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The City of Portland, Oregon

Community & Civic Life

Promote the common good

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1221 SW 4th Ave, Suite 110, Portland, OR 97204

A collection of stories highlighted as a part of the Code Change 3.96 Project.


Jennifer Truc Ly Le, of the Vietnamese American Community

Jennifer Truc Ly Le profile photoJennifer Truc Ly Le is a Portlander and member of the Vietnamese American community. Jennifer shared her thoughts regarding the code change process at our April 30th Multilingual Community Connections Gathering. We asked her to share her thoughts on civic engagement with us.

Which community conversation or gathering did you attend?

I attended the Vietnamese community conversation at the IRCO Asian Family Center.

What are some of the ways that you have already engaged with Portlanders?

I go to as many community events as I can. This includes a lot of Vietnamese community events, and church events at St. Andrew Dung Lac and Our Lady of La Vang Catholic Church. As a Portlander, I try to find different ways to get more people to understand the Vietnamese American community here in Portland because there are a lot of different perspectives on who the Vietnamese people are, and what the community is about.

A lot of people still associate what they know about Vietnamese through the Vietnam War or how popular Pho is now. I do my best to understand other communities and their stories by engaging in conversations with people who are different than me. This also helps me share my story so that others can understand more about the Vietnamese community as well. 

What do you want to make sure we include, that we don’t miss through this process?

Through this process, I hope that you can help get more people to engage in this process of changing the code. The Vietnamese people that were at the conversation that night are just a small percentage. I would recommend going to the places that have large gatherings such as churches, temples/pagodas, and big community events. A lot of the Vietnamese elders weren’t used to giving their opinion the night of the conversation, and it’s because they never really got that freedom to speak when they were in Vietnam. They don’t understand civic engagement because most of their mindset is still in survival mode. Making a living to raise their kids so that their kids can have a brighter future then they had. They don’t have “time” to think about politics and civic duty. That conversation must change, and an educational on civic life and how the city works may be a better first step than having them come to give their opinion.

What is civic engagement to you?

Civic engagement to me is being aware what is happening in your community. It is important to have a healthy relationship with the government on all levels, because being afraid or not caring what they are doing doesn’t help anyone. No matter if we are aware as citizens or not, our government still makes decisions every day that affect our lives. To be engaged means you speak up when something isn’t right or that you don’t see it is fair.

Civic engagement is giving our feedback to the government because we’re all human, and we make mistakes. That’s why there needs to be a check and balance system in our government system to make the people of our community more aware what is going on in their own backyard.

Andrii Nagornyi, of IRCO's Slavic Leadership Program

Andrii Nagornyi profile photoAndrii Nagornyi is the Slavic Leadership Program Coordinator at the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), a role he took on after serving as the Slavic Youth Advocate for over two years. Andrii moved to the United States from Ukraine a little more than three years ago. We asked him to share his thoughts about civic engagement as a participant of the Code Change process

Which community conversation or gathering did you attend?

It was the Slavic community conversation. We have a few IRCO staff members who attended, and I helped with organizing. There were more than 50 people from the Slavic community who came.

What are some of the ways that you have already engaged with Portlanders?

We brought together community members through IRCO’s leadership program. Our community also has held civic engagement classes. Instead of organizing things at IRCO, we go out to communities and have ESL classes at churches. That is how we engage with our communities. We offer different classes—they can be as simple as CPR, or they can be on different topics like immigration. The community understands their needs and is willing to work with us to let us know what they need.

We have recruited a lot of business owners, pastors, government employees, and other leaders onto the Slavic Advisory Board. Those people are the ones who help us navigate the system. They help us understand and serve as a bridge to the city. This helps us work with thousands and thousands of others. We all work together to develop a center, and the Slavic Advisory board members play an important part in that.

IRCO provides many services for the community: preschool, SUN program, employment, immigration, seniors. If the community could see outcomes from advocacy work, it would build the trust and engage of people to participate. The [Slavic and Eastern European Heritage Week] Proclamation last year and the year before was important for us. The Slavic proclamation was initiated by the Slavic Empowerment Team in the city of Portland and was signed by the mayor on January 9th. We brought all the community together and we invited as many commissioners and government workers as we could to IRCO for a celebration the next night, on January 10th. We invited everyone to taste a little bit of our food, and to celebrate our culture.

What do you want to make sure we include, that we don’t miss through this process?

I would really like to see some more Slavic staff in office—elected office and working in government. We need to raise up these leaders who can actually represent Slavic communities on school boards and in city institutions. We are doing poorly with that and we need to educate our community about that. Slavic people need resources in their own language. If there is any way, we want to gather together to teach our people about engagement and advocacy. If we both do this work, we can bring this work outside of our churches, out of our bubbles, to make our city better.

