2021 in Review: Diversity makes its mark on community
Much has been made of Portland's reputation as one of the least-diverse cities in America. In 2021, the newsroom of the Portland Tribune redoubled its effort to find the stories of people of color, and other minorities, and to tell these stories in a prominent position in our newspaper: the front page.
What we found was how easy it was to find that diversity in the news. Which made it easier to cover our community in all its wholeness and complexity.
And we began in the realm of politics. On Jan. 13, our center package — the most prominent story on the front page — noted that the metro region's legislative delegation got younger and more diverse. We focused on three freshmen lawmakers: Reps. Khanh Pham, Wlnsvey Campos and Ricki Ruiz — who were sworn into office that Monday, Jan. 11. Pham and Ruiz represent portions of Multnomah County; Campos a portion of Washington County. All are young. Pham is Vietnamese American, while Campos self-identifies as Latina and Ruiz as Latinx. And they were elected to represent communities that also are growing more diverse.
"I actually teared up a little, taking the pledge," Pham said. "I think about what it means for my family."
Campos, a daughter of immigrants, said she was aware of the symbolic significance of her election into state office, although her family stayed home and did not attend her swearing-in. "In another timeline, it would have been great to have my father there," she said. "He was a big influence in making me into who I am today."
The Tribune followed that story a week later with a profile of newly sworn-in state Sen. Kayse Jama of Portland and Clackamas County. "My journey from a nomadic community in Somalia to the Oregon Senate is a testament to where I came from, the people of our district, and our shaved values," he said.
That issue also featured a story on Page A1 about the 2021 legislative agenda of the Black, Indigenous, People of Color Caucus in the Legislature. The agenda consisted of 40 bills covering policing and criminal justice, economic opportunity education, health care, human services and housing, tax issues and the political process, much of which came to fruition as the legislative session ensued.
We followed that caucus through the 2021 legislative session.
Another front page story included the decision by Portland Public Schools to rename James Madison High School as Leodis V. McDaniel High School. McDaniel was a former Portland high school principal who attended Buckman Elementary, graduated from Lincoln High School in 1953 and later served as principal at Madison during the 1980s. He attended school before desegregation became a federal mandate, and went on to become one of only a few Black principals in Oregon during that era.
Staying in the topic of education, the Tribune featured a story about the reopening of Portland Public Schools, in the wake of the coronavirus, and how students and families were reacting. The focus of our story was on Danny Cage, a student of color at Grant High School with underlying health issues, who said he didn't feel safe attending school in person.
The paper ventured back into politics that month with an A1 story of the appointment of state Rep. Andrea Valderrama to an open seat in the Legislature. She is the first Peruvian American to serve in the Oregon Legislature, representing portions of East Portland.
Describing herself as a first-generation American and the daughter of day laborers, Valderrama touted her experience serving as the chair of the David Douglas School Board and as policy director for the ACLU of Oregon.
"I am a hard-working, unapologetic advocate and I won't stop working until I get the job done," Valderrama said.
In April, we began a multi-week series of articles and opinion columns on an investigation into an off-duty Forest Grove Police officer's allegedly threatening behavior toward a woman of color who flew a Black Lives Matter flag on her garage.
In May, the Tribune went back to a story from five years earlier, reconnecting with Bibiana Rivera Espindola on the day of her virtual commencement ceremony from the University of Portland. She was moments away from becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college. For Rivera, who is undocumented, that day came on the heels of years of uncertainty. When she was 3 years old, she and her family crossed the border from Mexico into the United States. As immigration policy shifted throughout the decades, the chance for Rivera to attend and graduate from college had not always been guaranteed.
June saw the beginning of a series of stories we called "The Long Division." Oregon public schools had underserved students of color for decades, but original research by Pamplin Media Group — including some data the schools themselves didn't have — showed that the pandemic made that inequity worse in many ways. That entire series can be found online at pampinprojects.com.
While much of that series focuses on students of color, the Tribune also ran an A1 story on the ways in which many nonbinary students — for generations, the focus of torment and bullying in brick-and-mortar schools — found solace in online learning.
"I think it's a common experience for queer students in PPS to feel alienated, particularly from people of our own gender or sex at the time," said Ben, 17, a high school junior whose last name was withheld at the student's request for privacy and safety concerns.
