Personal experience and societal change gained equal focus July 28 in the weekly Hood River public gathering supporting social justice and equal opportunity.
Black Lives Matter signs expressed the dominant message heard in the gatherings, 5-6 p.m. each Tuesday at Second and State Streets, but the messages fanned out to recognize the needs and struggles of people of all colors, including Hispanic residents and the Indigenous community. Somos Uno — Spanish for “We are One” — is an equity and diversity initiative sponsored by Gorge Ecumenical Ministries (GEM), the group organizing the gathering.
“We are here to honor the resilience, resistance, revitalization, healing and creativity in the face of ongoing oppression,” said speaker Susan Wade. “We are honoring those who call the Great River home, and the water crisis on the Warm Springs Indian reservation.” Warm Springs citizens have dealt with boil-water orders in recent weeks. The social justice page of the GEM web site, gorgeeem.org, conveys information about how to help the support and repair of Warm Springs water infrastructure.
Wade invoked the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “Beloved community” vision, which figured in the life’s work of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights leader who died July 17. Lewis’ body lay in state in the U.S. Capital July 28; he was the first Black lawmaker thus honored.
“Beloved community is a society in which people no longer tolerate evils of poverty of racism ... a society in which all people are recognized as children of God, where the earth is spiritual and resources are shared equally, where an inclusive spirit resides in all of us.”
Wade said, “As we look around the country we see that Black Lives Matter is being joined by immigrants, is being joined by the indigenous community, and so many others who have suffered oppression under the various systems we have around the country. This is really Somos Uno, what started as Black Lives Matter has evolved into a call for universal justice and freedom.”
Another speaker, Pastor Claudia Bertadillo, described the gratification of seeing support for social justice in a community where she experienced open racism at a young age. Bertadillo, who serves Four Square Church/Guia de la Iglesia on Barrett Drive, described moving to Oregon 27 years ago, at age 12, from Central America, traveling by foot with her parents and siblings, starting in Guatemala.
“We didn’t choose to come, but we knew we would have a better life in this country,” Bertadillo said. She described the deep hunger and thirst on the journey, and stopping at homes in Mexico to ask for water and being turned away.
“So we drank the same water as the pigs,” Bertadillo said.
“That actually marked my life,” as did the open discrimination she experienced as an adolescent upon reaching Hood River, feeding her resentment and anger when she saw the effects of racism on her own children.
“I encountered racism here, but I realize that you guys want justice, and knowing that you want a change, knowing that you are here in this heat, knowing the pain you go through seeing people beat up, knowing that I don’t probably understand the system because I’m not smart enough, but I know seeing you guys here we want to make a difference. So together we need to make a difference.
“But the only way we can make a difference is healing the pain that is flowing in our veins. And bringing peace together, so we can make a change. We can make a change in any culture, anything, including make a change for our kids so that they are coming along with us, so they don’t feel ashamed for the color of their skin. My kid wanted to be white; for years and years my son said, ‘I want to be white because being white makes a difference, being white we have the opportunity.’
“I said, ‘You don’t know how special you are, having the color you do, having the skin you do, because inside of us, it doesn’t matter the color is, it matters the heart you have and the justice you want.’ So let’s fight together. You guys teaching us how to fight in peace, and getting together, for a better world,” Bertadillo said.
Stephanie Sweet of Hood River sang her composition, “Song from the Border,” which encapsulates the ongoing search for freedom and opportunity represented by the United States, in the face of current administration policies of incarceration of children and families.
The song says, in part:
“Many miles many miles I have walked down the road/
many trials I have known in these bones/My body’s tired and sore/
I haven’t seen you since they padlocked the door/And it’s cold on this linoleum floor,
So many ways we were lied to about this place/
It’s easy to complicate big words like legislate/
Air-conditioned rooms of debate while I am here all alone/
I don’t know your name, you don’t know my name/
Under this big sorry sky don’t all hearts beat the same?”
The event closed with the singing of the spiritual “We Shall Overcome,” which Andy Wade said normally comes earlier in the vigils.
“I want us all to remember when we sing, ‘We shall overcome,’ we are talking standing in solidarity with our Black sisters and brothers,” he said, “in solidarity with our brown neighbors, in solidarity with our Indigenous neighbors, and for those who white like me, we shall overcome our own racism, our own prejudices, as we stop and listen to the words of our neighbors of color. So, we shall overcome together.”