Bienvenidos a Portland!
Hispanic, Latino or Chicano? People have individual preferences, but Hispanic is the all-inclusive term for people with origins in Mexico, Spain, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central America and South America. Because Portland’s community includes those from more than 20 Spanish-speaking countries, Hispanic is the preferred term for this guide.
Oregon’s Hispanic population more than doubled in the last decade. More than 80% of those people are of Mexican ancestry.
Most of Oregon’s Hispanic population lives in the tri-county area (Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas counties) in which Portland lies. More Hispanics live in Washington County, which contains Beaverton and Hillsboro, than in any other Oregon county.
Hispanics have been recorded in Oregon history ever since Spanish explorers sailed along the coastline. In the 1800s, Mexican vaqueros (buckaroos) came to Oregon to work as cowboys. Other Mexicans came here to mine gold, work on the railroad or operate mule supply packs for soldiers during the Indian wars.
When the military draft of World War II caused a labor shortage on American farms, more than 15,000 Mexican laborers came to Oregon to help harvest the crops. Many remained to work on farms or other jobs or to open their own businesses.
Hispanics make up Oregon’s largest minority. Now as in the past, Hispanic people contribute greatly to the lives of Oregonians and Portlanders through their culture, cuisine, art and commerce.
Festivals & Holidays
Some Hispanic festivals celebrated in Portland have roots that go as far back as the Aztecs. Others originated more recently, commemorating significant dates in the history of the Mexican Republic. Fiesta Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) celebrates the victory of a small band of Mexican patriots over the occupational forces of Napoleon III of France on May 5, 1862. It’s a four-day festival that brings together Portland’s entire community. Held since 1985 at Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park, the fiesta features traditional music, dance, food, crafts and sports. This is the major annual event of the Portland-Guadalajara Sister City Association (503.222.9807), with guest performers from Guadalajara.
Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), November 2nd, derives from ancient Aztec festivities honoring children and the dead. It’s a festive, not morbid, occasion, a time to acknowledge the cycle of life by visiting graves of relatives, honoring their memory and exchanging gifts that have skull or skeleton motifs. If you find a plastic toy skeleton when you bite into a piece of pan de muerto (bread of the dead), you’ll have good luck.
Religious celebrations are a big part of Roman Catholic life, including Las Posadas (The Inns). Beginning December 16th, this celebration lasts nine evenings, recreating the journey from inn to inn of Joseph and Mary. Each evening of singing ends with a meal of tamales and atole, a warm drink.
The many peoples from around the world who make up the population of Gresham are honored at the Celebration of Cultures, held on the second Saturday in August at Vance Park, 1400 S.E. 182nd Ave., Gresham (503-618-2521).
Festival Latino is held on the afternoon of the second Saturday in September at Cathedral Park under the St. Johns Bridge. There is music, dancing, arts and crafts, culture and food (503-823-2223).
Did You Know...
Hispanics, most of Mexican heritage, are Oregon’s largest minority, making up 8% of the population. In fact, Oregon has the eighth largest Mexican-American population in the United States.
Hispanic girls look forward to being Sweet Fifteen, not Sweet Sixteen. Turning 15 marks a girl’s transition to womanhood. A lavish party, the quinceañera, is thrown in her honor. Many of Portland’s Mexican clothing stores specialize in quinceañera gowns and gifts.
Manuel Izquierdo is one of Portland’s most renowned artists. Look for his bronze sculpture “The Dreamer” at Pettygrove Park, S.W. 3rd Ave. and Market St. The sculpture gallery at the Pacific North-west College of Art (1241 N.W. Johnson St.; 503.226.4391) is named for him.
Teatro Milago, “Miracle Theater,” (425 S.E. 6th Ave.; 503.236.7253) is Oregon’s only Hispanic theater company. Since 1992 it has been performing the works of Spanish-language playwrights in bi-lingual productions. It has two touring companies (one for dance) that travel throughout the Western United States.
Alberto Salazar and Rudy Chapa, former University of Oregon track teammates, are both honored in the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame Museum (321 S.W. Salmon; 503.227.7466). Salazar set one world and six U.S. records and won three straight New York City marathons. Chapa broke Steve Prefontaine’s records in the 3,000 and 5,000 meters.