The Oregon Woman: Into the Arena

Portlander Ana del Rocío Shakes Up the Civic Scene

From serving on the David Douglas school board to spearheading statewide efforts to elect more progressive candidates of color, the 31-year-old works for change.

By Emilly Prado April 24, 2018 Published in the May 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

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Most of Ana del Rocío’s mornings begin like this: she wrangles her sons, ages 6 and 2, out of bed and into school or day careBut after that, no day looks the same. As head of Color PAC, the 31-year-old spearheads efforts to recruit progressive candidates of color to run for offices across Oregon, then support their campaigns.

By evening, she’s off to a happy hour fundraiser or town hall, or a school board meeting—del Rocío also serves on the board of the David Douglas School District. And her commitments don’t stop there.

After moving to Oregon to be closer to family in 2014, del Rocío spent three years working in the office of then-State Representative Jessica Vega Pederson. But following the 2016 presidential election—and hearing her older son ask, teary-eyed, why the “bad guy” won—she was determined to do more. “He understood this storyline very well,” del Rocío recalls. “I needed to show my son I was actually doing something.”

She announced her bid for school board shortly before Donald Trump’s inauguration. “Vega Pederson and former State Representative Shemia Fagan encouraged me to run,” del Rocío says. “They coached me through the process, made donations, and helped connect me to others who could do the same.” For the first-generation Peruvian American, the campaign evoked memories of accompanying her grandfather to a San Francisco consulate to vote in Peru’s elections.

In May 2017, del Rocío beat an incumbent to become the second person of color on the David Douglas school board. (The first was her sister, Andrea Valderrama, who had been appointed to the board the year before.) Given the major demographic change of the East Portland district’s student body—from 65 percent white in 2004 to 40 percent white in 2016—board diversity was long overdue.

In March, del Rocío was arrested after a TriMet fare check escalated. Del Rocío says she was asked to provide more identifying information than legally mandated. “I’m not above the law because of my line of work, but I think about the people that don’t have the knowledge I’m privileged to have,” she said shortly after the arrest. “Even if it gets dismissed, I don’t want this system to continue the way it currently is. Because it’s not working.” (Editor’s note: TriMet disputes Del Rocio’s account and interpretation of events, asserting that agency personnel and police did not make any requests that exceeded their authority. Meanwhile, in late April, the Oregon ACLU announced that it would participate in Del Rocio’s defense. As of April 27, a trial date is pending.)

Public life has its perils, certainly. But a year after winning her first office, del Rocío points to several proud moments—among them, leading the district’s first equity committee, and successfully advocating for access to comprehensive birth control alongside Valderrama. She’s still figuring out how best to balance other roles, like the statewide committee steering Oregon’s new mandates for K–12 ethnic studies curriculum and Portland’s city task force on sanctuary issues. She started at Color PAC in January. Her words for prospective candidates: “You don’t have to be an expert in running a campaign, but you do have to have the right heart.”

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