A friend very wisely recommended that I reach out to Greg. He was quick to respond and enthusiastic to participate and a few days later I found my way to his office. Greg's heart is very big and his passion is almost palpable. He works very hard and donates the majority of his time to the social justice issues that are prevalent across the nation and right here in Bend. The Social Justice Center, where Greg spends much of his time, is bursting at the seams as the host to some 70 different organizations that meet around the well-loved conference room table pictured above. I'm not sure where he found the time, but he also ran for State Senate, losing by a very small margin when you compare the financial resources of each of the candidates.
Who are you?
My name is Greg Delgado. I'm a native of Southern Arizona. My ancestors were Native Americans - Yaqui and Apache and Latino from the Southern Arizona Region before it was the United States, before it was Mexico. I'm very proud to call myself an American of the Southwest and of America, the whole continent. I moved to Oregon about 10 years ago via Estes Park, Colorado. I just found this place to be a very loving, caring community, and I just really embraced it. I was working in food and beverage - did that for about 25 years - and one day in the restaurant somebody said, "If I ever open a restaurant, I'll hire all Mexicans 'cause I can pay them less and they work harder." And that was my "Oh, heck no!" moment. We need to make that dialogue change. To me it was about how we in America can look at people, the color of their skin, and have that dialogue and be okay. The entire crew on the front line that I trained was okay with that conversation and I wasn't. I was actually mopping the floors in the dining room and cleaning the bathrooms to make the extra money and training folks for that kitchen because I had more experience. I felt that, "No this is not who we are as a community and this is not who I am." From there I went to a job in social justice work with a nonprofit called Jobs With Justice. I was a community organizer with them - organizing Latinos around labor issues. That morphed into a lot more community organizing around immigration issues, around the driver card issue, working with people like the United Farm Workers, and the governor's office, doing this type of work. Right now I work part-time for Discover Your Forest, doing outreach with the Latino community. And the full-time work that I do is all non-profit and not paid. I'm on various boards and do a lot of volunteer work in the community around racial justice and social justice issues.
What brought you to Bend?
I just had to get out of Arizona. I found it very oppressive and didn't see a future for myself there. My family's there and I love them all to death, but I just felt I needed my life and my own direction. I moved to Estes Park, Colorado, and had only been there about three years, working in food and beverage, and somebody said they were going to move here to start a business and they invited me to join them and they offered me some work here. But when we got here, that didn't happen. I just found that people here were so friendly and so embracing and said, "You know what? That energy makes me want to stay." So I did stay and it's been a really good community to live in. I live right here downtown and I love being local and I loving having that feeling of community. It's really important to me. I didn't have that growing up in rural Southern Arizona. It was a lot more hostile. It wasn't that diverse and it was very rural and very sparse. The sense of having community is what made me stay.
What do you like about Bend?
The climate, the lifestyle, all of that is wonderful. It's a growing community. One of the similarities I see right now is with this immigration issue that I'm dealing with. Watching that happen back in the '70s and '80s in my community and the immigration of retired people from the Bible Belt into the Southwest and what that took on and how it morphed into something pretty chaotic - I remember that vividly and that's part of the reason I do the work I do now. I don't want to see that happen again. I don't want it to turn into this desert of resort/retirement communities of fear and agitation and dehumanizing the locals and natives that live on the land. That's what happened in Arizona and it created a space where if you didn't work on a golf course or a country club, there weren't any jobs. We should have a little more opportunity than that. I just didn't like that. Minimum wage is still under eight bucks and hour in Arizona. Things change slowly there, so I just had to get out of there.
How do you contribute to the community?
I am on the boards with Latino and LGBTQ organizations, working with worker rights and all sorts of different social justice things. I helped build the Social Justice Center. I am the chair of Central Oregon Jobs With Justice, who kind of leads the work here. Recently we've identified about 70 different groups that we are working and networking together to try to build a more inclusive community. Inclusive socially, and politically, and economically. We are looking at all the aspects of social justice and how to connect those to one another and connect the work we are doing in that way.
Do you have a favorite memory from here?
I am very proud of my favorite memory. We did an action about immigration at Congressman Greg Walden's office. I was arrested in his office, so that was really cool. I was proud I got arrested. As a kid, I was a trouble-maker and had trouble with the law, but this time it was for a good cause, so I'm really excited about that. To turn that whole history around was a lot of fun. Me and several other people asked to speak with him about immigration and they refused to listen to us, so we just sat there until the cops took us away. We've done several actions against Congressman Walden because he doesn't listen to us as a community, especially the minority community. We also did a march that was really touching. We did a peregrinación, (Spanish for a walk vigil) carrying a banner of La Virgen de Guadalupe and wearing butterfly t-shirts that said MIGRANT, from Madras (40 miles away) to Bend just to raise awareness and to tell people that this issue doesn't end. I'm really touched that the community embraces us. We have a Latino community that is in so much fear and to have a community that embraces us and supports us and makes us part of this community makes this community very endearing and very special to me. I'm proud of that.
What do you wish for the future?
What I wish for my future is to someday own my own home or business or both here in town. As a community, I wish that we could work harder to make opportunity equal for everybody. I know the stats. We know that 80% of the Latinos in this community are making under $30,000 a year. That's a challenge. One of the new people that started volunteering with me goes, I'm one of those Californian people that just moved here. I thought that was kind of cool that he gets that there's that tension there, but he approached it in a very common sense way and identified with it. I said, Come on board. You should join us! We know that that dialogue is there. We are a nation of immigrants. How can we say no to people? How can we say no to our fellow neighbors? They say no to people who come from Mexico or California or Maine. Come on. Where do we draw that line? And why should we draw those lines? Why don't we be more embracing? And why don't we build a community that's more embracing of everybody? We should start looking at how to fix those things and not accuse the victims. Opportunity makes people move. We have a right to migrate. That whole issue is a very nativist issue and I don't like the way that sounds. I don't like the way it sounds that we are protecting what is ours because I think we have to look at the bigger picture. It's just disrespecting humans and human migration. We as humans have all migrated at one point. It's just natural.
This is a great town to live in. A lot of warm souls, good people here. It's not as diverse as we like, but the community itself is intellectually diverse. I like the fact that there's a warm, healthy lifestyle. Maybe a mechanism of coping instead of dealing with the homelessness issue or the unemployment issue is to go hiking and biking or go drink beers. There's a very social aspect to this community, but there's also this part that we need to hold up and identify. It's real easy to get on your bike and forget about it. People do that here. They forget about things real easy. It's a great coping mechanism, but there has to be more balance. We have to try harder to build a better community.
How do we put brick and mortar around social justice in our communities to put that balance there? It has so long been a one-sided issue in our communities. It's time to turn that around and make it reflect us as America. Because the truth is America is fast becoming communities of color. We are fighting that. We are fighting how those systems do not represent them. We are still talking about race these days. It shouldn't be about race. It should be about fixing these things. Let's look at the systems that are creating these challenges for communities of color, that are creating inopportunity for low-income peoples. What are we doing to keep local farms active and lively, local businesses active and lively and keep that diversity of community? We're not. We're pushing it away. That's part of this problem, being unwilling to change and unwilling to move with the times. I am proud of the fact that so many people are stepping up to say this is not who we want to be. That's important. It's not about protecting our privileges. I think it's more about being open and diverse in the conversations around building a better community and being inclusive of everybody. We've got to stop doing that hate stuff.