Despite living in the Pacific Northwest since the early 1800s and despite comprising 20 – 25% of Salem’s population, Hispanic people in Salem still often live lives largely separate from those who speak English.

It is to bring cultures together and honor the “Oregonianos” who live, work and thrive in our state – and also to draw citizens into the State Capitol, now open to the public on Saturdays – that Hispanic Heritage Day will be held on September 26 at the Capitol.

The day will be bilingual, says Matias Trejo de Dios, Executive Director of the Instituto de Cultura Oregoniana, (ICO) one of the organizers.   de Dios’ organization promotes a multilingual future for Oregon, where the barriers of language have mostly fallen, where more Spanish speakers than ever live in Oregon and prosperity results similar to that of successful multi-cultural cities of the past.

“Fifty percent of kids in the Salem-Keizer schools are spanish speaking now,” says David Dahle, the bilingual force behind DowntownSalemStrong.org and Chair of the CAN-DO Neighborhood Association. “September/October is National Hispanic Heritage Month, so the time was right for this.  Salem will be more powerful if people come together and are exhilarated by the experience.”

Statistics suggest that warmer relations might be timely.  Hispanics are no longer a minority in the state to our south; last year they became California’s largest population group, making white non-Hispanics a racial minority.  Nationally, 55 million Hispanic and Latino people live in the United States, a number so large that now, the only country in the world with a larger Hispanic population than the US is Mexico.

For anyone hoping to learn more about the heritage and culture of those who speak Spanish, the Hispanic Heritage Day program will include entertainment such as the Woodburn High School Mariachi band, a multi-hour Latino dresses exhibit, a craft table for activities.  The National Guard and U.S. Army will present the posting of colors.  The masters of ceremonies will be Latin music stars Edna Vazquez and Martin Zarzar.

One partner among the organizers, the Capitol History Gateway, is a state agency dedicated to helping residents and visitors locate their place in Oregon and its history “by featuring the Capitol as the people’s building,” says Stacy Nalley.  Nalley, working with the Oregon State Capitol’s Visitors Service says her group promotes heritage events that allow the public access to the building on Saturdays.  She characterizes Hispanic Heritage Day as “a family-friendly celebration that highlights the rich cultural heritage of Oregon and migration to this state.”

Between 2000 and 2010, Oregon’s Hispanic population grew by 64%, more than 5 times the non-Hispanic population increase.  In fact, Hispanics will likely comprise about 35% of Oregon’s population by 2060.

During this year’s Hispanic Heritage month, just as in the decades to come when these population shifts will continue to affect Oregonian life, events like the Hispanic Heritage Day provide an opportunity for all of Salem, and all of Oregon, to meet each other more directly across the divisions of language and culture.

Events have been designed to ease this introduction, from speaker Efrain Diaz Horna, who will introduce the honored elders – Los Mayores – of the Spanish speaking community, to an historic presentation of a music program by Oregon classic guitar masters.  The guitar masters, whose pieces were written in a number of different Spanish speaking countries, expect to bridge many of the divisions of between people through art.  Of the guitarists, de Dios says, “That could be the start of history, of something beautiful.”  He sees the Hispanic Heritage Day as part of an important movement in Oregon, towards a multilingual Oregon.

“We’re trying to show the rest of this society,” de Dios says, “that the Hispanic population is ready to play in the big leagues.”