A Seat at the Table

South Eugene grad and Indigenous Latina runs for office in Georgia 

By Ada Merello

As a woman of color raised by a single mother in Eugene in the ’80s and ’90s, I would like to reintroduce myself to my hometown from my adopted hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. Per your request for letters from unheard voices  — consider this someone who is speaking up and speaking out.

It is sad but true, I didn’t realize I was a woman of color until I moved to New York City at the age of 19. It is a sweet and short story, but it is an interesting fact and allows me to reflect on my upbringing in our beloved unique Eugene.

Growing up, I attended Waldorf School, Roosevelt Middle and South Eugene High. Due to the make-up of Eugene families, I never felt singled out for being raised by a single mother or poor.  Oddly enough, those weren’t distinctive characteristics. However, being a person of color was.  

It would take me years of life experience and therapy for me to realize how much I was marginalized in Eugene as a person of color. It was unnecessary and sad.  

As we know, Eugene is an ethnically homogeneous society — you can argue with me on this, but it is a simple fact. As a child and teenager, I was always singled out by my friends’ parents and educators about my distinctive personality. Although I was raised by a single Latina, I was not raised with my native Peruvian parents. 

In Eugene, having an “odd” name was never an issue; however, being an “odd” person and outspoken woman of color came with consequences. Often, I was punished for my behavior, scolded by “respected” community members and even teased and heckled by adults and teachers.

It wouldn’t be until my life in Georgia — after a decade in Los Angeles and New York City — that I realized how harmful my formative years were. As a minority in a majority minority city, Atlanta, I have a new perspective on my ethnicity and gender. Not only is it refreshing, but it is welcomed. Albeit, as an Indigenous Latina I am still the minority and at the bottom of the pay scale — I seek to be a beacon of light to other youth who suffered in silence as I did.

This past fall I took the first steps of making these memories into actionable and productive social justice. In typical Eugenean fashion, I was raised in a socially conscious household with icons such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and John F. Kennedy.  I was raised on protests of the central American civil wars and taught that peace and love are always the right path.

With this foundation of thought and history of oppression, I have taken my high school friend Pete Tripp’s advice: “Take your anger and put it into positive action, Ada.” I have been professionally involved with public policy, politics and issue-based campaigns for almost 25 years. What is the most actionable thing I can do to channel this anger? Well, Pete, I am running for office and seeking to flip a seat from red to blue in the Georgia State House of Representative for House District 56.

I write this to let those other little brown boys in girls in Eugene who are suffering in silence know that they are being seen and heard. To these children: You will find your place in this world.  

I hope my running for office inspires you to reach for the moon, and you might fall amongst the stars. I hope my running for office allows you to know that you do have a seat at the table, that your thoughts and opinions matter. You are magical. Never let anyone take that away from you, and shine your light — inside and outside, for better or worse.

Thank you for listening to me.

Ada Merello graduated from South Eugene High School in 2000 and is running for election to the Georgia House of Representatives to represent District 56. 

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