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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On the City of Portland's proposed Office of Equity

By Sean Cruz

Portland, Oregon--

My name is Sean Cruz. I am a resident of NE Portland. I am openly Mexican-American, Chicano to be more specific, the descendant of Meso-American aboriginal people.

I do not self-identify as Latino or Hispanic because those are colonial labels of convenience that refer to no particular race, culture, ethnicity or nationality.

I am the grandson of Mexican farm workers, who came to serve Portland communities and the state of Oregon as former state senator Avel Gordly’s chief of staff for six years.

The first two bills that Senator Gordly assigned me to draft in the 2003 legislative session addressed the lack of equity for Oregon’s farm workers, who under state statute had no rights to meal and rest breaks during the work day or to overtime pay for overtime work. Every other worker in the state has those rights.

Neither bill received a hearing, but Senator Gordly and then-BOLI Commissioner Dan Gardner worked together outside of the legislative process to successfully change Oregon statutes, granting farm workers the right to meal and rest breaks, effective February, 2004.

Oregon’s farm workers still have no right to overtime pay for overtime work, the only class in the state bearing that burden.

I recently met with Francisco Lopez of CAUSA and Ramon Ramirez of PCUN, and I asked them who was the farm workers’ best friend in the legislature now that Senator Gordly has retired.

They answered “zero.” There is no one.

Every person in the City, in the County and in the State is dependent upon food produced by Oregon’s mostly Mexican farm workers, yet there is no equity for this population.

The fact is that no legislator or any other public official has wanted to touch farmworker issues since the street renaming fiasco, supposedly to “honor” Cesar Chavez, that fed not one hungry child nor kept one young person in school.

During the two years that the City was torn over renaming a street that to this very day has no connection to Portland’s farm worker population, there was much hate speech and invective directed specifically at Mexican people, yet during that entire period the Office of Human Relations, the Human Rights Commission and the Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce stood silent and let the invective fly.

"Working toward equity requires an understanding of historical contexts, and active investment in social structures over time so that that all communities can experience their vision of success.”—From the Office of Equity draft plan

My question to the Council is: How will things be different in the new Office of Equity; will you still be taking advice from the same people who advocated for renaming a street; and, in the future, in the interests of accountability and transparency, will you require similar groups as the street renaming committee to publicly identify their membership, beyond the self-appointed chairs?

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These comments were emailed to the Portland City Council and posted on The Oregonian, here:

http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2011/08/can_an_office_of_equity_succee.html

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