The biggest thing is to help establish a specific place with the services that people need. It can be helpful for our families to know about and to come get services. I think this is something they didn’t have for a long time, and they are slowly coming out of their shells. There are a lot of issues in the community. They are coming from a completely different government system, and it is not easy for them to navigate this system.

What is civic engagement to you?

It all starts with just educating our communities. It is important to understand that you have a voice, that you have a right to speak. You can make change, and you can advocate for what you want. Every voice was shut down, every right was shut down in our old government. You couldn’t believe in government. We have a hard time even educating our staff that it is different here.

At the end of the day, it’s about making a difference and voicing the issues in our communities. There are some things that our communities really believe in, but they don’t know how to advocate, how to talk about these things. We need to expose them to the system here, and to support them to do more testimony, more advocacy, more engagement on issues and on committees that the city offers.

Something that I am looking forward to is that the Slavic programs continue that we already have, plus leadership programs in different areas to educate and sustain the Slavic Center and bring our communities out of their shells. There are a lot of professionals within the Slavic communities who can be a resource for the City. We want to create that symbiotic relationship in which the City can invest in our health and education, and our community gives back by being more engaged.

Lul Abdulle, Leader of Portland's Somali Women's Association

Lul Abdulle is the leader of the Portland Somali Women's Association, which operates sewing classes and offers supplies to help give Somali women the ability to generate independent income. This organization offers a way for them to get together and discuss issues that are important to them.

Lul Abdulle profile photo

Which community conversation or gathering did you attend?

I attended the one for the Somali community through The Somali American Council of Oregon (SACOO). We talked about a lot, but the first thing was about neighborhood involvement, which is not enough outreach for the City.

The first meeting we did attend through SACOO. The discussion was focused on many topics. Most importantly was knowing your neighbor and ways to engage as an individual and as a family. We agreed that there were not enough outreach activities focused on our community (Somali) from the City or the Office of Community & Civic Life.

What are some of the ways that you have already engaged with Portlanders?

I have engaged through the culturally appropriate workshops we created using small grants we received through neighborhood coalitions (Southeast Uplift, Central Northeast Neighbors, and Southwest Neighbors, Inc.). So we got these grants and then created sewing workshops—an activity that people like to do—during which we would bring a presenter from the city or a health clinic to talk about an issue that is important, such as domestic violence, the criminal justice system and ways to protect our children, and preventative health. That’s how we met Amanda Fritz.

Through our workshops, we participated for the first time with National Night Out and Neighborhood Watch activities, community policing officers and build relationship with Portland Police, and we also did a cultural awareness night about Somali culture by joining other presentations from other ethnic communities.

What do you want to make sure we include, that we don’t miss through this process?

There are a lot of things going on. No one has reached out to us in a culturally appropriate way, not even through schools. We have community-based organizations that have already built relationships and gained trust among our Somali people and city officials. We don’t want you to reach out to us through big organizations that are only open Monday through Fridays, who only make flyers and leaflets. If you want to reach us and include us in your process, reach out in a culturally appropriate way through our community-based organizations.

We need our community-based organizations to be funded and involved before events occur. Reach out where people in Somali community live and reach out through events and activities that people can be part of.

For example, currently everyone is talking about emergency preparedness. We are refugees and we know how to run, but we don’t know what we’re running from, how to swim, or where to run in case of emergencies. This is a very important topic that impact all Portlanders in their daily life.  Reconsider your outreach method and include our community-based organizations first for education and training.

I want our voice to be heard from us, not just someone who Googled information. Like right now, you are talking to me, and I am talking to you. You are reaching out one on one and also by a group is better. Today, our children are educated, and they also speak English. We are professionals. No more translators from Google in between.

We also want to hear from you, not from a third party. This assures us that we are here, we've been noticed as part of this community, etc. Do not only reach out whenever there is a problem. Let us see you and know you ahead of time. We'll make positive changes together (City of Portland and Somali community). 

What is civic engagement to you?

So far it is not clear to our community what this means because no one has reached out. We don’t know if we’re counted from your side or if we’re just living in your city. So our question to you is, do you notice us? How do you want to reach us? Could we follow up on the focus group you just started and make sure to compensate well the people you are collecting their thoughts, ideas, time, etc.? We also have mouths to feed. 

Share your plan before you execute or implement, not at the last minute and after you already decided. We would like to be on the other side of the discussion table.