What Equity Means to Me: Cathleen Otero

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Equity. It is a term heard a lot these days. And yet, if you ask 10 people what it means, you might get 10 different answers. On the last day of our 2020 Summit, “Equity in Action: Stories of Innovation & Collaboration” we are pleased to share with you another insight into how different members of our community understand, and most importantly, put into practice, equity. Together, we can move Orange County forward, implementing and aligning with the 10 +1 next steps as recommended in the OC Equity Profile.

Our sixth blog post comes from Cathleen Otero with the Orange County Community Foundation. Cathleen is on the 2020 Summit Committee. Below, she shares how embracing our diverse immigrant community is key to ensuring equity in Orange County. This topic will be discussed in more detail during one of our morning breakout sessions during the summit today!

Embracing our Diverse Immigrant Community

By Cathleen Otero, OCCF Vice President of Donor Relations and Programs

Equity in Orange County means embracing and supporting the integration of our growing and increasingly diverse immigrant communities.  

Right now, with nearly 945,000 foreign-born residents, Orange County is home to the nation’s fourth-largest international population, according to the most recent OC Community Indicators Report. We are already home to 8.9 percent of the state’s international population, and our demographics will only become more diverse in the years ahead.

These friends and neighbors have deep roots in our community, and are firmly established within the social and economic fabric of Orange County. In fact, foreign-born individuals have lived in the county for an average of 22 years and account for 38.4% of our workforce.

And yet, over half are either undocumented or have not been able to become fully naturalized due to lack of coordinated education, services and resources across the region. Approximately 20% of permanent residents are eligible for full citizenship but have not yet been able to naturalize due to these barriers.

As framed in the 2019 OC Equity Profile, “Encouraging naturalization among those who are eligible is also an important way to garner greater security for immigrant families—in addition to broader economic and civic benefits to society.”

This is why the Orange County Opportunity Initiative (OCOI) was first launched in December 2015 with 23 funding partners. Using a collective impact approach, OCOI is designed to ensure Orange County embraces and integrates its immigrant communities in order to build a stronger future for the region.

The formation of OCOI has supported breaking down barriers and building relationships among nonprofit organizations and service providers, and as a result, grantee partner organizations have strengthened their capacity to serve immigrants and refugees. To date, OCOI has granted $2 million to 23 nonprofit partners to provide outreach, education and legal services.

But we know there is more to do. Looking ahead, OCOI will continue to refine strategies that will drive systems change. We’re tackling important questions, including: how we can bring partners together to develop shared goals, how we can clarify roles and expectations of grantees and funders and how we can build time for rapid learning that promotes collaboration.

The new strategic planning process began in July 2020 with the goal of articulating OCOI’s “macro-level change strategies,” such as narrative change, infrastructure development and systems-change advocacy. We’ll be sharing an overview of the proposed strategies during one of the Equity in Action Summit sessions. I hope you’ll join us on October 20th to learn more about this important work!

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Press Releases

Internship Reflection

By Avery Huffer As my time with the Orange County Grantmakers comes to a close, I’ve had the chance to really reflect on my experience

How do we build a compassionate and inclusive America in an age of distrust? WAJAHAT ALI knows from personal experience that when we come together to be the superheroes of our own stories, we can create honest social change. The beloved TED speaker has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Atlantic about our urgent issues—immigration, politics, parenthood—with boldness, hope, and humor. His memoir Go Back to Where You Came From, one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Year, follows his life as a Muslim Pakistani-American on a surprising, emotional, and challenging quest for the good life. Iconic journalist Katie Couric says that “we are all so fortunate to be on the receiving end of his intellect, his humanity, and his heart.”

Wajahat Ali

“With wit and charm, Ali delivers a masterful meditation on growing up brown in America...he gives us a clear-eyed affirmation of the country America could be.” — Mara Gay, New York Times

Wajahat Ali uses his platform to fight tirelessly for the social change we need in our country—and he isn’t afraid to get personal while doing it. The Daily Beast columnist and former New York Times writer, TED speaker, award-winning playwright, and Peabody-nominated producer of the documentary series The Secret Life of Muslims offers us his experiences of triumph over hardship as a beacon of hope and resilience in the face of life’s impossible situations. From his experiences of Islamophobia growing up as a Muslim Pakistani-American to his two-year-old daughter’s liver cancer diagnosis, Wajahat is living proof that when we share our authentic stories, we build the America we wish to live in.”

In his memoir Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American, Wajahat teaches us how to create our own superhero origin story, invest in hope for the future of America, and enact real social change. The book was called “biting and funny and full of heart” by NPR. Representative Ilhan Omar called Wajahat’s work “hilarious” and “deeply moving”, and legendary writer Dave Eggers said it was the book he’d “been hoping Wajahat Ali would write for ten years—hilarious, stylistically fearless, deeply humane.”

Wajahat is also the author of The Domestic Crusaders—the first major play about Muslim-Americans in a post-9/11 world. He was the lead researcher and author for the Center for American Progress’s seminal report “Fear Inc., Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America,” and served as a national correspondent for Al Jazeera America, where he told stories about communities and individuals often marginalized or under-reported in mainstream media.

As Creative Director of Affinis Wajahat Labs, he worked to create social entrepreneurship initiatives to support and uplift marginalized communities. He also worked with the US State Department to design and implement the “Generation Change” leadership program to empower young social entrepreneurs. Wajahat initiated chapters in eight countries, including Pakistan and Singapore. For his work, he was honored as a “Generation Change Leader” by Sec. of State Clinton and recognized as an “Emerging Muslim American Artist” by the Muslim Public Affairs Council. 

He has given keynote speeches around the world such as TED, The Aspen Ideas Festival, Google, the United Nations, and The New Yorker Festival. His writing appears regularly in the New York TimesThe Atlantic, the Washington Post, and The Guardian. He’s a Senior Fellow at The Western States Center and Auburn Seminary and co-host of Al Jazeera’s The Stream.