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Portland Commissioner-elect Carmen Rubio, other local leaders demand cafe owner Maria Garcia withdraw her lawsuit.

FILE - Maria GarciaAn incoming Portland City Commissioner, three state representatives, the superintendent of Portland Public Schools and numerous other local Latino leaders have demanded a local businesswoman and would-be politico withdraw her lawsuit targeting the COVID-19 relief fund reserved for Black Oregonians.

The Sunday, Nov. 22, statement released by the Latino Network follows the suit filed in Oregon federal court on Friday by Maria Garcia — the owner of Revolución Coffee House, a former president of Don't Shoot Portland and a 2018 candidate for the Multnomah County Commission.

"The actions of Maria Garcia are anti-black, and do not represent the sentiment of Latinos — some of whom also identify as black — and who believe these investments in the Black community are vital to saving lives during the pandemic and provide the very needed financial support during these difficult times," according to the statement with 26 co-signers.

The suit, filed by the Center for Individual Rights, says Garcia was denied access to the $62 million Oregon Cares Fund for Black Relief and Resiliency because of her race and national origin. Garcia identifies as Mexican-American.

"These self-proclaimed 'leaders' should have taken the time to hear both sides before demanding that I withdraw my lawsuit. They should have asked me what happened to my business. Instead, they attack me for challenging an unjust program that prohibits me from even applying for aid because of my race," Garcia said in a statement to the Tribune.

She continued: "The individuals who criticize me today run nonprofits that raise millions of dollars off of our community. Yet they did not raise a single voice against a program that unjustly penalizes our community because of our race. Where were they when the legislature was setting up this program? Where were they before I raised my voice about how this program penalizes us because of our race?"

The suit seeks access to the fund, attorney's fees and unspecified monetary damages. Garcia's downtown cafe has suffered monetary losses due to several shutdowns, and has been closed since August, per the suit.

"The Fund fails to consider possible effects of the coronavirus, or past discrimination, on other groups, including Latinos," according to the eight-page lawsuit.

The statement from the Latino Network claims the vast majority of Latino leaders support the fund, and suggests that "dog whistle political organizations" have created a false us-versus-them mentality.

"Organizations like the Center for Individual Rights preach racially divisive messages while advocating for cuts in our state budgets during a pandemic," the statement says. "Then they turn around and use Latino business owners as tokens to point fingers at black working families for these hard times. This is not only disgraceful, [it is] misdirected aggression, and doesn't align with our Latino community values."

The Center for Individual Rights describes itself as a "civil libertarian" and public-interest nonprofit, though many of its most well-known cases have challenged affirmative action or defended religious freedom on college campuses.

The Latino Network statement applauds Gov. Kate Brown for creating "culturally specific" sources of funding, saying there are too many barriers to other resources.

Their statement continues: "We demand Maria Garcia drop the lawsuit immediately, and make a public apology to black leaders that advocated tirelessly to deliver much needed relief to a community that has been left behind historically and systematically by Oregon's institutions."

The signatories to the statement include Carmen Rubio, Portland City Commissioner-Elect & Executive Director of Latino Network; Reyna Lopez, Executive Director of PCUN; Dr. Ernesto Fonseca, CEO of Hacienda CDC; Marta Guembes, Hon. Consul a. h. of Guatemala; State Representative Teresa Alonso-Leon; State Representative Andrea Salinas; State Representative Elect Wlnsvey Campos; Jessica Vega Pederson, Multnomah County Commissioner; Juan Carlos Gonzalez, Metro Deputy Council President; Debbie Cabrales, Woodburn City Councilor; Maria Caballero Rubio, Executive Director of Centro Cultural de Washington County; Serena Cruz Walsh, Executive Director of Virginia Garcia Health Foundation; Levi Herrera-Lopez, Executive Director of Mano a Mano Family Services; Meg Guerra, Executive Director of Evolve and FHDC; Adriana Miranda, Executive Director of Causa Oregon; Jaime Arredondo, Executive Director of CAPACES Leadership Institute; Rebeca Velazquez, Executive Director of Mujeres Luchadoras Progresistas; Tony DeFalco, Executive Director of Verde; Guadalupe Guerrero, Superintendent of Portland Public Schools; Jonathan Garcia, Chief Engagement Officer, Portland Public Schools; Rafael Arellano, Executive Director of Educate Ya!; Ivan Hernandez, Community Advocate; Nancy Ramirez Arriaga, Community Advocate; Yasmin Ibarra, Political Organizer SEIU49; Rev. Linda Jaramillo, Community Advocate; Stephen Green, Entrepreneur.

Garcia had previously defended her lawsuit on Facebook, but by Sunday the page had apparently been deleted or made private.

Zane Sparling
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