In July, the Tribune borrowed a story from one of our sister publications, the Hillsboro Times. Daniel Diaz, co-owner of the Hillsboro-based business NW Equipment Rentals, was delivering an excavator to a customer for a farm project. As he drove, he realized he passed the former migrant farmworker camp he grew up on with his family.
Diaz said he looked back fondly on the time he spent exploring the woods behind the camp with other kids, and getting up at dawn to go to the blueberry fields with his parents when he was too young for school. He is a self-made entrepreneur, 29, and a DACA recipient; the Obama-era policy on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The program has allowed people brought to the United States as children to stay and work or go to school without fear of deportation since 2012.
Diaz said seeing his parents' hard work and hearing stories about their journey through the desert from Mexico to the United States, and ultimately to Washington County motivated him throughout his life. "Sometimes I feel like I have it bad, but then I think about my family and where they were coming from," Diaz said. "You just gotta feel blessed with what you have here."
The very next issue of the Tribune focused its A1 center package on Benson High graduate and University of Oregon student Micah Williams, who was heading to the Olympics with stellar results in the 100 meter dash. Williams, then 20, was among the pool of six runners selected for the United States 4x100 relay team scheduled to compete in Tokyo. He was selected after finishing fifth in the 100 meters on June 20 during the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials at Hayward Field in Eugene.
In August, the newspaper dug into who Oregon's online public charter schools draw so little diversity; comparing them to online public charter schools in Colorado, which have become a national outlier for enrolling students of color.
Later that month, the paper took a hard look at a now-common practice at civic meetings in the region to open with officials reading "land acknowledgment" statements that say all surrounding properties were stolen from the original Indigenous inhabitants. Such opening "mea culpas" have become regular intros for the Portland City Council, Multnomah County Commission, Metro, and the Oregon Historical Society
Which led Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez, an internationally known, Indigenous environmental activist and hip-hop artist living in Portland, to ask the question, "So why not give the land back?"
"Land acknowledgment has been an easy thing to check off. It's nice to acknowledge disposed Indigenous people," he said. "That's an entry point to a conversation that we need to move further."
The newspaper returned to the topics of education and DACA in September, focusing on the story of Nancy Flores Sanchez, who should have been setting up her classroom and preparing for the new school year at Cesar Chaves K-8 School. Instead, she was put on leave by Portland Public Schools.
Flores Sanchez has been with the school since before she graduated college. But five years after she started working at Cesar Chavez, Flores Sanchez began back-to-school week without knowing if she'd be there for her new class. Flores Sanchez is a DACA recipient, and processing delays by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, meant she couldn't work.
But on the Monday of the first week of school for PPS, Flores Sanchez got her renewal. She was there when her first-graders arrived.
The Tribune ran an A1 feature on Karina LeBlanc, the new general manager of the Portland Thorns. LeBlanc, 41, played goalkeeper for Portland in 2013, the first season of the National Women's Soccer League, and helped the Thorns win the league championship. A member of Canada's women's national team for 18 years, LeBlanc played in five FIFA Women's World Cups and two Olympics. Before retiring in 2015, she appeared in 110 matches for Canada (108 starts) and helped Canada to a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics and fourth place at the 2003 Women's World Cup. She played 15 seasons of professional club soccer.
Since 2018, LeBlanc has led the women's soccer program for Concacaf, the region that includes North America, Central America and the Caribbean. In that role, her focus was to grow women's soccer in the region's 41 soccer federations.
We kicked off December by highlighting this year's iteration of PDX Pop-Up Shops. The Portland Business Alliance is offering rent-free store space downtown to seven new retailers. They are all local, mostly minority-owned companies that have been doing well online but that might benefit from some high traffic real estate. The seven shops remain open through Friday, Dec. 31.
That same issue included a memorial story for former Portland Police Chief Charles Moose, who died Thursday, Nov. 25, at age 68. He was Portland's first Black police chief, a role in which he served from 1993 to 1999.
And we came full circle, just before Christmas, with another story about Rep. Khanh Pham.
Pham, a Democrat from the Jade District of Portland, was born to parents who fled Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) when North Vietnam took over U.S.-backed South Vietnam. Many refugees were sent to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, but ended up in nearby Oklahoma, where Pham was born in 1978. Her family's own history as refugees is reflected in her co-leadership of an Oregon legislative task force that proposed $18 million for resettlement of up to 1,200 refugees from Afghanistan to Oregon.
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