Rep. Diego Hernandez

2010 alum and Oregon State Representative - District 47 - Portland


When did you attend the UO and what year did you graduate? What did you study at the UO?

I attended starting in 2005 and I studied political science. During my junior year I added ethnic studies as a major. I graduated in 2010.

Was there an experience offered by UO that opened your eyes to something new?

That’s a good question that I haven’t thought about for a while. I think for me it was a mixture of two things that inspired me. One was the community through what used to be the Office of Multicultural Academic Support (OMAS) which held retreats for freshmen and students of color. The relationships that I built there, as well as through my involvement with the Multicultural Center and MEChA as a freshman.

Was there a class that inspired you in a new way while at UO?

I can’t remember all the courses I took in political science and ethnic studies, but I was definitely inspired by everything that I didn’t learn in high school and had the opportunity to learn and analyze and have dialogue around in college. Having intricate disciplinary options was very helpful, like classes in sociology, psychology, humanities, women and gender studies; I think it was all impactful. 

In addition, I was balancing all these classes with being a student organizer and leader in student-funded programs for students of color, including the Multicultural Center and MEChA. I ran for student government as a freshman and lost, but I was then appointed as a freshman for my sophomore year. My involvement in student organizing and activism inspired me as well.

What was the number one skill you believe you acquired while at UO?

I would say critical thinking. It was probably the most useful skill I learned that I use today. Also the importance of relationship building and collaboration.

What was something that challenged your way of thinking while at UO?

I went in to the program with an open mind, so it’s not like I was being challenged per se. I would say dismantling a lot of the information we learned in school that were white-washed and not understanding why people would do that. I took Native American history and ethnic studies courses that exposed me to a lot of realities of the history of the United States that you don’t really learn in K-12 public school. For me it provided more context and more understanding. Also, within student organizing, I was challenged by the environment that UO created through its programming. I grew up with machismo, a sexist and toxic masculinity in Mexican culture, so being challenged by my colleagues in school with MEChA, learning about intersectional feminism, and just always being critically-minded and figuring out why we have the social norms that we do and the toxic sexism that’s imbedded in us and our systems, and having discussions around that and our own toxicity that we carry was an important paradigm change.

Share one word that describes what you like most about the UO today.

Unique. Since 2010, I’ve worked with a bunch of amazing civil rights leaders, like Joseph Santos-Lyons, Carmen Rubio, Andrea Valderrama, Carina Miller, and Shelli Romero, and many others are fellow UO alumni. I think the environment that UO creates and the opportunities it provides is unique.

What is your present or past career/occupation and/or what do you do for fun?

I am a state legislator representing District 47 in east Portland.  I serve on the Reynolds School District board of directors. I also have my own business where I contract with non-profits. After graduating from the UO, I had a summer job where I did environmental justice organizing with OPAL. And then started at Portland State University to earn a master’s in social work. I worked with community-based organizations through my practicums, including the El Programa Hispano, Community Alliance of Tenants, and Western States Center. After graduation I worked in non-profit mentoring and teaching students in a school district. Then I helped found Momentum Alliance with a bunch of folks and served as the executive director as a non-profit for three years, after two years as the board chair.

I do many things for fun. I would say traveling is one of my favorites because I’m a foodie; I love traveling, with food as the reason for where I’m going! What I love about Oregon is that we have access to everything. We have the mountains, the oceans, and the outdoors. I travel around Oregon as I participate in many outdoor activities.

How did your time at the UO impact your current experiences/successes?

With the unique environment and opportunities the UO provided in student programing, which the students provided through student paid fees but also the university through their programs  that intentionally support students who come from marginalized backgrounds. For me, ethnic studies was an important major because I was exposed to different types of thinking, lenses, and analyzation skills. All of those are skill sets that I used all through my graduate-level education, in my community work, and in my political field.

What does the word “advocacy” mean to you?

To me, advocacy is about taking action to change an existing system or policy that impacts one’s personal life or community.

What advice would you give people advocating for the UO about being an effective advocate?

It’s important to tell your story and how the issue impacts you, your family, or your community. Be genuine and authentic in how you tell your story. Legislators are people and hearing other people’s stories is very powerful.

What is something you wish people knew about the advocacy process?

One, is knowing who the appropriate targets are to whom you should advocate to, and two is being able to understand the root causes of the issue so you can advocate for actual structural reform and not just for a symptom of the larger issue.

Share an example or two of a time you felt successful advocating for something important to you.

As a student at the UO, I was successful in working with other UO student activists/advocates when we pushed the departmentalization of ethnic studies. We learned how to advocate, how to message an issue, how to organize others to support what we were trying to do, and how to convince decision makers that this is the right decision. That was the first time I was able to advocate and share my story and push a campaign that would bring more tenured professors of color to the UO. Seeing that gap, to me, and being able to advocate for that and win made me feel like my voice was heard and mattered.

Also, being able to pass an ethnic studies standards for K-12 during my first year as a legislator made me feel successful in advocacting. It was satisfying to work with a coalition of organizations and youth activists and influence the school system today in the area of cultural competency and mutual understanding.