Locals shouldn't be surprised by recently released U.S. census data showing consistently growing Latino populations in Bend, Deschutes County, and Oregon. After all, Spanish-speaking peoples settled this region in the-mid 1800s, long before other European cultures.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Latino population in Deschutes County increased by 18.6 percent between 2010 and 2015, surpassing state (14.2 percent), Jefferson (6.5 percent), and Crook county (10.5 percent) growth. All three Central Oregon counties have seen continuous growth since at least 1990.
Donna Maxey, founder and director of RACE TALKS, a no-cost presentation and discussion series, puts the growth into context. Once upon a time, "Oregon was part of California, which was claimed by the Spanish, as well as the British and French Canadians. It became part of a territory settlement bartered by President Alexander Polk and subsequently the Oregon territory. 'To welcome' Spanish speakers/Latinos is somewhat of an oxymoron. We know Spanish speakers were here before other European cultures."
According to the Latino Community Association (LCA), Bend's Latino population grew by 14.1 percent from 2010 to 2015, with just over a third from the U.S., about half from Mexico, and 3.6 percent from other Central American countries, including El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.
LCA Executive Director Brad Porterfield says, "Latino families are attracted to Central Oregon for the same reasons as many families: quality of life and commerce. When our economy grows, Latinos in the US grow with it. It's not a stretch to say that Latinos fuel the economy with a strong work ethic, high productivity, flexibility, loyalty, resilience, and an entrepreneurial spirit."
Casabay Photography owner Maria Bay, who is Peruvian, says when her husband was offered a job in Central Oregon, she was excited to relocate. Having lived and worked around the world, Bay says, "We have lived in very large cities, and while I love the hustle and bustle of Shanghai or Kyev, it's nice to have a work commute under an hour."
Karla Castillo of the Oregon Employment Department attributes part of the population growth to Oregon's rapid recovery and robust expansion after the recession. She notes the industries that added the most jobs in 2015 were transportation and utilities, leisure and hospitality, trade and construction. According to the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics database (generated by the U.S. Census Bureau), 8.4 percent of jobs in these industries were filled by Hispanics.
"As the labor supply continues to tighten, participation of Hispanics in the workforce becomes crucial," says Castillo. "Comprising 10.3 percent of Oregon's labor force in 2014, and with a higher labor force participation rate than non-Hispanics, Hispanics have already established themselves as an important part of the state economy."
LCA Programs Manager Oscar Gonzalez says recent Latino and Chicano migration has also been driven by geographic preferences. "Locally, I have heard stories and conversations on how specifically Central Oregon reminds many Mexican folk of regions specific to mid and southern Mexico. A mix of mountains and desert, the tepid climate, the relative slow pace of everyday life as compared to urban and/or larger metropolitan cities is attractive."
Gonzalez, who earned a degree in economics and Chicano studies from Loyola-Marymount, notes that Central Oregon is one of many pockets of rapidly-growing Latino communities across the nation, including North Carolina, Georgia, Minnesota, Utah, and the state of Washington.
He says continued growth is indicated by the tri-county primary school population, which mostly shows the proportion of Latino (students) to be higher than their proportion of the general population in respective counties. The High Desert Education Service District reported for the 2013-14 school year, 12 of 14 tri-county primary schools had between 19 and 45 percent Latino students.
Despite the significant increase, many locals haven't noticed the blossoming regional Latino presence. Gonzalez says, "Typically, once the first generation of children have grown and then matriculate from K-12 and begin to graduate from higher education, socio-economic-political shifts begin to become apparent. This makes it difficult for the majority population to continue to be unaware." He points to California as an example of this evolution.
For Bendites wanting to interface more regularly with local Latinos, Porterfield recommends seeking out interactions through conversation, informal language learning with native speakers, tutoring English or basic computing with the LCA, attending and volunteering at cultural events, and visiting parks on the East side of town.
The LCA is the only non-religious affiliated organization in Central Oregon that offers assistance to eligible persons seeking U.S. citizenship, works to increase access to health and legal services, provides business and informal cultural literacy training, makes sure Latinos are represented in community discussions and on civic committees, and coordinates tutoring and language learning opportunities. In addition, "We're working toward establishing a Latino Family Empowerment Center to promote a culture of advancement and civic engagement," says Porterfield.
Bendites can also look forward to RACE TALKS' impending expansion throughout the Oregon diaspora. They host monthly meetings addressing historical and current state topics of ethnicity and race in a presentation and small group dialogue format. RACE TALKS' goal is to support interracial and cross-cultural communication through the development of sensitivity and understanding.
To get involved and learn more about our local Latino community, contact one or more of the organizations or individuals mentioned in this article.
Latino Community Association