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Are we one community?

Updated: Aug 6, 2022

It was great to hear our County’s recognition of Juneteenth as an official, paid holiday a couple of months ago. This holiday is considered by many as “America’s second independence day”, recognizing the struggles for emancipation and end of slavery. However, overt disenfranchisement of people of color continued for another century during the Jim Crow regime, and structural racism continues to this day.

Despite the County’s humble step towards social progress, some of the exchanges during the fiscal year 23 budget discussions last month reinforced that there is a real and persistent discomfort that many of us have when navigating the space of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), as well as the ‘isms’, i.e. racism, sexism, classism, etc. For example, when one of the County departments mentioned a recently-established position dedicated to advancing DEI in our various communities, one of the committee members expressed concerns around the reference of “communities of” versus being “one community”.

Admittedly, my initial raw reaction was one of dismissal and I attributed the comment to the dominant culture’s fragility and sometimes rage when one raises DEI and any of the ‘isms’. However, I have come to learn that there are people within the dominant culture who are genuinely concerned about our county’s social cohesion and feel that stratifying groups of people and explicitly acknowledging our diversity and differences might undermine our oneness and the melting pot aspirations.

So I ask myself, are we one community in Deschutes County or are we many communities? I believe the answer depends on whether one is part of the dominant or the non-dominant cultures.

I grew up in Iran until the age of 12 before escaping the war and immigrating to Ohio. As Persians, my family and I are part of the dominant ethnicity in Iran. We see and experience Iran in a different way than the other ethnic minorities because the structures and systems are deliberately set up to accommodate and privilege families like mine.

They are intended to give us more power, voice and legitimacy. The institutions, such as education, housing, judicial, labor or healthcare unabashedly advantage us over others.

History of Iran is also narrated by the Persian’s version and interpretation of the past, which often sentimentalizes us as both the saviors and victims. It is no surprise that I see Iran as one country, but other non-dominant groups seek belonging in their multi-layered communities first.

These days, when I travel around Oregon and come across inquisitive people, I shortchange them by simply saying that I am ‘from’ Deschutes County. However, in reality I am from and belong to many communities within our beautiful county. I also belong to the BIPOC, immigrant, and Middle Eastern communities, and within those I am part of the Farsi-speaking and Iranian communities.

I hope calling out my layers of identity and communities that I belong to in Deschutes County does not feel threatening to our social cohesion. And importantly, I hope that when we talk about DEI and any of the ‘isms’, the fragility and rage that might ensue instead turns into curiosity and even pride for our growing diversity and communities.

I appreciate when Malcom X said, “You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.” I firmly believe that strengthening our social cohesion (and peace) in Deschutes County will derive from liberating our hearts and minds from the artificial notion of ‘one’ community, and instead calling out and embracing our collective and multi-colored differences. Let’s strengthen social cohesion by acknowledging and celebrating our collage of identities. After all, Juneteenth symbolizes freedom from centuries of oppression under the guise of oneness.

Nahad Sadr-Azodi

Director of Public Health, Deschutes County Health Services

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