I am Lauren Urbina. I am from Pico Rivera, California. I am a rising junior political science major and philosophy minor. From a young age, I had always hoped to attend a college out of state, as I wanted to be able to expand my environment. I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to travel a lot throughout my childhood. Whether it was taking trips to Sequoia or Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Mexico, even just to different cities around SoCal, I was constantly exposed to different ways of life, cultures, customs and of course, socioeconomic income. Through my interactions with people I met along these trips and in my everyday life, I quickly began to form the idea that despite any assumed, perceived, or actual differences I had with someone I was able to connect with them in a meaningful way. Every interaction was an opportunity for me to learn and reflect on the world around me. Having the opportunity to attend UP has given me the platform to continue on my journey of growth and discovery. In the following paragraphs I will give some more concrete examples of how my passion for social justice advocacy has taken form and where it has led me today.
This summer, I will be working with an organization called, Village Gardens. Village Gardens is a non-profit that makes it possible for New Columbia, Oregon’s largest affordable housing community to grow their own food, gain employment through locally created food projects and have access to a community-run store. Village Gardens is rooted in the notion that everyone has a right to live in a safe and thriving neighborhood with access to good food. In 2001, with the help of Janus Youth Programs, a North Portland based community garden was created in direct response to the poverty, isolation, gang activity and hunger that impacted their community and families. While the garden location has moved a couple times, the core beliefs have remained the same and its place has a pillar of the community is as strong as ever.
I will be working with three different groups within the organization. The first area I will working in is in grant research, policy, and social media. I will be working alongside Kris, the program director to find some more scholarly based research to assist in their grant drafting. I will also be working to help improve Village Garden’s social media reach so that more individuals witness and support the stellar work that is being done in this community. Another major part of my summer will be devoted to working with the Food Works group, which is a group dedicated to growing themselves, the farm, the community and the business. Food Works is a youth employment program that engages 14-18 year old young people in all aspects of planning, growing, selling and donating certified organic produce in North Portland. The program starts next week and I am super pumped to get to know the youth and hear what issues matter to them and get to know more about their perspective on their community and society. The final phase of my internship will be working in the community market, Village Market. I am really excited for this part as it provides me with the platform to directly engage with the community and learn more about how the public policy addressing WIC, Oregon Food Trail and other government benefits, plus the Market’s program and advocacy efforts are received by the population they are benefiting and how they actually affect individuals whom they are meant to help.
So why food justice? To me food is more than just physical sustenance and nourishment. Food is family. Food is expression. Food is exploration. Food is conversation. Moreover, access to culturally relevant, fresh food is a right that all humans deserve. I took class last fall, the Science of Sustainable Gourmet Food, that really blow the top everything I thought I knew about food production and access. The complex system that goes into our food production, no matter the crop or meat source, it takes a lot of work, patience and knowledge. Furthermore, as we delved deeper into the course and got into a lot of an unethical practices that exist within food production, environmentally, socially and politically, food insecurity and lack of access to healthy food became an issue that I wanted to learn more about and bring light to these issues, especially in my community. In today’s climate there’s lots of talk about obesity concerns, fast-food consumption, and processed food consumption. When an individual does not have the access to healthy, fresh food then fast-food and processed food are the only options. Furthermore, fresh, healthy food is expensive and individuals how live on a low income or receive government benefits, they must be strategic about their food choices as food costs. It is cheaper to buy a bag of chips and a soda than a bag of carrots and it is cheaper to buy a happy meal than to buy the ingredients to make a well balanced- chicken dinner. Access is more than just physical access. An individual living in a location with no car or supermarket within a mile is considered living in a food desert. The New Colombia neighborhood was considered a food desert until the market was put in place, which is awesome!!! However, many individuals are still exempt from healthy, fresh food because of its high costs. My time at the market has really highlighted the complexity behind choice and the various factors that play into someone’s food choice. We have to consider preference, accessibility, and cultural relevance when discussing food related concerns.
I was fortunate to grow up in a family in which I did not ever worry where my next meal was going to come from. My fridge and pantry were always stocked and I had choice. Having traveled to and through many impoverished cities throughout my childhood and even paying attention to the poverty that existed within my own hometown, I saw firsthand that food wasn’t always readily available to all people. Having attended a catholic elementary/middle school social justice topics and advocacy work were at the forefront of our religion classes and we regularly engaged in food drives. The foundation of the need to be of service was rooted in me from a young age but it is the expansion of my environment and my own pursuit to understand the world-the good, the bad and the ugly- that really illustrated how deep many of these issues run, how unique they are to different communities and individuals, and how much the success of my fellow man relates to my success. If I am thriving, eating well and have autonomy in that, then I want to be a source of assistance in extending that to all individuals. What my life experiences have taught me and what my time at Village Gardens has taught me is understand that we want to work WITH individuals and WITH communities to address issues that affect them directly. There’s a quote that I look to often, “If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time….but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together” -Lila Watson. This quote is special to me because it reinforces my belief that we are all one human family and despite our individual uniqueness we are capable of connecting and engaging with one another meaningfully.
I want end my post with a story from my first day working at the Village Market. I was introduced to Charles, the line cook for the market, as a new ‘social justice intern’ from the University of Portland. The first thing he asked me was, “Social Justice?” What does that mean?” I was a little caught off guard by the question, I wasn’t expecting it. I responded by saying that to me social justice means involving one self within a community and well acquainting oneself with the issues that violate others’ right to pursue their lives as they deserve and desire. Social justice means being active in one’s life and that entails facing the harsh realities and the violations of equal and fair justice. Lastly, I said for me here with this community it means being apart of the community and being present by listening, observing, asking questions and being ready to work. He did ask a couple questions as do what I meant by certain phrases and frankly, what a social justice intern even really means As we finished our introduction, Caitlin, a member of the market staff said that while Charles wouldn’t have used the term social justice, he has lived it out and continues to do so in his actions, beliefs and words. She explained he is a very grassroots activist and has been doing advocacy work for a long time. I definitely want to make a point to get to know Charles more as I know I can learn a lot from him. His entire aura radiated peace and positivity. When he spoke you could hear the wisdom in his voice, you could see the kindness in his eyes and the openness to connect with new people. This experience had an impact on me because it highlighted the importance of conversation. We may have different ideas, definitions, opinions or concerns on a specific issue or on a broader subject, but through asking questions, listening and TALKING to one another we can learn so much from each other. Given the current political polarization in the country and the unwillingness to foster a conversation with individuals who we perceive to be different and “wrong” in their opinion or logic, has left us at a stalemate. We can’t expect progress without a willingness to communicate and go forth as ONE unit.
As I end this post I will leave you with a few questions: What does social justice mean to you? What social justice issues are most prevalent in your community? What can you do to become more involved in mitigating those issues? After personally reflecting on these questions, I urge you to ask these questions to at least one other person, maybe even someone who you wouldn’t regularly engage in social justice oriented questions with. Thank you for letting me share a little bit about myself and my summer intern journey!