This Week's Curator: Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson
A proud resident of East Portland, Jessica Vega Pederson was raised in Northwest Indiana among her large, loving Mexican-American family. Following the lead of her mother who was a local activist for civil rights, she became involved in advocacy in high school.
After a racially-charged incident involving the school football team took place her senior year in high school, Jessica and her sister started a student group to promote a better understanding of the experience of students of color. This work led her to a summer program in Washington, D.C. where she studied the power of government in shaping people’s lives. Jessica continued working on issues impacting Latinos, students, and the environment during student government work in college.
Jessica received her bachelor’s degree in informational systems management and philosophy from Loyola University of Chicago. She spent fourteen years in the technology industry, helping startups, small businesses, and Fortune 500 companies grow their business using communication technologies.
Frustrated by the pressing challenges in her East Portland neighborhood, Jessica ran for the Oregon Legislature because she wanted to do more than talk about making things better. When elected in 2012, Jessica became the first Latina to serve in the Oregon House of Representatives. In the legislature, Jessica fought for issues such as paid sick leave, pay equity, and raising the minimum wage to improve the lives of women and working families in Oregon. As chair of the House Energy and Environment Committee she championed the renewal of the Clean Fuels Program and passage of a bill to remove coal from Oregon's energy mix, two ground-breaking laws to create jobs and address the sources of climate change. For her work on the coal transition bill, she was awarded the national Sierra Club’s 2015 Distinguished Achievement Award.
Elected in May 2016 to serve on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, Jessica is proud to fight for an inclusive, prosperous, and vibrant Multnomah County. Since being elected, she has championed the County’s efforts to combat climate change and build a just renewable energy economy. She also represents the County at various regional transportation tables and has focused on expanding access to early childhood education through initiatives such as the SUN program and the newly-established Multnomah County Early Education Task Force, which she chairs.
Tell us about your neighborhood. What are the ups and downs of it?
I live in the Hazelwood neighborhood of East Portland, by David Douglas High School. One of the reasons we moved to East Portland 12 years ago was because of the incredible trees, large yards, and our house’s proximity to parks, stores, and amenities. Since we’ve lived in our neighborhood, we’ve lost the closest grocery store to our house and a sit-down coffee shop that was within walking distance. It’s been a challenge to move away from “car culture” in East Portland, but the proposed bike greenways and improved transit lines give me hope. And we’re still able to bike or walk to three different parks and the library and have safer crosswalks when going across 122nd, Division, and Stark than we did when we first moved here.
What are your favorite East Portland things to do and places to go?
My favorite East Portland things to do and places to go are definitely family-focused. We love visiting the parks in our community like Lincoln Park, Ventura Park and the recently-opened Gateway Discovery Park is a new favorite. We are frequent users of the Glendoveer facility whether it’s tennis lessons for my kids, using the fitness path, or grabbing a drink or some food at the restaurant.
We love, love, love Zenger Farm and were members of the Egg Co-op there for years. In fact, I held my campaign kick off event there when I started running for the Multnomah County Commission. We are also big fans of the Leach Botanical Garden and Powell Butte.
What do you think people don’t know about East Portland that they should know?
That there is true diversity in East Portland that doesn’t reflect the idea of our city portrayed in “Portlandia” or that adheres to the “Portland is so white” refrain you hear so often. East Portland *is* Portland and to have an idea of our city that doesn’t include the racial, ethnic, economic, political and cultural vibrancy of East Portland means your knowledge of our city is seriously lacking.
What do you think would be most helpful for people in East Portland?
Specifically, better mapping of how governments, Tri-met, non-profit organizations, Proper Portland and are spending money in geographically over their jurisdictions with an overly of population density and income levels.
More generally, any activity, investment and/or policy that reduce the ever-growing chasm in this country between the richest and the poor and focuses on activities that have the greatest impact on allowing people to thrive and be self-sufficient - an excellent education system from Pre-K through college, workforce training and retraining, a comprehensive health care system that includes mental health and oral health access, housing that doesn’t cost more than 30% of a family’s incomes, an environment that has clean air and water and a stable climate, and a safe, robust transportation system - will be beneficial to people in East Portland.
How do you think your Portland matches up with the Portland you’ve seen in media?
What keeps you up at night worrying?
That I will never get everything on my to do list complete.
What gives you hope?
The fact that more and more people - especially local leaders - are waking up to the long neglect East Portland has faced and are making more investments out here. And I’m truly inspired by the new generation of East Portland political leaders that are stepping up to work on the challenges our community faces and shaping the future of what East Portland can be.
Why did you agree to participate in this project?
I love the idea of sharing a glimpse of my life in East Portland and contributing to the community conversation on what living here is all about.