A few years ago, while teaching a class at Estacada High School, artist Reeva Wortel asked several students if having a mural highlighting the city's Latino community would help with microaggressions they were experiencing.
In response, one student said "maybe a mural about us would mean that we mattered as much as the white people."
Wortel, who will be the lead artist on that Artback project next summer, shared the story during an online listening session about racial equity hosted by the city of Estacada on Monday, July 13.
The discussion was moderated by Estacada First Baptist Church Pastor Brent Dodrill, and panelists included Mayor Sean Drinkwine; City Councilors Katy Dunsmuir, Justin Gates, Jerry Tenbush and KC Spangler; Assistant City Manager Melanie Wagner; City Planner Taylor Campi; Estacada School District Superintendent Ryan Carpenter; Lt. Tony Kollias of the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office; and Kate Anderly of the Estacada STAND UP Movement.
After Drinkwine received criticism because of a Facebook post about local Black Lives Matter events that he apologized for last month, multiple community members participating in the listening session spoke highly of him and his dedication to the city.
"Every time I see the mayor, he's always talking about the city and what they're trying to do with it. He loves his town," Steve Locke said. "I feel like if I looked up 'small town community mayor,' there would be Sean's face there. There should be some honor and commitment to people that we know that we know their intent, regardless if he said something not quite the right way, or something to that effect."
"He's given an apology, and I think it was a sincere apology," John McAdoo said. "There are some people that just won't accept apologies, but I would suggest Mayor Drinkwine that you stay in office until the November election and let the voters decide." However, not everyone shared that view. Fred Weiler expressed concern that Drinkwine had not condemned the actions of some counter protestors during a march against racism on Friday, June 26, and called for him to step down.
"Many who are in their teens marched from the high school to City Hall. They were yelled at, called names, flipped off, swore at, told to go home and spit upon. We're in the midst of a pandemic and people were being spit on," Weiler said, reading from a letter he had previously sent the city. "The ignorance about BLM shown by some in our community is disheartening. The mayor did not make these people ignorant, but he did empower them with his comments."
Sharing experiences and looking to the future
Anderly discussed the role that racial inequity plays in Oregon's history, including exclusion laws and language in the state's constitution.
"This is why we need to have marches in small towns all over the place … if we're all aware of this history, we're aware of our reputation, and if we love this place, we need to do the work to be clear about who we are. We need city leaders and church leaders to join us in saying that racism has no place here," she said. "To me, when you love something you're willing to have hard conversations and do the work to improve things."
Another speaker, Ali Hart, encouraged city leaders to take additional actions moving forward — including having a council member or committee dedicated to diversity and equality.
"I would think that it would be important to seek out other city councils, and just work with them and see what they're doing to have more diversity and racial equality in their towns and see what could help us," she added.
Carlos Romero shared experiences he had gathered from fellow Latino community members in Estacada.
"There are two kinds of experiences for some. They have found Estacada to be a supportive, compassionate community that has welcomed them, that has embraced them," he said. "When I talk about what has been the most negative experience, or the other side of the coin, they have been, at times, feeling devalued in dealing with the banks and school system… For example, one parent told me, my kid was made fun of at school and I didn't have anybody to go to discuss (it with)."
He added that some members of the Latino community felt targeted by a specific police officer, who is no longer in the area.
City leaders respond
Panelists thanked community members for participating in the discussion
"(This is) something that really needs to be addressed and we need to grow together on," Wagner said. "We have common ground. We just need to find that and move forward and use each other's strengths."
Campi described the conversation as "an important start."
"There is a lot more work that we as a city need to do in terms of addressing racial disparity and the ways our systems perpetuate it, and also in terms of facilitating better understanding across different groups within the community," she said. "A lot of people don't think that they're racist and don't want to be racist. They're not intentionally racist, but we are absolutely brought up and socialized in a system of racism."
Gates said he was sad to see the levels of animosity during the previous march against racism.
"I've seen more counter protestors doing the cussing and the flipping off, but I've seen the protestors get angry, too. The sheer hate was sad to me. To be honest, that bothered me tremendously," he said.
Dunsmuir noted that the City Council represents all community members and that some plan to file a petition in support of Drinkwine.
"We really do have a mayor in place who loves Estacada. As City Council members, we represent everybody. We represent the Blacks, the whites, the Hispanics," she said. "We represent everyone, including the people who showed up to the counter protest with long rifles. We represent everyone and their best interests."
Drinkwine encouraged his critics to learn more about him.
"A lot of you don't know my past or my history but you judge me on that basis. I ask you to sit with me, find out who I am as a person and then judge me in the future. My mistake does not excuse me, but at the same time, I am all about the city of Estacada, where it's going and what it will be in our future," he said, adding that he looks at the City Council as a family. "I trust the actions that you bring forward will be the ones best for this city. And I can't defend what I did, but to say, I will be better. And I will learn from my mistake."
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