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Celebrating a 'portal of diversity'

Centro Cultural has been helping bring cultures together for four decades
by: News-Times file photo In August 2005, Centro Cultural celebrated the opening of its new Technology & Education Center in Cornelius. This weekend, the non-profit community organization is marking its 40th anniversary with a gala and fundraiser in Hillsboro.

I can't remember a time when Centro Cultural wasn't a potent force in my life.

My parents, Osvaldo and Guadalupe Hinojosa, were co-founders of the Cornelius-based non-profit, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary on Saturday.

Like many of Washington County's early Latino settlers, my parents' path started in Mexico and included a stay in the Lone Star state.

In 1960 they joined other migrant workers, traveling from Texas to Washington and Oregon, with their kids, Joe, Robert, me, the twins - Nelda and Hilda - and, later, Enestina Rios.

They harvested, pruned and irrigated: cotton, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, grapes, figs, plums, strawberries, blackberries, cherries, cucumbers, pole-beans, walnuts, filberts, holly, tomatoes, potatoes, and beets. They finally settled in Hillsboro in 1961, and three years later let their roots sink deeper, buying their first home.

Their faith was important to them, and they were actively involved with the local Catholic church and the Archdiocese, in Forest Grove, Cornelius, Hillsboro, Woodburn, Salem, Mt. Angel, Portland and Sheridan.

They promoted, and participated, in several religious groups like Marriage Encounter, Cursillistas (Crusaders for Christ) and Youth Ministry. They were also members of the church council, the Guadalupanas, and exercised their ministry in community outreach, for the sick, family in distress and victims of domestic violence.

They were also co-founders of the Club de los Amigos (an emergency assistance and loan network), Centro Petra Perez (a Hispanic senior citizen organization for Hispanics) Virginia Garcia Memorial Heath Center, and the Exxon Service Station Coop and, of course, Centro Cultural, a vital community resource center.

My parents actively participated in all the activities of Centro Cultural, including fundraising, cooking, maintaining the building and the yard, and serving on the board of directors.

For the early founding families, Centro Cultural was a daily way of life. 'The Centro' served as the center for fellowshipping, organizing activities, celebrating and honoring cultural arts and music. The community center served as a resource center, as classroom for English as a Second Language Classes, for U.S. citizenship classes, Adult Basic Education, GED, a senior center.

It was, and remains, a facility for cultural and religious celebrations as well as serious community conversations.

I remember my parents, even though limited English-speakers, participating in mediation meetings between the chief of police and Hispanic community members, to deal with racial profiling in Washington County.

Centro has continued to serve as a portal of diversity for both the dominant culture and the Hispanic community.

It provides information and referral services, in health care, emergency assistance, housing, advocacy services, drug and alcohol programs, employment and training. It serves as a great platform for professionals, practitioners, and the community at-large to obtain culturally and linguistically appropriate awareness, cultural encounters, obtain cross-cultural skills, and obtain cultural knowledge to develop individual cultural competencies.

Centro provides the infrastructure to aid in eliminating disparities between the Hispanic community and our larger community.

Because of Centro, for my family and many other Hispanic citizens in Washington County, there is a vehicle to actively participate in the process of achieving the American Dream.

- Hector Hinojosa is a consultant with Human Resource Helpers in Hillsboro. His parents passed away (Osvaldo in 1999; Guadalupe, last year). In addition to their own children the couple served as padrinos (godparents) to countless Washington County residents.

From the Director:

Centro Cultural has a solid history of accomplishments that over 40 years have improved the lives and integration of the Latino population in Washington County. As a consequence of its steadfast involvement with the larger community, it has also contributed to the healthy development of the ever-increasing multicultural diversity of the county, the greater metro area and the state of Oregon.

Centro stands at the threshold of a new era of growth. Our 40th anniversary marks this auspicious milestone and presents our exciting vision for the future. We recognize that our success ultimately depends on our ability to help people improve their lives, and how such improvements promote the healthy development of our increasingly multicultural and environmentally sustainable community.

Developing Centro Cultural's resources, service programs and capacity to a level that best responds to the present and future needs of the Latino people and the region as a whole is the ultimate goal of the organization.

Jose' E. Rivera

Executive Director, Centro

Cultural of Washington County