By editorial board • 

Rich stew of local cultures worth accepting, embracing

Yamhill County’s almost 110,000 residents will get a chance to help their Asian-heritage neighbors celebrate the Lunar New Year Saturday at the Mac Market, cornerstone gathering place in McMinnville’s revitalizing Alpine District.

But Asian and Pacific Islanders account for only about 1,800 county residents, and even though residents reporting “other” or “mixed” heritage figure to swell those ranks, the Asian component still represents a relatively small percentage of the local population. That raises the question, should the rest of us care?

We would answer that with an emphatic yes. Further, we would extend it to ethnic-heritage events staged under the auspices of Linfield University, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and various Latino organizations as well.

Many locals seem to think of our rural, agriculturally oriented county as an enclave of deeply rooted Anglo Americans, largely of European heritage, learning to accommodate a relatively recent influx of immigrants from Mexico. But that perception is actually deeply flawed on multiple counts.

In fact, Yamhill County is one of Oregon’s more racially and ethnically diverse. That’s particularly true for the populous portion of the state lying west of the Cascades.

According to the 2020 Census, Yamhill County’s heritage is 76.1% Anglo, 16.8% Latino, 2.2% Asian or Pacific Islander, 2.1% Native American and 1.3% African American.

Among westside counties, it ranks second-highest in Latino heritage after Marion and fourth-lowest in Anglo heritage after Multnomah, Washington and Marion. Among all Oregon counties, it ranks eighth-highest in Asian heritage and fifth-highest in African American heritage.

While 8.1% of Yamhill County residents were born outside the U.S, 95.3% are U.S. citizens. That exceeds both the national average of 93.4% and state average of 94.8%.

What’s more, our Latino and Asian heritage components are rich in diversity themselves.

Spanish is recognized as the official language in 21 countries: Spain, Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela and Guinea.

The Asian Continent encompasses 48 nations, including China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, North and South Korea, The Philippines, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The three largest contributors to Oregon’s foreign-born population are Mexico, Vietnam and China, in that order, but there are scores of others. And that’s true for Yamhill County as well.

There’s one other factor worth considering — the depth of the roots sunk by residents citing some element of foreign heritage on census reports.

Many local residents of Latino heritage may not only have emigrated from a Spanish-speaking enclave other than Mexico, but may very well have done so generations ago. Given our 95% citizenship rate, they are, first and foremost, Americans.

The term “Mexican” is properly reserved for people known to hold citizenship in our neighboring nation to the south. Any other use is ill-informed and pejorative.

The same goes for those among us claiming Asian or African heritage in their ancestry. Casual identification of them as anything other than fellow Americans can only be based on physical characteristic stereotyping, a core element of racism.

We know no more about where their ancestors came from, or when and why, than we do ancestors of English, Irish, Scots, Swiss, German, Italian or some other form of European heritage. We do, however, know one thing about the ancestry of local Native Americans — it trumps that of the rest of us by untold thousands of years.

We all stand to benefit from learning as much as we can about both our own heritages and those of our neighbors. Embracing elements of other cultures can only serve to enrich our own.

We thus find it encouraging to see The Unidos Bridging Community, Yamhill County Cultural Coalition and Oregon Cultural Trust all helping McMinnville’s home-grown Asian Heritage Association host Saturday’s celebration.

Cross-pollination broadens our understanding, thus serving to break down barriers and build bridges with our neighbors. We are all the better for the experience.


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