The Murdock Trust is committed to the flourishing of all Pacific Northwest communities. During certain months of the year, we join those honoring the contributions, successes, and challenges of certain groups among us. September 15 through October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month, and though listening to and uplifting our Latinx neighbors is a year-round priority, we are grateful for the opportunity to sit down with two of our local leaders in this community, Tony DeFalco and Evelyn Kocher at Latino Network, for further reflections on this month.
Between 2010 and 2020, the Hispanic population of Oregon grew by more than 30 percent – and that was after a decade of 63% growth from 2000 to 2010 and 144% growth from 1990 to 2000. According to Tony DeFalco, executive director of Latino Network, the region has a long way to go in recognizing the significance of this growth and properly supporting the Latinx* communities of Oregon.
“One of the biggest things that I think our region has not really come to terms with yet is how big this population is,” says DeFalco, “and recognizing that we are not collectively paying enough attention to the ways in which this community is effectively the backbone of our state. Whether it’s economic or educational or in different workforces, we are everywhere.”
Despite this incredible growth, says DeFalco, Latinx communities are not yet proportionately present in decision-making spaces. This lack of representation is particularly impacting youth.
“There is really a need for lifting up the priorities of our young people, who are seeing the impacts of the lack of investment and policies that reflect their priorities,” says DeFalco. “We see that in stubbornly low graduation rates, high risk of mental health challenges for youth, grappling with the impacts of the pandemic and climate change, etc.”
The best way to start making that change for future generations? Invest in youth now, says DeFalco, which is exactly what Latino Network does.
Founded in 1996 by community leaders who were concerned about the lack of adequate resources to meet the needs of the growing Latinx community, this nonprofit has become a staple in the region. In response to low achievement scores, youth violence, and high dropout rates that undermine the Latinx community’s potential, Latino Network walks with families and youth through every step of the journey toward a more flourishing life. Its programs and services help promote early literacy, encourage parent involvement, work with gang-involved and adjudicated youth and families, provide academic support and activities to high school youth, and more.
“We provide these wraparound services that make a huge ripple effect on the Latino community and help create a new generation of leaders that have already started to effect real change in Oregon,” says Evelyn Kocher, communications manager at Latino Network.
As Kocher states, the change is already happening. Since the nonprofit’s founding, and especially since the passage of the Student Success Act in 2019, graduation rates have been on the rise. Investment in youth education is at a high, and partnerships with other organizations like Adelantes Mujeres are giving Latino Network hope and confidence that the investment is here to stay. Major community support is also helping Latino Network build La Plaza Esperanza, a community center that DeFalco says would have been unthinkable two decades ago.
“What’s exciting is that our community has so much to offer,” says DeFalco, “Whether it’s our businesses or our young people, we’re doing it anyways [despite the challenges].”
Ultimately, says DeFalco, the question is, “What kind of future are we creating? Are we creating a future where we are investing in our young people, especially brown kids, and making that commitment to the success of not just one community, but the entire community?”
Thanks to Latino Network, Adelante Mujeres, Miracle Theater Group, Hacienda Community Development Association, Latino Community Association, Centro Cultural, Casa Latina, and so many other nonprofits around the Pacific Northwest investing in and celebrating Latinx communities, it looks like we are making that commitment together.
*Note: It is Murdock Trust policy to always defer to the preferences of our grantees regarding cultural terms. In this blog post, we use Latinx when not referring to the organization name Latino Network, as it is the nonprofit’s preferred term.