Russian journalists quiz outer East Portlanders about life in America

Find out why news people and television producers from ten countries in the former Soviet Union came to Hazelwood – and what they learned …

East Portland Crime Prevention Coordinator Teri Poppino, and Tom Lewis, Chair of the Centennial Community Association, listen – while Portland Police Bureau officers  Scott Robertson and Tori Schmitt and tell how “community policing” helps them do their jobs better.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
A delegation of outer East Portland police, neighborhood leaders, and crime prevention specialists welcomed a dozen visitors from ten Russian-region countries, there to learn more about civic activism here.

The November gathering, held at the East Portland Neighborhood Office (EPNO), occurred under the auspices of the Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists, explained the meeting’s organizer, Amy E. Barss, Director of the International Visitor Program for the World Affairs Council of Oregon.

Under this sort of program, according to Barss, visitors from over 100 countries – representing a wide range of professional interests – meet Americans of different ages and backgrounds, and learn about the traditions and ideas which characterize the United States and make it unique.

Portland a favorite stop for international visitors
“Each year, 5,000 foreign visitors, identified by United States Embassies as the future leaders in their countries, participate in U.S. Department of State-sponsored study tours to the United States,” Barss continued. “These visitors then take the lessons and ideas they learned here back to their home country, and work to apply them to their communities.”

Around tables arranged in EPNO’s conference room, the journalists from Armenia, Belarus, Estonia, the Kyrgyz Republic, Latvia, Moldova, Russia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan, were encouraged to talk freely, and to ask questions of their American hosts.

The leader of the outer East Portland delegation, ONI Crime Prevention Coordinator Teri Poppino, started things off by asking each participant to tell about something personally important to him or her.

Coming from countries where most citizens speak carefully about personal topics, the conversation was slow in coming. There was a time when speaking out would surely have jeopardized their safety and freedom, if they divulged too much information.

Listening and responding through interpreters, these visitors from Russia asked probing questions about life in the United States – and here in outer East Portland.

As the delegates tasted Poppino’s blackberry cobbler, then treat seemed to “break the ice”. One man commented that he was renowned among his friends for his peach cobbler and really liked the blackberry cobbler.

A visitor talked about his young granddaughter; another spoke of her granddaughter with pride, as well. Being journalists, they admitted to enjoying writing and reading. Travel was another interest that they expressed.

Curious about American life
Questions posed by the visitors indicated that they had interest in a broad spectrum of topics relating to American life. They wanted to know more about our exchange of information; how people work together.

For example, one question revolved around whether or not government agencies are held accountable if they don’t provide expected services.

Ms. Aida Kasymalieva [leaning forward on her hand, near the end of the table] says she’s interested in how various ethnic groups become assimilated into our culture.

When we were given the opportunity, as a fellow journalist, to ask a question of the group, we asked if anyone would tell us what they found most interesting so far, on their American tour.

Ms. Aida Kasymalieva, the producer of the “Azattyk Plus,” TV program in the Kyrgyz Republic, responded: “It has been most interesting to learn how you work with different ethnic groups. It’s interesting that there are tools to integrate newly arrived ethnic peoples into your larger society.”

In the Kyrgyz Republic, Kasymalieva explained, ethnic conflicts exist. “Even though they have been living together for centuries, they still have not been integrated. It’s like they live in separate parallel worlds. Even our healthcare is mono-ethnic. I have been thinking about how we could integrate those pockets of population.”

At meeting’s end, Mr. Vasyl Chepurnyi, Editor-in-Chief of the Siverschyna newspaper, presents a ceremonial Ukrainian decorated egg to Teri Poppino.

As the delegation was leaving, we asked Tom Lewis, Chair of the Centennial community Association, for his impressions of the meeting.

“It’s my first time going to a meeting like this,” Lewis said. “It’s perfect, because instead of leaders meeting, this is ‘people, talking to other people’. I get the idea that most journalists and public folks from other countries are more like us then perhaps government officials might be.”

The most interesting topic raised during the meeting Lewis added, was about dealing with crime. “They seemed fascinated by our crime-prevention program, and crime laws; they are perceived quite differently in other countries. We did have a chance to learn about their countries, but they seem more than interested in how we handle issues of crime, and additionally, the city/citizen relationship.”

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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