Latino communities in Oregon flourish as their population grows
Latin music blares over the sound system inside the Oregon Flea Market as shoppers eat steamed tacos or walk the aisles lined with star-shaped piñatas and papel picado to browse the many market stalls.
Pablo Fuentes, 49, sells hats at the Southeast Stark Street and 182nd Avenue market every weekend after working long hours during the week. Fuentes grew up in Tijuana, Mexico, and followed his family to California in the early 1990s before the more affordable cost of living drew him to Gresham in the late 1990s.
During his early years in Oregon, Fuentes said he was one of the few Mexican immigrants in his neighborhood and finding a Latino community was difficult. This has changed significantly over time. Fuentes, speaking through an interpreter, said he now has many more Latino neighbors and there are more Latino-owned restaurants, businesses and community gathering places, like the market.
“It feels good to be around people who speak your own language,” Fuentes said.
Oregon’s Latino population has exploded over the past three decades, and experts expect that number to only rise. Driven primarily by immigration in previous decades, Latino population growth is now being fueled by children and grandchildren of that generation, born in Oregon or moving from other states, experts say.
The state’s Latino population has grown more than 30% in the past 10 years, with Oregon adding nearly 140,000 Latino residents, according to 2020 census figures. This growth came after the Latino population american from oregon jumped 144% between 1990 and 2000 and increased by 63% between 2000 and 2010.
Oregon’s Latino population now stands at 588,757 and has grown faster than the national rate in each of the past three decades. Latinos are now the largest minority group in the state, making up nearly 14% of the state’s population. Among Oregonians under the age of 18, Latinos make up 23% of the population, according to census redistricting data, a sign that their numbers will continue to rise in the coming years.
About 40% of Latinos in Oregon were born in the state, while 28% were born elsewhere in the United States and about 30% were born in other countries, according to the 2019 American Community Survey.
“In the 1990s until the Great Recession, Latin American population growth was fueled by immigration and high birth rates,” said Charles Rynerson, coordinator of the state data center of Oregon for the Portland State University Population Research Center. “In recent years, this growth has been fueled by internal migration and the age structure of the population.”
Victor and Nora Morales moved to Portland in 2020 to escape the Bay Area’s rising cost of living.
Nora, born in Oakland, Calif., to Mexican immigrants, and Victor, who moved from Guatemala to East Bay when she was 9, worried their children, ages 10 and 11, would stand out in less diverse parts of the Portland metro area. Ultimately, in 2020, they bought a home in unincorporated Washington County in the Beaverton School District, where they thought their children could get a good education and join a strong swim program — both children have been involved in competitive swimming from a young age – all while mingling with other Latinos with shared cultural experiences.
“There were other options,” said Victor Morales. “But when we looked at the diversity of schools, it was almost non-existent. That’s what brought us back to Southwest Portland, because we wanted our kids to feel welcome.
More than half of Oregon’s Latino population lives in Multnomah, Washington, and Marion counties. All three have seen their Latino populations grow by at least 25% over the past decade. Washington County has the largest Latino population, 107,000, while the relatively small Morrow County had the largest share, at 41% of its 12,000 population. In Clackamas County, the Latino population has grown 38.5% over the past decade to over 40,000.
Latinos have been in oregon long before it was a state, working in Oregon Territory mining and building railroads. During World War II, Latin American communities had taken root in the state despite repeated expulsions. The state’s farms at the same time relied on a Latin American migrant workforce primarily from Texas, California, and Mexico.
Levi Herrera-Lopez, executive director of the Mano a Mano Family Center, which serves immigrant families in Marion County, said many Latinos who arrived in Oregon before the mid-1980s were farmhands who would stay for the harvest season and then move on to other states.
That changed when federal policies opened the door for more Latinos to settle in Oregon. In 1986, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which penalized farms that hired undocumented immigrants while providing a path to legal status for undocumented farm workers already working in the United States. United. The law allowed migrant farm workers from Mexico who had previously come to Oregon. for the harvest season instead settle in the state.
