A letter from disgruntled neighbors posted on social media has spurred conversations about racism in Lake Oswego.
Divya Kumar tweeted Sunday that her younger sister, Nandita, had painted a sign in support of Black Lives Matter on the front window of her family’s house, only to be asked anonymously by people in the neighborhood for the signage to be taken down.
“After George Floyd’s death, my sister was experiencing her own personal, I guess, mental change about the whole situation,” Divya, 19, said of Nandita, who is 15 years old.
“She tried to channel all of that anger and pain into multiple little art pieces she did, but then eventually she decided to just paint something on our window so that it’d be there, it’d be permanent, we could all see it when we left our house and it’d just be a way to just show our support for this movement that has affected so many people and affects us.”
my younger sister painted a sign on the front window of our house to show our support of the #BLM movement, and was sent this in the mail from one of our neighbors. 100% on brand for lake oswego 🤮✨ pic.twitter.com/TFryIAU5Yd— divya (@pivyak) August 2, 2020
She said her family received a letter in the mail a few weeks after Nandita painted the window.
“We, your neighbors, appreciate that you have a strong political and social justice viewpoint and wish to communicate that to others via you [sic] window sign,” the letter, posted to Twitter, reads. “The first amendment [sic] gives you that right. We believe you’ve made your point.”
The letter continues: “Homes are not made to be build boards [sic] for our opinions, they are a place for families to rest, enjoy life and feel safe. Thank you in advance for caring enough about the people you live side by side (especially with different viewpoints) by removing your sign.”
The letter is signed, “Your Neighbors.”
Divya, who is East Indian, said she and her sister were somewhat surprised to receive the letter, but “we both have been here long enough that we weren’t that shocked.”
In her tweet, she called the letter: “100% on brand for Lake Oswego,” in reference to other racist incidents that have happened in the community.
Divya graduated from Lake Oswego High School and Nandita currently attends the school. Her family has been living in Lake Oswego for about seven years now, she said.
“Me and my sister, we’re not Black, obviously, but through middle school and high school we would get so many weird Indian jokes,” Divya said. “It was such a clear divide between the few people of color that were in the high school and those who weren’t.”
“Every Black student that I saw when I started going to Lake Oswego High School in 2014, every one of them that I saw freshman year had all left by the time I was a graduating senior,” she said.
One of the things that did surprise Divya was that her family’s sign in support of Black Lives Matter is not the only sign in the neighborhood, but none of her other neighbors with signs have reported receiving any letters.
“I have no idea if it was just because ours was so much bigger than the other signs … I don’t want to assume we were targeted [because of race], but it really felt that way at first, especially with all of their phrasing and whatnot,” she said of the letter.
Her family had also received another anonymous letter a few months ago, she said, asking them to “keep their lawn up to the standards of the neighborhood,” even though their lawn is “great,” Divya said. No other neighbors received a similar letter, she said.
Divya said her family still does not know who sent the letter about her sister’s sign.
“It was weird that they left it anonymous, so we couldn’t respond to them” She said. “We had thought we had a good enough relationship with the people on our street that this wouldn’t have been the type of thing where they felt the need to send an anonymous letter instead of having an open discussion.”
Multiple people in the neighborhood have approached Divya’s family in support of the sign since her tweet, she said. Divya said she’s also had people reach out to her from the Portland area who have received letters similar to hers.
“It’s been kind of nice to at least know that if we don’t know who they are, we at least know who is there supporting us and the movement itself,” she said.
The letter also claims that the signage is driving down “interest to live on this street” and is causing property values to suffer.
Whitney Minnich, a broker with John L. Scott Real Estate and the Vice President for realtor advocacy with the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors, said the assumption that any sort of signage would drive down property values or deter someone from buying a house is not true.
“I’ve never had a client say, ‘I don’t want this sign or that sign in a yard.’ That’s never something that anyone has ever said to me,” Minnich said. “When we look at our housing crisis here, in the Portland area and in Oregon as a state … people are looking at location, price and does the house fit their needs.”
Minnich said signs displaying social ideologies, or even political signs during an election year, are not likely to sway homebuyers.
“A sign in the last thing I could see being the influence for them in buying a home,” she said. “May it influence some people? Maybe, but so could a house being painted a certain color, which is going impact a market value more than a political sign is going to.”
As far as property values go, Minnich said, “when appraisers are going to look at a house, they’re looking at a property to determine that value … I’ve never seen on an appraisal sheet any mention of [signs], and it will never be because it’s not one of the factors.”
Leaders in the Lake Oswego community began responding to the letter Tuesday.
“We stand in solidarity with this family,” Lake Oswego City Manager Martha Bennett said in a statement. “Everyone should be able to thrive in Lake Oswego without worrying about how the color of their skin affects their opportunities. No one should have to live with suspicion and fear of one’s neighbors.”
“The City of Lake Oswego is committed to making Lake Oswego a welcoming community for everyone,” Bennett continued. “As a city, we value our BIPOC community members, and we stand for anti-racism.”
The Lake Oswego School District Board also released a statement Wednesday about the letter.
“As a school board and district, we reaffirm our commitment to creating environments of anti-racism and belonging within systems that are inclusive of everyone in our community,” the board wrote. “We support the rich and growing diversity in Lake Oswego and believe that all in our city should feel safe and valued.”
Divya said she and her family have no plans to remove Nandita’s painted sign.