Citing the community’s strength and resilience in the face of injustice, the Board of County Commissioners proclaimed Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 as Hispanic and Latine Heritage Month in Multnomah County. The measure calls upon all residents to celebrate the history and recognize the contributions of Latines to our community, state, and nation.
Vega Pederson used the term ‘Latine’ after consulting with community partners, because she said, “(the term) is gender neutral, grammatically correct, and easier to say than Latinx." The Board also revised the name of the celebratory month to reflect the updated terminology.
She also highlighted what New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof reported as the “Hispanic Paradox.’’ Despite poverty and discrimination, Hispanic Americans live significantly longer than white or black Americans. They also seem more resilient, because of their greater “social capital” — bonds of family, home region or church.
“I can personally attest to the bonds of family — when I think of my immediate family the bare number of people I need to invite to family gatherings without getting into big trouble with someone —it’s 14 people. Add numerous aunts, uncles and almost innumerable cousins to that and family reunions easily grow to 100,’’ Vega Pederson said. “ These bonds of family and culture carry us together through hard times, including the times we now face.’’
Those hard times include the pandemic. Typically, the annual heritage celebration is a music and speech-filled event in the boardroom. This year, COVID-19 limited the proclamation to online remarks by Carmen Castro, the Executive Director of the Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber and Ernesto Fonseca, Chief Executive Officer of Hacienda CDC.
Pointing to the high number of Latine community members in essential worker roles, Castro mentioned the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on members of the Latine community. Though Latine community members represent 13 percent of Oregon’s total population, they comprise over 22 percent of Oregon’s COVID-19 cases.
Despite being heavily affected by COVID-19, both Castro and Fonseca emphasized the crucial roles played by members of the Latine community to the economy and during the pandemic in essential fields such as healthcare, transportation, retail and agriculture.
“It is called essential work because it’s very nature indicates it is truly necessary to keep the country going,” Castro said.
Even though the Latine community has been critical in maintaining the stability of the country during the pandemic, many still face barriers to healthcare, affordable housing and technology.
“With the pandemic, the disparities and our barriers and lack of access to resources have been laid bare. As the state’s largest minority, it is important that we have access to resources proportionate to our numbers, otherwise the disparities will continue,” Castro said.
The proclamation was met with enthusiasm by the Board of Commissioners, who praised the contributions of the Latine community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and thanked Castro and Fonseca for speaking.
“It’s particularly important to be celebrating and recognizing contributions and essentiality in this time when the Latine community is facing such inequities and we see this most starkly through COVID,” Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said.
“I am proud of the work that the County has done but we know we have a lot more work to be done in the face of those inequities and the fact that the folks who are keeping our economy, community, and environment together are also suffering the most in this pandemic.”
Chair Deborah Kafoury called the proclamation “an important reminder of why the work we do is so critical,” and criticized the hate-driven rhetoric of the federal administration that has disproportionately targeted and affected members of the Latine community.
“It’s a call to action not just to continue fighting back against ignorance and injustice, but to keep fighting for what is right every day, for each other every single day. Our community is and will remain an open and welcoming place for everyone. That is who we are.”