Bend is Not NYC is Not Bend: A (Beginner’s) Dialogue on Central Oregon Culture

Bend is Not NYC is Not Bend: A (Beginner’s) Dialogue on Central Oregon Culture

Oh hey. Know what? Sometimes Irene and I collaborate on these (e)BGTB posts. Other times we zoom in for a more individualized perspective. This post here offers my individual take on Central Oregon culture. It’s probably different than your take, or anyone else’s. And that’s ok, great even. Whatever this post is or isn’t for you, it’s been thought about deeply and written out with respect, accountability, and inclusion in mind. And so, to begin…

I’ll never forget that people are more important than buildings and neighborhoods more important than freeways. -Harvey Milk

Central Oregon Culture: Different Than Your Average Bear

I recently attended a concert at a small music venue in the city (as in: NYC). Pausing atop the piano at one point during his fourth consecutive sold-out show, Benjamin Clementine asked the audience: so, where is everybody from? Responses came like slow rain patter at first: New York… Italy… Venezuela… then picked up in amount, swiftness, and variety: Trinidad!  New Jersey! (one boo from the crowd, really?) Palestine! Brazil!

I remember smiling and thinking damn, this is fucking awesome, this is what I MISS. All these different humans from all these different places, in one single spot. All rubbing elbows and nodding to Mr. Clementine. All gently swaying like one giant technicolor sea anemone. All breathing the same air and simultaneously posting to Instagram while sighing and getting chills and experiencing something. Together. Not melted into one pot, but indeed under one roof. Central Oregon culture, factually speaking, does not have this. At least not like NYC. 

What’s up with the “missing” though?

Well, I’m from New Jersey. Born and raised and I miss that in-your-face beautiful mess of a place.* But I’ve made Central Oregon culture part of my life since 2010, a decision I don’t regret and wouldn’t change. But while Bend has a lot of glittering / soaring / unbelievable / #amaze things to offer, one thing it inherently and obviously lacks is exactly what that hot, tiny room on the Lower East Side had—people from all over the world. This is the bulk of the impetus behind the missing.

What we do have here is a brilliant Comunidád Latína (8.2% as of April 2010)—yet I have questions and concerns and criticisms and reservations around how we engage with and don’t engage with these (and other smaller yet very real and relevant) percentages of our community. This includes non-white and mixed ethnicities, ESL-ers, disabled persons, veterans, seniors, the homeless population, and non-heteronormative individuals, among others.

photo: The Latino Community Association central oregon culture
photo: The Latino Community Association

Celebration Or Appropriation?

If it’s not acceptable to use Black History Month to collectively check a box as a nation—which it’s not—then it’s also not acceptable to use Cinco de Mayo as a checked box at the local or regional level (e.g. here) to do the same. Symbolic gesture is no longer enough. Period. And how I think we maybe move past the symbolic gesture and to a point somewhere more evolved than the checked box is through conversation, to begin, and through action + more conversation, to continue. Part of what this blog post is doing is making a request. It’s asking you who already live here, myself included, and you who are looking to move to Bend to contribute to the conversation, as well as to the conversation + action. And, though I’m not entirely sure what this looks like yet, bring everything you’ve got when you do. Please. 

central oregon culture homelessness
photo: Source Weekly article on Homelessness in Bend

Because what modest stretch of demographic assortment we do have here, we haven’t yet figured out how to fully incorporate into Bend Life as we know it. Again, I don’t mean the assimilative bullshit melting pot metaphor we were taught in grade school. We’re post melting pot, pre full representation. We have yet to fully include the different pieces we do have as part of our whole whole. We have yet to hold them as integral and specific and important and viable pieces of the Bend Community at large.

Bend Oregon Is Not NYC. Duh.

Catrina mentions in her baton-passing / I’m in Amman post how Bend’s not an easy town for a single 30ish/40ish woman. She’s right, and I’ll add to that: it’s not an easy town for a single, gay, black, cisgendered male or a Muslim family or a transgendered male-to-female woman who’s into women. And so my question is this: if not a 30ish/40ish cisgendered white woman, then who are we subconsciously (or consciously) “letting in,” and how are we engaging with the population that’s already here?

Yeah, I’m aware that Bend is not NYC is not Bend. Here we have a Central Oregon culture that rings out in very different ways. And, really, I’m not even saying that NYC itself fully engages with or accepts or embraces all of its constituents equally—we have yet to master that as a human race, in any city, anywhere. But, in places like NYC, there’s a certain sophistication surrounding the recognition and celebration of differences. Perhaps the recognition comes out of sheer volume, meaning the larger the presence the more likely the presence to assert itself. But to address our community here, and to circle back to what I miss: how do we both recognize the aggregate demographic of Bend and simultaneously raise our level of sophistication around celebrating it? Because, chances are, we aren’t ever going to achieve enough volume for it to assert itself into the blanched landscape.