Policies in California in the 1990s — including those that denied driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and a failed effort in 1994 to deny them public health care and education — drove more Latinos to Oregon , Herrera-Lopez said. And as more Latinos moved to Oregon, more of their relatives began to follow. Herrera-Lopez said there are now many Latinos in Salem who come from the same villages or towns in Mexico.
“The reason we moved to Salem, which I had never heard of in my life, was because we had family here,” said Herrera-Lopez, who moved from Mexico to Salem with his family in 1992. “It became a thread through much of the population. They chose Salem because they had a connection here.
As Oregon’s Latino population has grown, cultural hubs have developed in communities across the state.
Herrera-Lopez said she’s seen the Latino community grow exponentially in southeast Salem since her family moved there in the 1990s. Latin American restaurants and markets now fill the shopping corridors along Lancaster Drive.
Maria Caballero Rubio, executive director of Centro Cultural de Washington County, which serves Washington County’s Latino community, has also seen Latino neighborhoods spring up in Hillsboro, Cornelius and parts of Beaverton since her family of migrant farm workers moved in. settled in Washington County in 1969.
Centro Cultural has a large community center in Cornelius, where more than half the population is Latino. At the center, the nonprofit organizes community events to bring people together during holidays like Dia de Los Muertos, hosts holiday food and toy drives, and provides services like English lessons.
“Over the generations, we now have elders who come to our community center and have lived here for five decades,” said Caballero Rubio. “Now their children have children of their own and sometimes grandchildren.”
However, as the population continues to grow, advocates say more needs to be done to ensure Latinos can thrive.
A Oregon Community Foundation 2016 Report found that Latinos had made progress in education, employment, and health since 2000, but were still more likely to be poor, uninsured, and undereducated than their counterparts whites. About 15% of Latinos lived in poverty in Oregon in 2019, compared to 11% of white Oregonians, according to the American Community Survey. (People who identify as Hispanic or Latino can be of any race, according to the United States Census Bureau.)
In Portland, the school board pledged in 2019 to improve the achievement of black and Latino students, but last fall a national test showed that black and Latino students in elementary and middle school were still at least a grade complete, and in some cases three or four years, behind grade level expectations.
Tony DeFalco, executive director of the Latino Network, which advocates for Latinos in the Portland area, said policies like the Preschool for All initiative, which Multnomah County voters passed in 2020, could help fill gaps. education gaps by providing free, high-quality early childhood education. educational options to communities of color.
DeFalco said providing services and finding ways to engage the Latino population where they are is especially important, which is why Latino Network raised funds to build Plaza Esperanzaa nursery school to be located in a part of Gresham that is more than 30% Latino.
“With a growing population, we need increasing efforts from the public, private and nonprofit sectors to balance the needs and priorities of Latinx communities across the state in terms of education, community safety and wealth creation to continue to set all of us on the path to prosperity,” DeFalco said.
DeFalco said Latinos need to be better represented among Oregon’s elected officials as the population continues to grow. Herrera-Lopez also noted that there are few Latinos in decision-making positions in local government in Salem, even though they make up 28 percent of Marion County’s population. He said that can leave the community largely ignored by those in power.
There have been gains in recent years. The Oregon legislature now includes a record 13 people of color after four, including two Latinos, were newly sworn in last year. But Latinos still make up less than 8% of members of the Legislative Assembly, despite making up nearly 14% of Oregon’s population.
Caballero Rubio said she would like to continue to see Latinos better represented at the state and county levels, but she said she was excited to see more Latinos running for city council in cities like Hillsboro, Cornelius and Forest Grove.
And in Portland, Caballero Rubio’s daughter, Carmen Rubio, became the first Latino or Latina elected to the Portland City Council in 2020, half a century after her mother immigrated to Oregon.
“I think we’re starting to see changes,” Caballero Rubio said. “The younger generations have stepped up and we’re starting to see more people of color and Latinos in elected positions.”