In a lively, open-aired office, voices in English and Spanish mingle throughout the rooms without divisions. Latinx artwork and color schemes represent a culture that unites a mission rooted here in Portland, Oregon. Waiting in the lobby is a youth that once struggled with the legal system; he was a product of an environment with many barriers holding him back. The programs at Latino Network pushed him to pursue a better path. Today, he’s here to be an apprentice, to be a part of an organization that has guided individuals and uplifted the community.
Latino Network was founded in 1996 to address a lack of resources in a growing Latinx community in Portland, with the goal to “positively transform the lives of Latinx youth, families and communities.” In the past few years, the organization has grown immensely, adding 167 new staff members in 2017. As a result, Latino Network has been able to expand its reach, programs, and resources. The main office is in Multnomah County, with other offices in Washington County and one newly opened in Rockwood.
Many Latin cultures share a great responsibility for the future generations, which is where much of the Latinx population in the U.S. lies. Nearly half of Latinos born in the U.S. are under the age of 18. With a population so young, it makes sense that many of Latino Network’s programs are youth-oriented. The organization’s programs embrace every stage of youth, offering early childhood programs such as Juntos Aprendemos (Together we learn) which integrates early literacy, Latino culture, and parent education. There’s a host of school-based programs, such as Conexiones, for seventh and eighth graders, offering academic support and cultural connections. Programs for youth extend all the way until the senior year of high school in the Escalera program, preparing Latinx students for college and apprenticeships after graduation.
Latino Network’s programs encompass the whole community as well. Programs such as Colegio de Padres (School of parents) help give families the tools to empower and advocate for their children. There’s an after-school program called Studio Latino, with positive Latinx role models teaching contemporary as well as traditional music classes. The Mobile Lab program helps families develop computer literacy skills. The organization also offers resources such as family preparedness plans in the case of an ICE raid. Advocacy is central to Latino Network’s mission statement. Among the programs offered are Unidos, a statewide leadership education program offering unity by promoting change in the community. “There’s a greater strength and visibility, an impact that can happen when a community is a united front,” says David Martinez, Deputy Director of Internal Operation.
Self-determination is central to Latino Network’s mission statement. “I think a lot of times when people think of social service agencies, there’s this notion that it’s just about providing services, people are coming and you’re giving them something,” says Martinez. “That self-determination to me means—It’s really helping individuals—how they themselves can move out of a situation where they’re no longer going to need services or programs… It’s all within us but we recognize that the community has specific barriers and obstacles because of the environment that we want to work together in being self-sufficient and being able to realize everything they want to do.” The services and resources that Latino Network offers are only becoming more relevant in the current political climate, and the focus remains local. On the upcoming ballot for Oregon is Measure 105 that would remove our status as a sanctuary state, making it easier for local police to check and apprehend people for their immigration status. Latino Network is strongly advocating voting no on 105. Latino Network will continue to advocate for and provide stellar programs for the Latinx community.