Missing Home And Loving Bend At The Same Damn Time

Currently, it’s snowing here in Bend. I’m sipping local coffee mixed with coconut cream, tapping away on a Mac Air from my living room couch. I’ve just had breakfast and there’s all this cold white stuff piling itself on top of this little getting less-little town. It’s gorgeous. It also gives me the opportunity to insert the old adage about no two snowflakes being alike, but that’s cliché and I can do better. So I’ll just make a nod towards it instead and allow its non-mention to infiltrate your brains. Because cities are snowflakes. And because, yeah, I miss my old snowflake. I miss all its different skin tones and accents and beliefs and roots. Its different foods and chants and views and ways of dressing and expressing. I miss the city’s chaotic engagement with and of differences. And because you can miss something while also loving where your feet are presently planted, I also wonder what we can do to create our own version of that, here in Bend. Our own Central Oregon culture in our own beautiful Bendite way.   

Japan in Bend! #jitenshafriends

*Editors’ Note (because, yeah, we’re both from Jersey): please, don’t say you’re sorry when I tell you where I’m from, nobody wants to hear that. Also, don’t try to imitate my accent of origin by saying Joyzee, eh? Neither of these things are endearing or funny or even original. In fact, they’re instant conversation killers.

15 thoughts on “Bend is Not NYC is Not Bend: A (Beginner’s) Dialogue on Central Oregon Culture

    1. Hehe. Thanks to Irene, the other woman womanning this blog, it went through many layers before it came to came into the above form. Thanks for reading and glad you got something out of it.

  1. This is the best article I have read on this blog… raised an important discussion. Let’s keep this conversation going.

    1. Absolutely. Keep the conversation going. Thanks, Irene. And feel free to share this blog elsewhere, and, indeed, keep the conversation going!

  2. Hmmm, now we have to complicate Bend? Why the hell cant we all just get along? Defining all of the subsets on a constant basis, simply keeps everyone divided. If this is the tone this blog is going to take, I’ll be hitting the unsubscribe button soon.

    1. Hello,

      There are a lot of things I could address here. But I think I’ll just say this… It’s a beautiful thing we have so many subsets of people in the world. And, of course, it would be wonderful if all of us got along. But we don’t. And that’s also not what this blog post is about. What this post is about is when we (I’m not going to assume you are, but I’m white)–the dominant white (male) culture–fail to recognize or celebrate or be in conversation with the non-dominant culture (consciously or not), we push all the people that aren’t us into the margins. By doing this, again, whether we mean to or not, we only allow the silencing and the marginalization of a people to continue. We allow no other voices to be heard except our own. This blog post says “let’s talk about this, let’s hold ourselves accountable, and, hopefully, let’s begin to make some kind of shift.”

      I hope, if anything, that these posts get you to analyze how you view the world and with what measure of privilege (or lack thereof) you get to experience it on a daily basis. I sure as hell know that’s what these posts do for me. It’s like I get to be in constant reinvention and analysis of myself simply by writing them. How neat! Plus, it won’t all be “serious” posts. We like to enjoy ourselves too… while never straying too far from the more difficult subjects.

      So, feel free to unsubscribe if we’re just not your thing… Our feelings won’t be hurt and we’ll wish you well no matter your blog subscription choice.


  3. Laura and Irene, would you be interested in being Admins of this Facebook group? It’s growing and has members who are still learning about the area with plans to move to Bend and many who share their plans as they are moving and settling in. If you don’t already have a FB group, this might be of interest to you to share your insight there too.

    I enjoyed the read.

  4. Hi Laura and Irene, would like to hear from the Admin of this blog to see if you have a Facebook group or page already, and do you have interest in being Admin of this “New to Bend” group. It’s growing and a pretty active group helping each other with referrals and meetups and rental/homes info, making new friends, etc. Bend bloggers would be ideal to be Admins of the group. Any interest?

    Everyone is welcome to join whether you have lived in Bend your whole life or planning a move on a 2 year plan.


  5. Hey, Tonya

    Apologies for the delay. Which is to say: our days have been quite full! Tell me, what does running “admin” for this FB page entail? While I don’t think we have the time nor the energy to run it, I’m not against hearing what this endeavor is about. Thanks!

  6. Just a quick thank you for the thoughtful and spot-on observations. I’m a Central OR native, as well as an Oregon tribal affiliate who looks white, and having recently moved back from almost two decades in NYC, I’ve been struggling most with what your post touches on. I don’t have the answers either, and am just as interested in being proactive in creating inclusive and welcoming spaces, and I would stand to support or help facilitate any efforts and / or conversations towards that goal. Thank you again, Nicole Potter

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