Food and Forests
I’ve called Oregon home for most of my life; I grew up in Eugene where I attended Sheldon High School. By far, my biggest hobby is cooking. I’m fascinated by the science, art, and culture behind food. There are few things that engage me more than learning how different heats, oils, and spices affect the way food cooks. I love observing the ways in which different regions of the world reveal themselves in their cuisine. I find food to be an excellent point of entry for experiencing new cultures.
I also hold a huge love for the outdoors. Although I’m eager to hike any time of year, I often pack my summers with visits to National Parks, white-water kayaking trips, and many days paddle boarding the beautiful rivers and lakes of Oregon. Nature is where I feel that I can best connect with myself and my faith. My love for nature is matched only by my love for theater. I’ve been a big fan of musical theater since high school, and while I never found the time to take part in any productions in college, I enjoy pounding out show tunes on the piano in my garage (which I’m sure my neighbors love, too).
A Beautiful Pool of Cultures
The most pivotal period of my life was the two years I spent living in Chile. After I completed sixth grade, my family and I moved to Santiago, Chile where I attended an international school where my parents taught. Although it’s been more than seven years since I returned to Oregon, those two years were critical in shaping my perspective and sense of place in the world. Although the language wasn't new to me, having attended a Spanish immersion school prior to moving, this was the first time I lived in a place where no one looked and talked like me. For two years, my classmates were from nearly every continent on the globe, and I was introduced to many new values, languages, foods, and perspectives. It was in this beautiful pool of cultures, set below the stunning Andes mountains, that the seeds of self-awareness were planted, and with them, an eagerness to explore.
I remember one moment during algebra class, I found myself arguing with a classmate from Mexico – she was trying to convince me she was also American despite having never lived in the United States. Even as she explained that Mexico being part of the Americas made her no less “American” than I, it took some months before I could allow myself to accept this new paradigm. In retrospect, that small disagreement between two 14-year-olds revealed a profound clash of identities and language that would later cause me to reconsider not just what it meant to be “American” but also what it means to be a citizen of the world.
This newfound introspection was also spurred by two other realities I observed in Chile – the immense poverty and terrible pollution that gripped Santiago. Growing up in lush Eugene, Oregon gave me zero reference for the suffocating poverty and air pollution that persisted in Santiago. Miles (kilometers) of wood and plastic shanties lined the city freeways; a barbed wire and chain-link fence separated our verdant school campus from the slums down the road. In the mornings, the Andes foothills were striking, but as the days got warmer, a soupy, brown smog would rise from the city center and smother our neighborhood. There were days where it was difficult to see across our backyard, and at times, our snot would run black when we blew our noses. No part of the Pacific Northwest I grew up in could have prepared me for the scale of human and environmental suffering I witnessed in Santiago – even if it was always from uphill or across a fence.
Back for More
Although I left Chile in 2014, I am still taken by memories of incredible natural spaces, beautiful cultures and peoples, and impressive environmental and human resilience. I believe Chile is what led me to study EEP and Sustainability – I can’t shake my eagerness to understand the systems of power, change, and prosperity that drive our world. Being able to pair my personal encounters with EEP and Sustainability issues at home and abroad with an education on related theory and policy applications has been rewarding. In the coming years, I intend to further develop my skills and understanding of the world to help strengthen local and global communities.
Upon graduating this June, I will move back to Latin America, this time to Medellín, Colombia, where I will work as an environmental consultant and continue exploring questions about myself and this fantastic world we live in.
Entering the Professional World
I have two points of encouragement to share with anyone entering the professional world (based on my own experience). First, do not hesitate to ask for people’s time. For so long, I felt like asking for someone's time was intrusive or selfish. In reality, I've found that most professionals are happy to talk with young people. As a sophomore in 2019, I decided to contact my State House and Senate representatives to ask how I could engage more personally with the legislative process. Oregon State Senator James Manning jr. quickly replied and offered to meet with me in his Salem office. Much to my surprise, the Senator ended up offering me an internship during that meeting. I quickly accepted, and Senator Manning proceeded to show me around the Capitol building, introducing me to several members of the legislative assembly and even buying me lunch. None of that would have happened had I not mustered the courage to just ask for some of the Senator's time.
Mistakes are Opportunities
My second piece of advice is that you will make mistakes, so learn from them. In the Senate, there are strict rules about who can walk on the Senate floor. Specifically, the middle aisle that bisects the chamber is reserved only for Senators to walk on. One day, in a rush, I walked down the middle aisle to deliver a document to Senator Manning at his desk near the front of the chamber. The Senate Sergeant at Arms was waiting for me as I stepped off the senate floor and asked me if I was new and needed a refresher on the rules of the Senate. She didn’t shame me or anything, but the following day an email went out to all the Senate offices asking members to go over protocol for the Senate floor. I was mortified. For weeks, I dreaded having to go back onto the Senate floor. In the end, it didn’t actually disrupt Senate proceedings, and while I was certain at that moment I had just done irreparable damage to my own reputation in the building, I don’t think anyone even remembers that it happened. It was a great opportunity to practice forgiving myself, and I never made that mistake again
Exploring the World of Policy
As I seek to understand the systems that guide our societies, economies, and environments, I am continually drawn to government. Each week as an intern, I drove to the Oregon Capitol building in Salem to work in the Senator’s office where I answered phone calls, greeted guests, attended meetings and hearings, and performed various other clerical and legislative duties. At the end of the 2020 legislative session, I was hired as a full-time legislative aide to the Senator, and I worked in his office through the 2021 legislative session. As an aide, I performed many of the same duties, though I was also responsible for keeping the Senator up to date on the progress of his legislation. I submitted weekly reports and monitored each bill he sponsored to make sure they made it through the many steps of the legislative process. Additionally, I would often attend meetings in the Senator’s stead when he could not attend himself. This meant I had numerous opportunities to talk with lobbyists, constituents, and other aides on topics ranging from water rights to drug abuse.
Avenues for Change
Of the many experiences Senator Manning provided me during those two years, the most impactful ones exposed me to the joys and pains of every-day Oregonians. The time I spent on the phone or in meetings taught me more about the needs of my community than any Google search or textbook ever could. I spoke with students about the growing cost of textbooks, parents who lost children to substance abuse, a woman whose father could not afford his medication, a dentist trying to provide care to rural patients, a policeman who wanted to invest in new forms of crisis response, and a hundred others who all brought their fears, pains, and trust to the Oregon legislature. Through those conversations, the true function of government became clear – not to set laws that dictate good and bad, but to make people feel heard, understood, and fought for. As an aide and the first face people saw as they entered the Senator’s office, I had the privilege to serve as a key part of that process.
So many lives are touched by the policies passed in the legislature, and it was incredible to witness how policy can be an instrument for good. Instead of encountering the slimy, back-stabbing politics of House of Cards or popular media narratives, I witnessed a surprising amount of warmth and bipartisanship in the Oregon Legislature despite some especially divisive moments. I left my time in the Capitol with a renewed faith in the democratic institutions that govern our state and a strengthened motivation to continue learning and engaging in our systems of governance.
Photo credits: @coralaveryphoto