Elected and community leaders from across the state gathered Friday in Portland to kick off the inaugural Latinx Institute for Public Service, a project of Oregon Latino Agenda for Action, with support from Multnomah County.
Among the attendees was Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, who was the first Latina elected to the Oregon House of Representatives and only the fifth person of color to be elected to the Multnomah County Commission.
She said it’s vital that elected leaders, their staff and decision-makers within agencies represent the people they serve; and that’s not happening now, when 1-in-4 kids entering first grade is Latinx.
“We’re a major part of Oregon but our voices are not being heard,” she said.
Vega Pederson was joined by elected Latinx leaders from school boards, local governments and the state. Joe Gallegos, who represented Hillsboro in the Oregon House of Representatives, said the event was powerful.
It’s the first time he can remember gathering with a nonpartisan group of elected Latinx leaders and younger leaders interested in entering politics or becoming leaders within institutions and in communities. He’s especially touched by the number of young people who have turned out.
Among those aspiring leaders was Isabel Rodriguez, an aspiring astrophysicist entering her final year at Portland State University before she begins a Ph.D. program. But this summer she is stepping back from science to intern at the Multnomah County Elections Office.
“Civic engagement is as important as any research I may do,” she said. “For me it’s a way of becoming visible to the people I want to influence.”
Science and leadership are both areas that she says her family is proud that she’s pursuing because it shows other young people that it’s possible for them too.
“They don’t feel this is a place they can reach,” she said. “And I want them to know that’s not true.”