Donna introduced me to Shimiko. They know each other from crossing paths at Family Kitchen. Shimiko was all smiles and enthusiasm and sincerity. Hers is an absolutely contagious energy and one the world certainly needs more of. She managed to free up some time for me in her packed schedule and her newborn did us a favor by napping through our entire interview. Not feeling completely herself because of the lack of sleep that often accompanies a fresh baby, Shimiko tried to convince me to forget this interview ever happened, but I wasn't having it. She's got great things to say, as I am sure you'll agree.
Who are you and how would you describe yourself?
Oh my goodness. Who am I? Well, quite simply, I'm Shimiko Montgomery. I'm a mother of three - I think that's the main way to describe myself because I spend the vast majority of my time taking care of little children. I feel like I'm constantly changing, so it's hard to like, That's exactly who I am. And I also feel like I have hopes for who I am and I'm not nailing that every single day, so it's hard to be like, Yes, I'm definitely that. But I would describe myself as enthusiastic for life (laughs) and I think that kind of shapes everything that I do. I'm generally pretty curious and I want to know about people and what they're into and what's going on in our community. It's hard to describe yourself. Do people find this really easy?
If you know who you are, I want to meet those people. I feel like I will never know who I am. I really enjoy the spontaneity of life. And I think I enjoy not knowing - always changing. That freedom of seeing where life takes me and who I become in each different situation in each different community.
What matters to you?
Personally, what matters to me most is family. But then I think of outside of just my family here, what matters to me most is that people are cared for. And I really think that's the bottom line. If you're gonna exist in this world, you need to know that you matter. That you're valued. That your needs are being met. I feel like there's so many people in this world that we can all sort of support one another. And so finding ways to do that in my life has been what matters to me most.
What matters to me most is these relationships. It's making sure other people are cared for. I see so often there are groups around town that kind of are excluded or they're not quite valued for who they are or people make assumptions about them or these face-value judgments and that really gets under my skin because these are all people that are part of our community. I don't feel like we can be a whole community without getting to know each one of these people. When I think of downtown, where you have these teenagers - kids, really - who are sort of hanging around that walkway area and they hangout by Mirror Pond. You know there's people in our community that feel like those people need to go. And it's things like that that matter to me. Those are people. Those are kids. They have parents. They have hopes and dreams and lives that they want to live. And how can we bring them into the fold? How can we care for everybody in this community not just me and my neighbors and the people that I care about? How can everybody here live into the fullness of who they are? And how can we support that and encourage that? And those are the sort of things that matter to me and kind of shape the work that I do and how I spend my days and what I choose to spend my time on.
What do we mean to each other?
I think ultimately everyone wants to belong. Everyone has something to contribute to that. So it's not just them personally, like they need to belong. Fulfilling that - everybody wants to feel like they're contributing. But then also I think, for me, I don't feel like our community is whole - I don't feel like our world is whole - unless every person is realized for who they are. When we were living in Bali, the expat community was constantly cracking me up because they weren't like accountants or store owners or doctors. They had found kind of their one little niche. One lady, all she did was design labyrinths. And then another lady, all she did was colon cleanses. You know what I mean? They found their passion. They were living it and they were living it the way that they wanted to live it. And I love that about Bali. And I think that's ultimately what I want to see here. That people are living into their fullest potential and who they feel like they were meant to be. We need to build on those connections.
What does community mean to you?
It's a space for us to belong. There's so many different communities that I would say I'm a part of. You have the community at large and then I have my church community and then I have my community of mom friends. Of course, you have your virtual community of Facebook and people that you've known throughout your life. Community is just a space where I feel like I am a part of something. In a variety of different ways. You know, we're all multi-faceted like that. We're not just a resident or a home owner. I'm not just a Christian. I'm not just a mom. You know, I'm not just someone who's traveled to a variety of places. I'm all those people. And so to be a part of all these different communities and to belong to all those different communities kind of feeds my soul in variety of different ways. Community, for me, is everything.
As an islander, when I travel to all the different islands one of the common threads that I see is that all of these various cultures really value that sort of communal aspect. Everybody supports one another. If someone is in need of something, it's not like, Oh, that's too bad. It's, How do we come together and support that person? If you have a lot and they have a little, how do we find a way to share that? And your whole identity is wrapped up in this idea of community. I feel like America is very individualistic in that sense. It's a lot of I and Me and How do I get ahead? How does that benefit me? In island culture, it's a lot of We terminology, I feel. Working together and just kind of how they set up their life a lot of times. They live in village communities. They support each other in parenting. They support each other in just about any aspect of life that you can think of and I think that's carried on throughout my life. And every time I've lived here in the U.S., I'm always searching for that. How can I bring that community spirit to the U.S.? Our neighborhood is great. There's a lot of support here. And people are always wanting to reach out and make those connections. I definitely wish there was more of that. But it's really hard because it's set up like that in the Marshall Islands or in Saipan. I actually grew up in Pohnpei - it's just growing up in a community where after work you all gather together and you share meals together and your kids play together. I miss that aspect of island life.
What is one's role in the fight against social injustice?
