LATINX + PHILANTHROPY: Nancy Ramirez Arriaga
The persistent question, “where are you from?” is commonly asked of people of color everywhere in the U.S. and while often unintentional, it is rather a statement with a question mark that tells people, “you do not belong.” In Oregon, this implicit statement can carry even more painful undertones and impact given the state’s history of exclusionary laws rooted in anti-Blackness and anti-Indigeneity, which over time have touched every community of color.
As a Mexican immigrant, hearing the constant statement of not belonging throughout a lifetime in Oregon, did not lead to a speedy adoption of the state as my new home. Yet, over the years I committed to living into two powerful truths – that I, as most of us here, am a guest on Native land and that it is a privilege and my responsibility to contribute to a welcoming Oregon for generations to come.
I did not chart a path into the philanthropic sector. In fact, as someone who grew up in poverty and identifies as an indigenous, immigrant Latina I’m not the norm in institutional philanthropy. According to Change Philanthropy’s 2020 Diversity Among Philanthropic Professionals Report, Latinx accounts for less than 9% of those of us working in the sector, with the majority holding entry-level, administrative roles. The percentages dwindle even further as the level of authority increases, down to just 1% of foundation CEO positions – as reported by the Council on Foundations. While my transition to philanthropy after years of service in education and community-based organizations was not easy, the statistics of our underrepresentation along with my disposition as a change agent, motivate me to contribute to and through the philanthropic sector.
Clarity of purpose and the commitment to build community is what has kept me anchored and focused on social, political and economic justice throughout my career. For me, this means being in service to and standing alongside communities working to dismantle institutional racism and to transform systems, culture and narratives to ensure reciprocity and dignity for the people who built and keep this country running.
Tapping into the lessons and character built in a working-class family and community, I operate with hope and creativity; dreaming and building with others what must exist for us to thrive. Some of these personal contributions include, bringing colleagues together to institutionalize a first-ever Employee Resource Group and building a blueprint for other groups to form; co-creating and convening a supportive statewide space for Oregon’s Latinx in Philanthropy; co-creating a cross-sectoral network to redefine and pursue community prosperity and wealth; and advising racial justice and equity efforts in various fields.
I stand on the shoulders of many and am certainly not the exception among Latinx contributing to making Oregon a stronger community. I do not speak for all Latinx, but I am a witness of and in service to the many ways we collectively contribute to the health and prosperity for all people in Oregon. Latinx have built large healthcare systems for entire communities not just Latinx, many are engaging communities civically and leading campaigns that result in local and statewide population-level impacts – advancing workers’ rights, health and education equity, economic prosperity and more. Some are building the pipeline of community-accountable public servants and others already in public office are governing with equity-centered principles. We have taken a stance against anti-Blackness and other forms of white supremacy, and have linked arms with other communities of color and allies to expand public safety nets for community members most impacted by the pandemic. All of these contributions in spite of the inequitable policies, institutional shortcomings and structural racism we have faced as a community throughout Oregon’s history. Most recently and during a time of crisis, Latinx have responded as inherent, community philanthropists, expanding their scopes of work and giving their all to close institutional gaps and address the devastation of COVID on Latinx, who represent 13% of our state population and over 30% of COVID cases.
So, what can the philanthropic sector do, not only for Latinx Heritage Month, but to contribute to a sense of belonging and visibility of a community that is and has been here? How will our actions reflect an active role and commitment to the next generation – recognizing that if current trends hold, 24% of Oregonians and 42% of Oregon students will identify as Latino/a/x by 2030? How can philanthropy help ensure meaningful inclusion as the path to create sustainable and equitable solutions to our most pressing state challenges?
Over the past couple of years, as COVID revealed deep institutional inequalities resulting in disproportionate health and economic impacts for communities of color and the demand for racial justice led by the Black community called us into action, we took some steps with initial funding and solidarity statements. How will we sustain and expand initial actions?
Now more than ever, we – grantmakers and institutional philanthropists – are being called to the task of holding the tension and contradiction of our sector’s origins (the extraction of resources and perpetuation of inequitable allocation of money, power and privilege), alongside the vision of justice that the community is guiding us towards. While perhaps daunting, we have the responsibility and power to meet the call.
I certainly do not have the answers, but I offer some incomplete recommendations as some next steps to continue deepening relationships and accountability with the Latinx community.
• Commit board seats to community-accountable Latinx
• Hire and promote community-anchored Latinx living at the intersection of identities
• Actively change institutional practices to sustain genuine inclusion of and co-creation with Latinx
• Commit to the redistribution of financial wealth in relationship with Latinx
I look forward to being in relationship and continuing the conversation.