“Buenos días a todos,” said Chair Jessica Vega Pederson.
On Oct. 5, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners celebrated Latine and Hispanic Heritage Month with a proclamation that publicly recognizes the role, significance and vibrancy of the community — while hosting County employees and local artists who shared their personal experiences around connection and identity.
Latine and Hispanic Heritage Month, which has been celebrated for over 50 years nationwide from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, honors people who identify as Hispanic, Latine, Latino/a, Chicano/a or indigenous from Mexico, or Central and South America.
“It’s especially meaningful for me this year,” Chair Vega Pederson said about bringing forth this proclamation. Chair Vega Pederson, whose term started Jan. 1, is the County’s first elected Latina Chair.
She said this year’s theme, “Todos Somos, Somos Unos,” which translates to “We are All, We are One,” personally resonated with her.
She recounted the many ways in which the community can identify under Latinidad and shared her personal experience.
“When I was growing up, I wasn’t Latine, I was Mexican American,” she said. ‘“And my mom, she was Chicana. She came of age during the movement in the 1970s, and that was something that really drove her identity and her action.”
Chair Vega Pederson said she loved the opportunity to reflect on, celebrate and discuss the impact of Latine and Hispanic people across the community.
The Chair’s constituent relations liaison, Ruby Gonzales, said she identifies as a biracial Latine and queer Mexican American. She shared her family’s history and what it means for governments like Multnomah County to have a relationship with the community.
Gonzales’s great-grandmother, Soledad Gonzales, grew up in Monterrey, Mexico, before moving to Texas and then Tracy, in California, to work as a farm laborer.
“With their family, with their fellow laborers, they built community,” said Gonzales. “But, they were most challenged with their language barrier.”
But that didn’t stop her great-grandmother, who became one of the first women in California to receive and vote with a Spanish-language ballot.
“It is a reminder that civic participation requires us to meet people where they are at,” Gonzales said.
Among the presenters was Paty Rincon, bilingual communications coordinator for the Multnomah County Library. For Rincon, who lived part of her childhood in Venezuela, she found it difficult to navigate cultural differences and make connections in the United States.
“Hugs and kisses were replaced by high fives and chill lowkey hello’s,” she said.
But working at the Library has allowed for Rincon to be her authentic self.
This year, the Library organized more than 17 events and programs focused on highlighting and serving the Latine community. Thanks to Latine employees across all library branches, events such as cooking classes for churros and Venezuelan arepas were brought to the community in both English and Spanish. Rincon, along with others, helped develop a communications plan to share the events with the community.
“I hope that in the future we will all continue to have opportunities to share who we are and the complexities of each of our identities,” she said.
Eufrosina Cervantes Santos, a bilingual Spanish-language library assistant, shared about her family’s transition when they immigrated to Oregon in 2005, when Santos was a teen.
“Even though it wasn’t easy, my family and the community embraced me and facilitated my assimilation to this new country by preserving our language, music, culture and background,” she said.
But it wasn’t an easy transition, Santos said. Her family continued to celebrate important cultural holidays such as Día de los Niños (Children’s Day), but they did so behind closed doors.
Now, Santos and her family celebrate with and among the community, through events, programs and collaborations with organizations.
Santos said hosting events that reflect the community helps more people feel welcomed and allows for them to step through the Library doors to access other resources.
“I’m very proud of this County because it highlights the importance of Latin culture and recognizes the impact that Latinos make in this organization,” she said.
The proclamation wrapped up with a performance by Joaquin Lopez, a local artist who currently serves as the City of Portland’s Creative Laureate. Lopez’s work is grounded in personal transformation, self-expression and Latino queer identity.
Lopez highlighted the importance of artists, who have an integral role in communities, and said they can help shape, expand and create a culture.
“Hispanic Heritage Month sees and accepts who we are as people, as a cultural experience that shapes the community we live and belong in,” Lopez said.
Lopez played his guitar and sang his song “Universo” in both English and Spanish.
“One day I will fly and grow and let myself go,” he sang.
Chair Vega Pederson read the proclamation after Lopez performed:
“We call upon all residents of Multnomah County to celebrate the history and recognize the contributions of Latino and Hispanic residents to our community, state and nation.”
Commissioner Susheela Jayapal thanked the presenters for sharing their personal stories and shared the importance of heritage, noting her experience immigrating from India.“What’s so wonderful about immigration and migration is that we are all richer when we don't have to assimilate and we don’t have to be somebody who we are not or try to fit in.”
“I want to thank all of you this morning for both sharing your stories and sharing how Multnomah County is lifting up all the different parts of the community,” said Commissioner Julia Brim-Edwards. “I want to thank and acknowledge our Chair and the role that you’re playing in our County, and I know it’s appreciated by others in the community,” she added.
“I love hearing those stories about how we’re making that impact on our community,” Chair Vega Pederson said of the County and its work.