Emilio Calderon reluctantly made his entrance into local government some three years ago when his older sister, Marquesa, “dragged” him to a Tigard Youth Advisory Council meeting.
“It was summer. I wanted to stay home, chill out, play video games – you know, normal 13-year-old stuff,” Calderon, who is now 16, recalled. “But I think she had my best interest in mind. And it turned out great.”
Attending that first meeting led to him joining the council, a volunteer group that advises the City Council on youth issues as well as participating in many events around the city. He served as secretary for two years, and then as president.
On July 1, Calderon began a new role in the city’s government when he started a one-year term as Tigard’s youth city councilor, a non-voting member of the City Council who brings a youth perspective to city business. Calderon is Tigard’s second youth city councilor. His predecessor, Meghan Turley, served through June 30.
Four people applied for the youth city councilor position, according to the city; however, only two of them met the requirement of living within Tigard city limits. Of those two, Calderon was selected after being interviewed by Mayor Jason Snider, Councilor Heid Lueb and Turley.
The City Council voted unanimously on June 9 to officially appoint Calderon to the role.
“I’ve had the privilege of working with Emilio as the chair of the Tigard Youth Advisory Council. And be forewarned, he is going to keep us on our toes. He is a ball of fire,” Councilor Liz Newton said following the vote.
Calderon is a Tigard resident who attends the Beaverton International School, where he will be a junior next academic year. He says that his new position is an extension of the work he’s done on the Youth Advisory Council, acting as a liaison between the city and its younger residents.
“Most youth don’t know what the City Council is doing. They don’t know what [the Youth Advisory Council] is. They don’t know that there is a youth city councilor,” he said. “So my main goal is to reach out to them and open conversations and discussions to see what they would like to see the City Council do, and to see what they want to see changed in their lives.”
The youth city councilor role is “critical” to bringing the perspectives of younger residents to the City Council, said Snider, who was behind the creation of the position.
“It was something I felt pretty strongly about – that the youth members of our community, which really represent our future, have a voice on the City Council,” he said. “Having their voice at the table is critical for having us understand perspectives that we may not be able to represent as well.”
Calderon said the city’s commitment to listen to youth voices is genuine and that he hopes that his participation on the council will encourage more young people to weigh in on city issues.
“I think they are doing a great job of listening to youth, and the youth city councilor position is a fantastic example of that,” he said. “By bringing just one person to the table to discuss things, they’re already opening so many possibilities for youth to engage in local government.”
Of particular interest to Calderon is being involved in Tigard’s ongoing discussion about racial justice in the city. In the wake of the May police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota and subsequent nationwide protests against police brutality, the City Council has committed to listening to marginalized members of the community and, ultimately, taking substantive action to address racism in the city.
“Obviously, every community can do better. Something that the city is at disadvantage of is that all of the city councilors – and not to be mean to them – are Caucasian, so they don’t have the same experiences that minorities would,” Calderon said. “So I think it’s great that they’re reaching out to them, and that is something we definitely have to do. Even me, even though I’m Asian, I don’t have the same experiences that a black person would have in our day and age.”
The city is on the right track, he said, adding, “We still have a long way to go, but we’re doing what’s right.”
On the night the council appointed Calderon, Snider told the teen that he looks forward to “you keeping us on task.”
“As you can tell, the events of the last couple weeks are going to make your continued participation and youth involvement in the city even more important, perhaps, than it was before,” Snider said. “And so I want to thank you for stepping up.”
Calderon, in an interview after the meeting, said that he’s up for the challenge.
“Youth activism is on the rise. More and more people are starting to take high school students seriously,” he said. “I wanted to become the youth city councilor so I can actually make change and affect the decisions that Tigard is making – so I can see the change that I want to have and be sure that other youth can see that same thing happen for them.”