Message from the Board President:
My daughter Charlotte is ethnically Chinese, and I am not.
That simple fact changed my life the minute she was placed in my arms eight years ago. The technical term is “conspicuous family.” A conspicuous family is a term used in adoption circles for a family that does not pass in society as biologically related because the adopted child is of a different race as the adoptive parents.
Being Scandinavian I had heard the term conspicuous applied to consumption, and conspicuous consumption was something a good Swede should never exhibit. Needless to say, it puzzled me how something as miraculous as adopting a child somehow fell into this same category.
It turns out rather easily. Perceptions are instant, and as soon as a stranger lays eyes on you walking down the street with your non-white child you are conspicuous. The optics of standing out can cause an immediate reaction. You may be treated differently because you stick out, your child could be bullied at school or you may field rude or invasive questions from strangers.
I have certainly experienced this first-hand. Strangers have said outrageous and hurtful things to me standing in a grocery check-out line as my adoption agency said they would. Things that raise the ire in me because of the absurdity of the statements and the innate desire to protect my daughter from the pain these comments may cause. Most of these invasive and unpleasant occurrences happened outside of Oak Park.
This is why I support the work of the Housing Center, whose mission of achieving meaningful and lasting racial diversity in Oak Park and beyond are not merely words. This mission is lived every day by the staff and financial supporters of the Housing Center. Whether it’s expanding the options of where someone is looking to live, addressing myths and stereotypes or helping someone realize that their family will feel welcome no matter where they live in Oak Park, it’s because of the commitment of our local government and the work of the Housing Center that Oak Park looks the way it does.
Reflecting on my tenure as President of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center Board, it became clear to me the central role we have been playing for over 45 years in causing Oak Park to be a diverse and integrated place to live. Oak Park’s integrated diversity did not just happen by itself and it will not be supported or maintained by the market alone. Constant effort is needed to combat the historical and systemic racism that caused residential segregation in the first place. Look around the country and you can see it for yourself. Fortunately, we live in a community that values this work. Diversity and integration are values embedded in our community. In fact, I’m sure many of you choose to live here because of our diversity. However, I’ve come to realize that without the Housing Center’s work our community wouldn’t look the same.
I believe and support the work of the Housing Center and I ask you to support it as well. Your gift of any amount helps promote diversity and integration throughout the Village. It helps us promote all of our community to the 2000+ people who come to our office looking to move to Oak Park every year.
There were people like Bom, who we helped find an apartment on Van Buren and Austin, who wanted to live in Oak Park and became enamored with the large one-bedroom unit that was close to the train. And there was Safanah, who is attending UIC but wanted the convenience of living closer to her friends in Oak Park. And just recently Sabena and Michael came to the Housing Center after their friends encouraged them to come see us. Looking for the perfect rental to begin their family they found their next home in a spacious unit on Austin. These are just a few examples but there are many more stories we could tell.
As we enter this season of giving, I ask you to think about my daughter Charlotte. Think about those people in your life who are in some way conspicuous. Think about Bom and Safana. Think about how we can continue to make an impact on diversity and inclusion and expand our work to continue to lead this conversation for the next 50 years so that no one experiences a rude or invasive question from a stranger in a check-out line. .
Board President, Oak Park Regional Housing Center
Donate today, go to https://oprhc.org/donate/