The Board of Commissioners welcomed the first day of Latiné and Hispanic Heritage Month with a proclamation on Sept. 15, 2022.
The month long celebration, which runs through Oct. 15, honors people who identify as Hispanic, Latino, Latiné, Chicano, or indigenous from Mexico, Central or South America. This year’s theme, “Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation,” was interpreted by local Latiné leaders as a call to continue supporting and strengthening the Latiné community in Multnomah County.
“Multnomah County takes great pride in the growing diversity of our community and in the impressive and valuable contributions made by our Latiné residents to the County's growth, prosperity and wellbeing,” the Board’s proclamation says.
Latiné and Hispanic people are the fastest-growing population in Oregon, making up 14% of all Oregonians and 12.7% of the population in Multnomah County. Latiné and Hispanic people contribute to every part of our community and culture, taking on roles ranging from teachers and advocates to artists to elected officials to essential workers, the proclamation notes.
This year’s proclamation was particularly meaningful. The celebration, the first to be held in-person in two years, honored the Latiné and Hispanic community members who showed up in person day after day when others relied heavily on them and their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A large number of Latiné people make up Oregon and the County’s frontline workforce, including medical professionals, grocery store workers, teachers and farmworkers. Those Latiné community members continued their crucial work ensuring their neighbors could continue to access essential items and services.
But because of that frontline work, the Latiné community took a hard hit.
For many people, showing up at essential jobs continues to put them at a higher risk of COVID-19. Language barriers and a lack of healthcare access also contributed to lower vaccination rates for Oregon’s Latiné community at first.
The Oregon Health Authority set a goal that 80% of communities of color should receive at least one first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Oregon reached that goal only after intentional and intensive work across the state and Multnomah County, including translating materials into Spanish, providing transportation, and partnering with community-based organizations and culturally specific health clinics.
Now, 80.7% of Latiné people 18 and older in Oregon have received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The County’s proclamation honored and supported residents known as Dreamers, among the 11,000 Oregonians receiving protection through the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
The program allows undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as minors to apply for protection from deportation. In Oregon, DACA recipients are referred to as “Dreamers,” named for proposed federal legislation, called the DREAM Act, that would extend DACA protections even further.
Recipients are students from all over the world, including from Mexico, Central and South America, and are employed in different businesses and organizations ranging from teachers, healthcare, and emergency response to government and law enforcement.
“Multnomah County stands with Dreamers by protecting their rights to remain in the United States, denouncing xenophobia, and advocating for Congress to lock in federal protections for DACA recipients,” the proclamation says.
Cynthia Gomez, director of community and civic impact at Portland State University, spoke to the Board about the university’s embrace of those students — taking on the theme of “unidos,” or “inclusivity,” and making an impact both locally and across the region.
The number of Latiné undergraduates at Portland State has increased 29%, Gomez said. Overall, 20% of students at Portland State identify as Latiné.
“We’re an example of inclusivity in our region. We live the value of servingness,” said Gomez, who said Portland State is on its way to becoming a Hispanic Serving Institute — a college or university where Hispanic students make up at least 25% of the full-time student population.
For 25 years, Gomez said, Portland State’s Latiné Studies program has taught about the community’s history, cultural diversity and ethnic heritage. That includes services such as La Casa Latina, a student center where Latiné students can spend time together, build a community, develop skills and receive academic support. Soon, Portland State will open a “Dreamer” center, too, Gomez said. The university already offers services and resources for “Dreamers,” but the center will offer those students a physical space on campus to find resources and support.
“The future is not just something that happens to us. The future is something we make,” said Gomez.
Anthony Veliz, founder of the Oregon Latinx Leadership Network (OLLN), a community advocacy organization, spoke about the spirit of “la familia,” or “family,” in Latiné culture and how it binds the community.
Veliz said OLLN formed during the pandemic to represent those in the community who went unseen: undocumented people, immigrants, houseless people, farmworkers, incarcerated people and more.
“It wasn’t about ‘I’; it was about ‘we,’” he said.
Veliz said the spirit of “la familia” carried him through the pandemic, putting others before himself, as many others around him did as well, to bring resources and help to the Latiné community.
“Our voices are important and they need to be heard,” said Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson. She pointed to the region’s future, noting 27% of students in the David Douglas School District identify as Latiné, along with 42.5% of students in the Reynolds School District.
“We need to continue to support our community and celebrate our culture,” she said.
Commissioner Sharon Meieran shared her gratitude with both Gomez and Veliz, thanking them for using their voices to help the Latiné community and for being part of the proclamation reading.
“Sometimes proclamations seem symbolic,” she said, “but they do remind our community of our values and our commitment to improving the current state of our country.”
Chair Deborah Kafoury said everyone could learn more about the spirit of “la familia.”
“If there’s one thing that people take away from today,” she said, “it’s that all of us need to embrace that spirit, looking out for folks who are not in this room today with us.”