doctors approach health has to do with getting vaccines or eating kale or eating these trendy foods without really taking the time to learn from communities. What are some of their traditional healing practices? And what kinds of foods do they eat to stay healthy? And it doesn’t always match with, I think, what is the mainstream expectation of what it means to be healthy, right? And all these things are relevant as we’re going through this crisis in the way that people take care of themselves.
And so, I think that also translates to the idea of safety, right? Like what is your relationship with police, with security officers? And how willing are you going to be when you go to a park, right? To respect the authority or to take seriously what a park ranger is telling you. And so, I think a lot of the communication methods have really been with the intended
audience of what we consider like, you know, the mainstream hipster, liberal Portlander. And we’re kind of assuming that people have the same expectations of behavior. And so, I do think it’s really important to know the community that you’re working with so that you understand exactly what barriers you might have, to have a dialogue and explain the message from a perspective that they can better relate to as opposed to just having a mandate. And I think we can see that too in the way that some of the schools are implementing the distance learning piece, right? It’s not only thinking about families that maybe don’t have access to technology, that don’t have access to internet, that are not as literate.
And also, I think in immigrant families, you know, for a lot of our communities, people who are elderly really have a position of respect, right? And so, when you take these new technologies and rules and relationship to government and school, where the kids really take on that role almost of being the adult. What that does to the family structure without providing a space for elders to kind of exercise their respected role as leaders, as experts in their community. And so, I think it’s really important to make space for things like that. So, as an example, when we were doing the Hunger Relief Program at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization. When we did the nutritional education aspect, we really tried not to have different institutions come in like Oregon Food Bank or health organizations to talk about what a healthy diet might look like. We always tried to have folks from the community who were a particular age to come and talk about how they see healthy meals, to share traditional recipes, to really give them a space to kind of own their expertise and their knowledge as opposed to being lectured by someone.
And so, I think that approach can really be recreated in a lot of different ways, right? Extending to not just to health, but other things. And I think that dialogue and really making the space for people to be heard and to kind of restore their sense of, you know, I think Alberto you said value added. And I think that piece really gets overlooked. We talk about these communities, I think a lot of times in a top-down approach, without giving them as much space to share what they have to offer and their perspective.