The Importance of Representation

By Chloe Kov, Communications TALON Intern

The suburbs of south east Portland, where I grew up, was a mixing pot of people that came in different shapes, sizes, abilities, colors, and cultures. I went to a high school where we embraced our varying backgrounds. We hosted international fairs to showcase and share our cultural differences. One of my school’s favorite mantras was “unity in diversity,” something that I never understood the importance of, until I noticed a lack of it outside of my community.

Chloe Kov, Bird Alliance of Oregon Communications Intern, on the job with her camera.

Watching television shows as a child, though I was entertained, I never felt connected. Viewing shows centered around family life was never something I could relate to.  I was a child of immigrants from the Philippines and Cambodia so their lives were a stark contrast from mine.

But one fateful evening I switched on the TV to Disney Channel. “Girl Meets World” was being broadcasted at the time.  In this particular episode entitled “Girl Meets the Great Lady of New York” they were having a cultural fair. At first I thought nothing of it until there was a booth on Cambodia. I stared at the television in awe because I have never seen a cambodian person on television. The host of the booth was an elderly lady who told the students a story about her having to leave her home because bad people were invading her town. Thus, she had to immigrate to the Philippines to seek refuge. Later in the episode the grandson of the woman came out to talk to his classmates and told them how he was both filipino and cambodian. I was flabbergasted, he was the same mix as me.  Although the woman was talking about a devastating time, I felt pride knowing that my cultural background was being showcased. My family really resonated with that story because when my father was a child he was in a similar mix of chaos. The Vietnam War had bled into Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge was gaining power by using Cambodia’s weakening government to conquer innocent towns. Thus, forcing him and the rest of his family to flee to United States. That was the first time I have ever felt representation at its full effect and it was powerful. I then, understood the importance of diversity.

During one of the first days in the office, Ali, my mentor, gave me the task of scanning through some of education’s “Best Photos” archive so I could then write down what qualities made them good photos since I would be working on photography during my apprenticeship. Whilst looking through the photos, one of the first pictures that peaked my attention was the photo to your right. As you can see, a little girl is leading a group of campers and counselors on a hike. It was empowering to see a girl of color leading people through the forest. Subtle images have a huge impact on how we perceive life. Like tiny pictures in magazines sculpt our minds into thinking that we have to look and act a certain way to obtain value.  So to have an image like this, even though it will fly past most people’s heads, I think to the subconscious mind, it will show that not only women but people of color can lead and it doesn’t matter who you are, nature is made for everyone.

Bird Alliance of Oregon constantly makes efforts to incorporate diversity into their conservation mission. TALON, a Bird Alliance of Oregon youth program that I am a part of, empowers youth of color to become engaged with the environment and change the conservation narrative. Even though TALON environmental educators get to play games with children, they are tasked with an extremely important job. They are role models to children of color who take interest in nature and set an example to the rest of the world that people of color are present in nature. And to me that is one of the most important things about representation: getting people involved. If people see that a person of similar background is doing something they admire, having representation will make them feel like they belong in that community.