New report outlines county's racial, ethnic challenges
Elected officials are praising a new report that delves into the problems and prospects of Washington County's burgeoning racial and ethnic minorities.
The report was released Monday, June 18, at a gathering organized by the Coalition of Communities of Color, which produced a similar report about Multnomah County in 2012.
Two years in the making, the report describes the status of Latinos, Asians and Asian Americans, African Americans, Slavs, Native Americans, Middle East/North Africans, Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, and Africans. The report came up with greater numbers for five of the groups than the 2012-16 estimates from the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census. The Census does not track the other three groups.
The principal researcher was Shweta Moorthy, who said she was surprised at how frank people were — and not just minorities.
"What surprised me the most was how willing people were to get uncomfortable with what was coming up," she said, "and the way in which our partners realize this discomfort was part of change happening in Washington County."
Washington County is Oregon's most diverse county, with non-Hispanic whites accounting for about two-thirds of its 600,000 residents, and people of color the other third.
"I want to say that having this report was so great just to see our stories and our realities on paper and being talked about," said Erika Lopez, a Hillsboro School Board member.
What was not so great, Lopez said, were some of the specific findings involving discrimination. Among them:
• Vietnamese and Filipino workers have lower incomes than white workers with similar levels of education.
• High-income applicants for home loans were more likely to face denials if they are black (86 percent) or Latino (125 percent) than similar potential white homeowners.
• For Native American single mothers with children, 68 percent live in poverty, compared with the national rate of 48 percent.
• Somali-speaking students are 197 percent more likely than white students to be suspended or expelled from school.
"Racism is real," Lopez said. "It is historical and it is practiced and sustained today."
Signs of hope
Olga Acuna, director of federal programs for Hillsboro schools and a former city councilor, said that unlike past reports, community organizations helped shape the research and ensured that minorities got a chance to comment while this report was in progress.
"Communities of color are not given much space to lead the research that is about them," she said. "Their experiences are continually being dismissed while policymakers and practitioners remain puzzled about why policies are not having the desired outcomes."
Because of the process followed in researching and assembling this report, Acuna added, "We are looking to stronger and more collaborative partnerships."
The report recommends actions in several fields, including education, understanding of specific needs; economic advancement beyond steps to eliminate discrimination, and the promotion of political and civic engagement.
Juan Carlos Gonzalez, a spokesman with Centro Cultural de Washington County and newly elected Metro councilor-elect for the Hillsboro and Forest Grove areas, said that work is vital to building a strong community.
"I know the importance of building community and creating a welcoming space for all. We must celebrate our multiracial and multiethnic communities here in Washington County," said Gonzalez, the first Latino elected to the council, who takes office in January. "I also know firsthand the power of civic engagement and of bringing voices to the table."
The report was funded by grants and services from local cities, Washington County, Metro, Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District, Oregon Community Foundation, and United Way of the Columbia-Willamette. Moorthy said government agencies contributed $185,000 over the past two years.
In Hillsboro, the most diverse of Washington County cities, minorities make up about 40 percent of the city's 100,000 residents.
But despite its diversity, there's still plenty of work to do, according to Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway.
"We recognize there are serious racial disparities and outcomes for our communities of color," he said. "We know we have work to do to redress and dismantle racism that is causing the disparities."
Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax didn't speak during the presentation, but afterward, he confirmed the accuracy of the information that the report presents of the city.
Forest Grove High School was the site of two incidents in 2016, when a student called a teacher a racist slur, and another student hung a banner with the words, "build a wall," a reference to a promise by then-candidate Donald Trump for a border wall with Mexico. The student later apologized.
"We have a number of meetings we have been holding the past couple of years independent of the coalition," Truax said. "We've had the opportunity to see what we need to do. We do have a ways to go."
But Truax restated a pledge he made to incoming students at Pacific University and in his most recent State of the City address: "Hate is never going to find a home in Forest Grove."
By Peter Wong
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NOTE: Corrects identity for Olga Acuna, a Hillsboro School District official.
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