Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.
— OSCAR WILDE.
My name is Ramiro Navarro Jr. or RJ for short. I’m a born and raised Oregonian, the proud son of a migrant worker, a lucky child of a public school teacher, and a combat veteran.
I was 18 when the recession hit in 2008 after just having my first son. I lost my job as a metal fabricator and struggled to find stable employment to keep a roof over our heads. So I followed in my oldest sister’s footsteps in public service and joined the military as a Mechanic for an MP unit. Shortly after returning home from basic training though, I was told not to unpack because I was going to be deployed. That was just the beginning of what was going to be a rough deployment for my family and I.
Coming home from Iraq, I struggled with undiagnosed PTSD which led to an unhealthy habit of self-medicating and eventually our divorce. That self-medicating earned me 18 months in prison, day for day, no good or work time on my first felony charge for Marijuana. If I wasn’t a criminal going into prison, I most certainly was coming out. Homeless, hungry, and hurting, the county jail became the only home I knew. That cycle continued until I was offered the amazing opportunity to participate in a Justice Reinvestment program. This program was a housing-first model that also paid for one term of college and a bus pass. All I had to do was stay clean and sober. They had me at housing.
It was during this time that I was able to focus on my sobriety and found Peer Support on campus in the Veterans Lounge. There, other Veterans who had been through what I had been through were able to walk alongside me to support me in accessing my G.I. Benefits. I went to school for business management, got hired on as the Veterans Representative for the Student Council, and organized a summer camp for teens that I continue today called the Oregon Veterans Youth Challenge. Everything my partner and I had going on with the stress of college is what I believe contributed to our spontaneous abortion. The loss made it extremely difficult to continue school so I changed course and got my welding certificate to go back to work as a metal fabricator.
A few years later, my partner was working at a local non-profit when she heard they were starting a Veterans program. She encouraged me to apply and thought I would be a perfect fit, supporting other Veterans who’ve been where I’ve been. So I did and got the position. There, I designed and managed the Veterans Peer Support program partnering with organizations statewide to expand access to mental health services for military members all over the state. During the 5 years with Project ABLE, I was able to build relationships with fellow Veterans and Veteran Service organizations that I am proud of. But it was time to pass the torch.
I got the opportunity to pursue what I went to school for and took it. Now I own and manage Oregon’s Finest Automotive where we restore classic cars and add modern upgrades. My dream is to champion the gas to electric conversions in Oregon so we can enjoy the beauty of classic cars while preserving the beauty of our amazing state.
The experience of risking it all for our country, losing it all for my mental health, and still being able to overcome I believe serves as a testament to my faith and perseverance which I will bring to the legislature in representing the people of Oregon House District 21.