Orange County is a complex place. We are internationally recognized as the happiest place on earth (Disneyland, of course), and a surfers’ paradise. It is also a region of substantial wealth and economic growth. Orange County currently ranks as the 9th largest county in the US, with $221 billion in GDP; 6th out of 58 counties in California in health outcomes (including length of life and quality of life), and 10th in health factors (behaviors and habits, access and quality of care, and socio-economic factors, and physical environment). Taken all together, Orange County is an economically vibrant, well resourced, and socially positive place to live, grow, and age.

However, those who live here know Orange County as a diverse and dynamic place.  The deserved reputation described above fails to include the story of dramatic disparities when health outcomes and factors are disaggregated by race and ethnicity. Orange County is NOT known for its diversity, and yet it is one of the most diverse counties in California: 58% of the county’s residents identify as BIPOC and nearly one-third are immigrants. Recent research illustrates these disparities across income, employment, education, housing, health and other factors: white Orange County residents have far more access to the region’s economic and social resources than do BIPOC residents. However, not much research has captured the connection between the region’s history and those present-day disparities.

In 2022, two members of Orange County Grantmakers, a regional philanthropic serving association focused on advancing equity through strategic alignment, transformational relationships, and leadership among OC philanthropists and nonprofits, supported the creation of a new report, Beyond Equity: Seeking Liberation, Autonomy and Justice in Orange County. The report, led by an advisory committee comprised of expert practitioners in the advancement of equity and justice in and for their communities, and developed by Charitable Ventures and Eric Altman Consulting, Inc. builds on the 2019 An Equity Profile of Orange County, aligns with the 2022 A People’s Guide to Orange County, and looks at the historical roots of the current day disparities challenging many BIPOC and immigrant residents in Orange County.

The roots of these disparities are discriminatory policies and practices dating back to Spanish colonialization, and in some instances continuing to the present day. Take just a few examples. Spanish colonization nearly made invisible the lives and culture of indigenous people through violent oppression, forced assimilation, and transformation of place and property in the mid-1700s.  Present day housing development, property ownership and wealth accumulation in Orange County has direct ties to the redlining that has occurred in the region, going back to the 1950s, as people of color were prevented from land and property ownership in an effort to keep communities white. One memorable case of redlining was against the Bernal family in Fullerton. Alejandro Bernal, a man of Mexican-American ethnicity, and his family moved into the Sunnyside neighborhood of Fullerton. Soon enough their white community, who were afraid that having Mexican neighbors could reduce their property value, filed an injunction against the Bernals based on the fact that the deed included the following restriction: “no portion of the said property shall at any time be used, leased, owned, or occupied by any Mexicans or persons other than of the Caucasian race.” Although the Bernals successfully remained in their home, and redlining no longer occurs here, discriminatory practices in finance, banking, and access to capital are still experienced by many communities of color.

Racial segregation in schools was not just a history of the Southern states, and a critical court case coming out of Orange County proves that true.  In 1947, the Mendez v. Westminster case successfully ended segregation and the practice of “Mexican schools” in Orange County, paving the way for the critical Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954 which ended segregation in schools nationwide. Although education systems have come a long way since then, punitive discipline and the “school to prison” pipeline still disproportionately affect BIPOC youth. Immigrants in particular have faced ongoing discrimination and oppression in Orange County. Despite comprising nearly one-third of the county’s population, immigrants fear discrimination and oppression. The homegrown, anti-immigrant Minutemen Project thrived in the early 2000s. Today, regional law enforcement does what they can to ensure deportation of immigrants regardless of the specific case, leading the state in the number of immigrant transfers to ICE, and significantly detrimental impact to many Orange County families.

The report highlights these histories of oppression and marginalization among immigrant and American communities of color, as well as how BIPOC and ally activists successfully fought for justice across hundreds of years, issue by issue.  This history is critical to exploring solutions that can help Orange County evolve toward liberation, autonomy, and justice; important concepts that are further discussed and described in the report.

Beyond Equity focuses on inequities related to labor and income, property and housing, education, and migration and diaspora.  Although the title of the report might seem to call into question the importance of equity, or imply, perhaps, that equity has been achieved – the report actually presents an alternative frame to achieving equity that starts in the past.

The report challenges leaders in the region to:

  1. Integrate an understanding of historical and cultural context into efforts to analyze and address regional inequity.
  2. Ensure that marginalized population groups are represented in the collection, compilation, and presentation of data on regional inequity.
  3. Support policy, systems change, and direct services, understanding that they are interrelated and historically oppressed communities cannot advocate if their basic needs are not met.
  4. Incorporate principles of equity, justice, and liberation into decision-making processes for policy, grants, and budgeting.
  5. Honor and respect the history of communities that have experienced injustice in the region and pursue healing, especially those, such as Native Nations, that have been rendered invisible by oppression.
  6. Build infrastructure to support processes and outcomes that are just and equitable

In 2023, OCG, partner organizations and community leaders will host in-person conversations and workshops on the issues highlighted in the Beyond Equity report, providing space to discuss how to put report recommendations into.  Together, we must continue to pursue knowledge and build toward an Orange County where every resident can participate fully in the region’s economic, social, political, and cultural resources. For more information, visit OC Grantmakers.

Taryn Palumbo, Executive Director, Orange County Grantmakers

Orange County Grantmakers, Orange County. Orange County Grantmakers (OCG) is a regional leadership association for funders and philanthropists founded in 2006. Its mission to advance equity by creating strategic alignment and cultivating transformational relationships and leadership among OC philanthropists and nonprofits.

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