Centennial neighbors represent outer East Portland to visiting Chinese delegation

Not every cultural exchange takes place at the United Nations or in a Governor’s office – find out why we felt honored to attend a special meeting that took place in the middle of the Gateway District …

Here are those who participated this unique cultural exchange: (Back row): Teri Poppino, Crime Prevention Coordinator; Ms. Quinn, PSU Intern; Sara Johnson, WomenStrength Director; Rosanne Lee, Crime Prevention Coordinator; NRT Officer Joe Young; and Ron and Jan Clemenson of the Centennial Neighborhood Association. (Front row, seated): Hongqiao Zhang, Senior Editor, 21st Century Business Herald; Shengmin (Samuel) Liu, Secretary General, Harmonious Community Institute; Huiling Zhang, Deputy Director of Consular Division, Foreign Affairs Office of Guangdong Province; and Taihui Guo, Associate Professor, Politics, South China Normal University.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Having heard about the “International Visitor leadership Program” over the years, we were thrilled when Teri Poppino, Crime Prevention Specialist for East Portland, invited us to sit in on a such a meeting in April.

“This is an opportunity for the visitors to learn about how the Office of Neighborhood Involvement involves citizens in local governance,” Poppino explained. “The guests from China are interested in learning how we work with volunteers and the Police Bureau to help prevent crime in our neighborhoods.”

Under the auspices of the World Affairs Council of Oregon, visitors attend professional meetings, go on local sightseeing tours, and experience home hospitality, to help promote international understanding.

‘Community Policing’ on the agenda
Poppino said that, during the April 22 meeting, held in the public safety building at E Burnside and NE 102nd Avenue, the visitors proved to be most interested in:

  • Observing American grassroots democracy and citizen participation in action;
  • Exploring the partnership between police, crime prevention, and community members;
  • Learning about innovative methods governments and non-profits here use to recruit and retain volunteers.

They were also interested in learning more about the role of media in American society, and the concept of transparency in the public sector.

The Centennial Community Association’s Vice Chair, Ron Clemenson, and his wife Jan, tell of life in outer East Portland.

Clemensons tell about neighborhood life
After introductions, Ron Clemenson said that he’d been involved with the Centennial Community Association for 13 years.

“Every month, we invite people in our community to come to our meetings,” Clemenson told the delegates, with the aid of an interpreter. “We work on all kinds of issues, along with their counterparts here in law enforcement, crime prevention, and government. Issues – including housing, livability issues, and parks, as well as crime prevention and reducing criminal activity, with which we work with the police.”

Huiling Zhang, Deputy Director of Consular Division, Foreign Affairs Office of Guangdong Province, asked if East Portland neighbors regularly contact the police regarding possible criminal activity.

“Yes, that’s the main purpose of our ‘Community Watch’ program,” Clemenson replied, adding that the police use their information as a starting point of an investigation, instead of seeking a direct indictment.

Zhang said, that in most large Chinese cities, such as in Beijing, police rely on “the squad of small-feet ladies” – referring to elderly women, who in the olden days had their feet bound, and so now have small feet. “In every neighborhood, someone is stationed there to watch over the neighborhood. The police would rely on particularly active residents to let them know what is going on. Usually the most active ones would be the small-feet ladies,” he explained through the interpreter.

“We have the same here, but their feet are normal-sized,” quipped Poppino.

Zhang responded, “It’s good to have people in a community with a sense of vigilance of whats going on in the neighborhood.  Although, sometimes, the vigilance can be excessive.”

“Yes, we have some of those individuals, too,” Clemenson smiled.

Teri Poppino, Crime Prevention Coordinator, talks with Hongqiao Zhang, Senior Editor of China’s 21st Century Business Herald.

Fascinated by WomenStrength program
In addition to learning more about the functions of the Portland Police Bureau’s East Precinct from NRT Officer Joe Young, the Chinese guests seemed fascinated with Portland’s “WomenStrength” training program sponsored by the Portland Police Bureau.

“Since 1979, we’ve offered free programs in holistic self defense,” said Sara Johnson, its Director. “We teach physical fighting skills. But more importantly, we focus on general safety awareness, including assertiveness, intuition, and a lot of prevention before we have to use physical fighting skills.”

The tone of the meeting was friendly, and seemed productive, as the visitors continued to ask about life in the United States, and specifically in the Pacific Northwest.

“I always find these programs rewarding,” Poppino said later. “I look forward to these visits, and making new friends with people from around the world.”

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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