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Angelica Cortes: Lived Experience Leading the Movement

About the Policy Leadership Council:

Our Policy Leadership Council — made up entirely of community leaders from across the state with lived experience of hunger and its root causes — determines Oregon Food Bank's policy agenda. The Council will act collectively to identify opportunities for change, articulate a systems-change platform to guide Oregon Food Bank’s legislative priorities, and set our positions on legislation and ballot measures. By recruiting and empowering leaders from communities directly impacted by hunger, Oregon Food Bank will build, share and expand the power needed to advance racial justice and win systemic change.

Angelica Cortes, she/her/ella: Portland, Oregon

Angelica Cortes is a true community leader. An organizer, volunteer, and mentor, Angelica has helped her community access affordable, nutritious food and inspired countless others to organize together to eliminate the root causes of hunger for good. For years, Angelica has been leading the anti-hunger movement in Oregon. She describes community organizing as part of her essence, and she is passionate about promoting education and access to fresh, nutritious, local and culturally-relevant foods while organizing to lift up her community’s voice to change harmful policies.

Angelica was chosen as Oregon Food Bank’s 2019 Hunger Hero for her work as a Growing Gardens Community Organizer and her health equity work in Promotores de Salud. Now, on the Policy Leadership Council, Angelica is interested in continuing to advocate for undocumented immigrants and farmworkers, by advancing policies like No Worker Left Behind, which changed laws excluding undocumented workers from receiving tax benefits in Oregon. “I would like more support for [farmworkers],” she shares. “Because you know they are working, even when it is raining, cold, or hot. Even during the wildfires, they were always there. They are the forgotten ones, and they are the first to be ready to work.”

Angelica’s connection to Oregon Food Bank began in 2013 when she accessed a food pantry in Portland. Though there were many food pantries in the area, she saw the need to make them more accessible to the Latine community. From there, she started providing gardening classes through Growing Gardens for local Spanish-speaking families to grow their own food. She also was a founding member of Mano Amiga 2020, a Latine leaders group that distributes food twice a month in SE Portland. Angelica started growing her own food out of necessity – she and her husband did not have many fresh vegetables and she wanted to supplement their meals with what she could provide. But in addition to access to fresh produce, exercise, and the fresh air Angelica loved in the garden, her patient, compassionate community-building cultivated something much more meaningful.

“When I was sick, the community was with me. There was always food in my house, someone to clean my house. And I think you don’t get to pay for that with anything. It is something that you cultivate, and it is your harvest. So, I thought, if this was my harvest with the little I have done, well, if I do more, I can harvest more. And when others need a resource, they call me, and I am able to help them. It is something nourishing for me, to help the community and be with the community.”

Though Angelica continues to provide garden classes, support food distributions, and host health and wellness workshops, her role on the Policy Leadership Council has opened opportunities to organize to address the root causes of hunger. Angelica got involved in advocacy while registering people to vote and to count themselves in the 2020 Census. She saw that people in her community were afraid to register for the Census because of fear tactics and misinformation created to keep undocumented immigrants from making their voices heard. She met people over 18 who didn’t even know they were eligible to vote because of their parents’ immigration status. This inspired her to keep organizing and advocating to make her community’s voice heard.

Though Angelica has become an inspiring force in the anti-hunger movement, she did not always see herself as a leader.

“[I thought] I am only a housewife. What am I going to teach them? Some of them have masters, some have been volunteers for years, others are farmers, others are market owners… [But] when I got into the council and I got to know all the people – wow. It was a wonderful environment. I am very happy to be part of the council because there is mutual respect there. There is a leadership that, truly, I have felt very comfortable doing this work with.”

When asked what she would tell others like her who worry they aren’t qualified to organize in their community, she says:

“Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. We can provide information in our language. If you get the information in your same language, you are going to understand. And I tell them, fight. Establish goals, and you are going to see that all those goals are achievable. [They say], ‘I don’t speak English, I don’t have a valid immigration status in this country, I can’t do something.’ Yes, we can do it. There are opportunities for all.”

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