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.
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.
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.
*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.