I feel like the tide is slowly turning in that sense where people want to learn more about what these injustices are and that gives me a lot of hope. I think our first role in it is to engage - is to actually see what's going on, recognize that these are big issues that communities are facing, that there are lives that are struggling and that they don't have to be struggling and seeing that. And then engaging with these issues - learning about them. When I get in a conversation with someone on any issue and they have no desire to educate themselves about it - that always baffles me. If you see an issue but you don't want to learn more about it, how can we make a difference in addressing this? So, once you engage, trying as much as possible to educate yourself in that area. The one that keeps coming to my mind is the issue of immigration. And the conversation of racism has been going on in this city for a few years thanks to the COCC and their season of nonviolence. They've been having these community conversations every year about racism and holding this book study that revolves around some sort of book about racism. So I've seen people engage in that topic. And people want to learn about it. But then there's still a lot of people who, frankly, don't want to educate themselves about it - about immigration or about gun violence. Or they're pulling information from just one source. And I think it's our task to hear as many stories as possible. To hear as many solutions as possible. To really get out there and do that hard work. And it is hard work and you see a lot of people putting in that time and effort and hopefully we can see more of that as time goes on.
How has your experience been as a minority?
This is probably the least diverse place I've ever lived in (laughs), so when I think of it in that terms, I'm always going, Gosh, I really, really wish Bend was more diverse! And there's been a few instances where I've walked out of the scenario going, There's no way for me to prove it, but I was clearly treated differently than the other people around me. And I cannot prove it and there's nothing I can do about it, but that feeling where the hair kind of sticks up on the back of your neck and you just don't feel that things are right and you're not being treated with the respect that other people are getting around you - those are all signs that people are singling you out for something. And the only thing I can determine in those scenarios [is] I'm the only non-white person here. But other than those small handful of situations in the five years that I've been here, I have found Bend to be incredibly inclusive and really seeking the diversity that I seek. Especially with those racism conversations and welcoming week and all the variety of churches that have committed themselves of having this talk of, How do we address immigration? How do we make the Dreamers feel really welcome here? How do we address the policies that are in place so that they actually can live full lives like they should? Bend has been incredibly progressive in that sense. For being an incredibly non-diverse town, they are so progressive. I always find that to be kind of a paradox. It's been great. I don't really think about it unless I'm in a really weird situation. But then I travel to Portland, or my husband and I went to Vancouver maybe about a year ago, and I was like, Oh my goodness! (Laughs) You forget how white Bend is until you go to Vancouver or Portland or, yes, just anywhere different. (Laughs) If you travel outside of Central Oregon, it really becomes apparent.
What do you want more of in your life?
Let me think. I am such an optimist and I can tend to find joy in just about anything. So I'm never thinking, Oooh, this is lacking - I feel like I need more of that. In just about any situation I'm like, This is awesome! Almost to a fault, I'm just enjoying those small things. I really can't think of anything that I need more of in my life. I'm really incredibly lucky. I have a job that's incredibly fulfilling. I have a really awesome husband. My kids are phenomenal. I have friends. I feel like the work that I do is making an impact. In my life personally... I think maybe a trip to New Zealand would be fitting if I could name one thing (laughs).
When I think about it, I think that's also what drives my work a lot - that I am so incredibly lucky. Do you know what I mean? I have a husband that treats me incredibly well. Just spoils me and tells me I'm beautiful and that I'm doing great. I have kids that are awesome. I have support of friends. I have parents and in-laws that are supportive. I have a great family. Obviously, we own a home so we have a place to live. We're not financially stressed. These are all things when I think about how easy my life is. It's easy to be incredibly happy. There's so many people in this town that I come across that are in abusive relationships, that are in jobs where they feel stuck because they have to pay bills so they can't do the things that bring them life because they've got to keep their power on or they've got to keep their children fed. So that's always what really drives me because I want other people to have this. How do I help other people to have what I have because, to me, this is not fair. I do not know how the cards fell in this way that I ended up with such an amazing life. Do you know what I mean? Things could have fell a variety of different ways in the choices that I make. When I think back at the choices that I've made throughout my life I could have easily married someone who wasn't the right fit for me. And I could have easily made poor choices that would have gotten me in situations that didn't lead to Bend or being able to afford a home or getting an education that gave me a job that I love. Easily. So when I come across other people that are just struggling to get there, I want to find ways to eliminate those barriers so that they, too, can be living a life where they're loved and their needs are met. That's what I really hope for others.
Do you have anything else you want to put out there?
One of the phrases that's been bouncing around in my brain probably for the last two years - and it gets me in so much trouble - but I learned the phrase YOLO and it probably came from the cartoon Trolls (laughs). You Only Live Once. And I feel like a lot of decisions I make on a daily basis revolve around that. One I come at a crossroads, the phrase YOLO comes up. You only live once. And I see so many people living a life of fear or a life of anxiety. And I get that because people are a lot of times stuck - they can't always live the life that they want to live because they have various obligations. But a lot of times it's fear - they don't want to step outside of those boundaries. If there's a phrase that I love that I want other people to join me in, it's YOLO (laughs). Get out there. You only live once.