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Thursday, October 29, 2020

Right Now is the Right Time for the Latinx Caucus

When Janette Romero Christenson attended her first Clackamas Democrats Central Committee meeting, she was somewhat surprised by what she few in the audience looked like they might be Latinx or a Person of Color. 

“This was not a completely new experience for me,” she remembers, “since I was aware that Oregon’s current majority population is not ethnically diverse.” But through her work, family and social experiences, she knew well that there is a vibrant Latinx population in Clackamas County: people who are working, raising families, going to school, attending religious services; residents who are professionals, business owners and voters.

Janette Romero Christenson

“I realized there’s a disconnect here,” she says. “Then the fire was really lit by the division that’s been increased and even encouraged by our current President. The ‘Every 30 Seconds’ project also convinced me that I can’t ignore this disconnect between what I see and reality.

“In many instances, depending on skin color, facial features, and/or Latin names, we are not seen or acknowledged as Americans despite having been in North America prior to boundaries and borders, being native born and educated, etc.  I would further like to challenge our readers and members to ask themselves: ‘When I see someone who does not look like the majority in my community, or perhaps hear them speak a language other than English, is this person probably an American?  If no, why not?’

“This is probably a good place to start in exploring what we have been taught to believe and who benefits from the structure of these beliefs.”

So Romero Christenson decided the time was right to launch a Clackamas County Democrats Latinx Caucus. She spoke with chair Peter Nordbye, who encouraged her to proceed, and she received guidance from GM Garcia of Multnomah County Democrats, whom she met at a State of Oregon Latino Caucus meeting in Salem. 

These hard facts provided additional motivation:

  • “Every 30 Seconds” a person who identifies as Latinx turns 18 and is eligible to vote if given the opportunity.

  • There has been a 30% increase in hate crimes against the Latinx population, according to the latest FBI reports.

  • The wage gap between white and People of Color continues, as do disparities in education, housing and healthcare.

  • The gun massacre in El Paso, Texas, a year ago, when 23 Latin Americans who were shopping at WalMart were killed, a horrific crime that scared Romero Christenson, but also enraged her.

Still, she had doubts and questions about forging a successful Latinx Caucus: What are the expectations? Is this a noble endeavor? What is the comfort level for Clackamas County Democrats? What are we looking for? Is it being led by the majority? Is it something the Latinx population in Clackamas County really wants? How will we be supported? What are the benefits for Latinos?

"My big fear, " she acknowledges, "was that the effort would lead into the narrative of more division politically, within and outside of the Democratic Party. I wondered if perhaps we should just lay low and hope that everything will eventually be ok."  

Then COVID-19  appeared, and with the pandemic came obvious obstacles to reaching out, bringing people together to form an active new group.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

She reached out to lawmakers to let them know the caucus was forming, but surprisingly heard back from only two: State Representatives Andrea Salinas (HD38) and Janelle Bynum (HD51). Salinas will address the Caucus’s first meeting, via Zoom, in November, when members plan to agree on long-term goals. 

In addition to Romero Christenson, charter members of the Latinx Caucus are: Carlos Burgos-Vazquez, Valdez Bravo, Lucia Flores, Monica Santoyo and Cynthia Wilson.

The Caucus’s already identified short-term goals include education and training. “We need to educate leaders about the vast diversity within the Latinx population and population in Oregon and within the history of the United States,” Romero Christenson explains. “We also need to educate and encourage the Latinx population about how they can get involved in the political process. We want to encourage leadership opportunities and run candidates if they are interested.”

An important message she wants to reach Latinx residents: If they aren’t registered to vote because they don’t meet voting requirements, that does not mean they can’t join the Latinx Caucus or have their voices be heard, because in the future they may meet those requirements, or family members will. 

“We are welcoming anyone who agrees with the tenets of the Clackamas County Democrats,” she emphasizes. “No matter your educational level, experience in politics, or if you’re not yet comfortable with are welcome.” 

For more information see the Latinx flyer.