County Celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month

October 6, 2017

Multnomah County’s Chief Operating Office Marissa Madrigal hugs Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson during the 2017 celebration for Hispanic and Latinx Heritage Month.

“It has been a really hard year in our community, in many communities,” Multnomah County’s Chief Operating Office Marissa Madrigal said Friday as county staff gathered to honor National Hispanic Heritage Month. “The messages about where we belong, or don’t belong, have been really hurtful.”

As the boardroom filled, Madrigal described how she has coped with the news of refugee and immigration bans, threats to young immigrants who have only temporary protection from deportation, and hateful acts committed against immigrants — immigrants like her own father, who came to the United States from Mexico.

“When I’m having a hard time, when I’m worried or upset, I close my eyes and imagine my ancestors walking behind me,” she said. “There’s something about that, that fills me with their energy and their heart.”  

She thinks of their stories of survival and what they had to endure to bear the children who, in turn, bore her. “I think of all the places they came from, the oceans they had to cross, the mountains they had to climb,” she said. She asked everyone to close their eyes and do the same.

The room grew still.

“Imagine this room filled with our people — their strength, their stories, their love,” she said. “When we leave here, they walk with us. And we walk with each other, too. We are all here for a purpose, to be in service to each other, and to our community.”

The Board of Commissioners this week proclaimed Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 as Hispanic and Latinx Heritage
in Multnomah County, using the term “Latinx” to be more inclusive of women and gender-nonconforming people of Hispanic heritage. Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson sponsored the resolution.

Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson sponsored the resolution honoring Hispanic and Latinx Heritage Month.

“As a Latina elected official, I am proud to be elevating the importance of our local Latinx communities, and encouraging us to fill the gaps in representation of Latinx at all levels of leadership,” she said.

Vega Pederson has called for lawmakers in Washington D.C. to pass meaningful immigration reform that would protect Oregon’s more than 11,000 young immigrants who have temporary protection from deportation under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. President Donald Trump has called for a end to the program, which Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last month.

“These efforts are wrong, misguided and politically motivated,” Vega Pederson said during Friday’s celebration. “But we have stood fast in the face of political pressure.”

She called on Hispanic and Latino communities to stand in solidarity with other marginalized communities, including refugees whose families have been banned from entry, and Muslim-Americans who have increasingly become targets of hate crimes.

Friday’s event included a performance by violinist Raúl Gomez and members of his Metropolitan Youth Symphony, who played Alma Llanera by Venezuelan composer Pedro Elías Gutiérrez and Son by Costa Rican composer Vinicio Meza. Guests also heard from Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Angel Lopez.

“Not a month goes by that someone doesn’t ask, ‘where were you born?’” Judge Lopez said. “I tell them, ‘northern Mexico.’”

“What part?” They might ask.

“Los Angeles,” he says, then chuckles.

Lopez grew up in Compton, Calif. His father had come to the U.S. in 1922 and had never attended school. His mother came to the U.S. at age 4, but she only attended school until 6th grade. Lopez, the youngest of five, was the first in his family to pursue a college degree.

He was not so much drawn to law, as he was uncertain about what to do with his studies in psychology. He was certain, however, “that I didn’t want to spend my life listening to other people’s problems.”

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Angel Lopez came to speak during Hispanic and Latinx Heritage Month.

Lopez attended Willamette University’s College of Law, where he recalls being the only Latino in his class.

“No matter where I am, I’m the only Latino,” he said. “They had a system of one: One African American. One Asian American. One Latino. I was the one. I thought, ‘if I flunk out of law school, we’ll have a 100 percent failure rate.’”

Lopez didn’t flunk out; Instead he made the Dean’s List. He went on to become the first person of color elected president of the Oregon State Bar and to defend low-income clients at Metropolitan Public Defenders.

Then, one day in 2009, then Gov. Ted Kulongoski asked him to apply for an open spot on the bench. He filled out an application but left it sitting on his desk, unsure if he would send it off. The weekend before it was due, he was driving with his wife, Wendy, who asked if he had submitted the application. He told her he wasn’t sure he should.

She pulled over and stopped the car. Then she took his face in her two hands. “I know this is your dream,” he remembers her telling him. “You were meant to do this.”

He sent off the application and a short time later was invited to a meeting with Kulongoski. When the governor greeted him, he asked, “Well, Judge Lopez, what do you want to talk about?”