The Independence City Council made a goal to better engage the city's Latino community. To accomplish that goal, City Manager David Clyne and Economic Development Director Shawn Irvine recruited the help of intern Elizabeth Calixtro.
Calixtro, a student at Willamette University in Salem, will spend about nine months on the three-phase project.
"I think the main point of importance for the city is that they are bringing in somebody to explore these issues," she said. "I can do what I can to create better communication. I think it's a great initiative for the city."
The first phase is research, Calixtro said. The second phase will involve developing a set of recommendations for the city, but she said she is not sure what those will look like, as she is still in the first phase. The third phase will be implementing some or all of the recommendations.
Through her research, Calixtro, 22, has found that Independence has potential for better connections between its mainstream community and its Latino ones.
"There's a willingness, and there's almost like a curiosity, to see what the next steps are to create a more integrated community, where the mainstream community is understanding the needs of Latino communities better, and where Latino communities are provided with better resources to participate in city governance, community events, things like that," Calixtro said.
The most important and difficult steps is finding that initiative and willingness, she added.
"And I've found that here," she said. "And I've found a lot of support from city council, city officials. I'm currently exploring communicating with community leaders. It's a slow process, but it's something that needs to be done well."
Calixtro said her biggest challenge in trying to connect the mainstream and Latino communities is that she is not an Independence native, but she is trying to overcome that by creating connections to people who have lived here for a while.
Calixtro understands a little what a Latino immigrant has gone through.
She was born in Portland and raised in Woodburn until she was 7, when her mother took her and her brother back to Mexico for a few years to care for her grandmother. Her father stayed in Woodburn to support her family.
"The influence that Mexico had on me is still with me to this day, because I still remember my culture very clearly," Calixtro said.
Calixtro came back to Woodburn at age 11 to start middle school.
"When I was here, I didn't know English," she said. "I was learning everything from scratch."
She took it upon herself to learn everything she could, including English. By high school, her confidence in speaking English had grown to the point where she joined the speech and debate team, where she competed at the state level and became the team's president.
Calixtro served her community and became involved in PCUN, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, a farm workers union. She was a political activist in middle school, helping organize a walkout over the DREAM Act.
Calixtro has worked with State Rep. Betty Komp (D-Woodburn), Secretary of State Kate Brown, and Congressman Steven Horsford from the Fourth District of Nevada.
But the project in Independence is the first experience she's had at the city-government level, she said.
"It's been really interesting," she said. "I could see myself potentially working in city government in the future."
Calixtro said she has seen the ripple effect of legislation at the state and federal levels, but the most immediate changes are seen at the city level.
"You are able to create relationships and communicate an understanding of issues in the city, and act on it almost immediately if you have the proper funding, resources and necessary support," she said. "That's something that's really hard to do at the state and national level, to actually implement change."