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What this week means to an immigrant-American

Updated: Oct 19, 2022

I lived, studied and worked in Atlanta for several years. Atlanta is also where my twins and dog were born. I enjoyed my time there and some of my fondest memories included visiting the Martin Luther King, Jr., museum, which happened every time we had an out-of-town visitor. Dr. King, his life and what he stood for have been meaningful and inspiring for someone like me with Iranian heritage growing up as an immigrant in this country. I always thought of MLK as someone who bridged our visible and invisible differences. As I reflect on this week and struggle with my conscience, I am reminded of his quote, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor political, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

Since I arrived in Bend in March of 2020, my struggles at Deschutes County Health Services are no secret to most. Part of that story is what I need to own in terms of my deficiencies to adapt to our county and organization. It has been an ongoing challenge for me to find my voice and leadership style within our established values, beliefs and experiences. I also believe that my experience is a reflection of the county’s and organization’s struggles to adapt to me. When we talk about diversity, equity and inclusion in our work settings, we are not just talking about a check mark on recruitment of a person of color. We are also talking about celebrating the differences that those candidates bring to the organizational culture. We cannot expect people of different backgrounds, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, religions and genders to fit into our mold and culture without genuinely asking ourselves if we, as the dominant culture, have first examined our own biases, viewpoints and assumptions.

In the course of the last 2 years, I have heard many times, “we are so different,” “we think differently,” “we have different approaches” as though this is a bad thing. It’s not. We can still achieve results with integrity but in different ways. There is no “one way” of doing things. No groups or races have a monopoly on productivity or a path toward it. It has taken me the last two years to realize that my struggles are a balance of my shortcomings and the organization’s vision of how someone like me should act, be and communicate. I share all this because I am not alone in these feelings and experiences. There are community members, colleagues, friends, business people and others who come with diverse views, backgrounds, ethnicities, skin color, and experiences. If we really want to translate diversity, equity and inclusion into meaningful action, we should start with examining how the predominant culture and behaviors might make those who are different from us feel left out, and how our preset expectations might make them feel inadequate or that they don’t belong. Otherwise, in my view, we miss out on an opportunity to progress and enrich our relationships and ourselves.

As a person of color in a leadership position in our county, I have come to a realization that I am duty-bound to be one of the voices for these experiences. I don’t welcome the undue attention, especially since most of my life I have tried to blend in, fit in and to have a sense of belonging to something meaningful. I will continue to learn about this county and my organization, and I will continue to seek and create belonging wherever I can. I will also try to be myself and avoid shying away from being different. I have made a promise that I will not view myself as a liability, but rather that I, and other people of color and of different backgrounds, experiences and identities living and working in our region are resilient, educated, productive assets to the future of our county and region.

As Dr. King said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” It is my wish that we make room for all of us in the boat.

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