Aztlán in Oregon: the Chicano connection

Aztlán in Oregon: the Chicano connection

We’ve seen a lot in our thirty one years as a company. January 29, 2015 will mark the fifth anniversary of the first public location in the city of Portland being named after an American Latino: Cesar Chavez Boulevard. In the years leading to the 2010 renaming of a stretch of 39th Ave., many questioned the union leader’s significance to the city, but the national impact of Chavez and the Chicano movement is an undeniable fact of American history. The less-well known story of the leader’s presence and legacy in Oregon’s history, and that of Latinos in the Beaver State, however, is reason enough to honor the migrant worker from Yuma, Arizona.

One bright moment in Chicano history shone over the first accredited, independent 4-year Chicano/Latino college in the nation, Colegio Cesar Chavez in Mt. Angel, Oregon. Established in 1973, it was one of the few institutions named after the icon before his death in 1993. The college went on to create more Chicano/Latino graduates in 1977 than University of Oregon and Oregon State University combined. And Chavez himself helped create this institution to empower the growing Latino community by taking part in the negotiations for the campus. Others who made the Colegio possible were emerging Chicano leaders like Ernesto Lopez, Sonny Montes and José Romero.

Cipriano Ferrel was one of these young and driven Chicanos who graduated before the Colegio closed its doors in 1983, a principal organizer in what became Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN, or Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United), an important organization that remains strong to this day, as does Chavez’s original group, the United Farm Workers (UFW, formerly known as the National Farm Workers Organization, the country’s first permanent agricultural union). 

Latinos continue to be the fastest growing group in the region and the nation, and as a reflection the name of this important leader is now on everything from public schools throughout the state to scholarships that empower coming generations, and even a national monument in California commemorating his home and resting place.

Milagro is honored to be part of this ongoing history, and in our own way have come back around to one of the key moments that became entrenched as a show of strength and unity of American workers: the grape strike launched on September 8, 1965 in Delano, California by the NFWA, led by Chavez and Dolores Huerta.

One enduring part of the organizing efforts of the time was the “actos” produced by the itinerant troupe that would become El Teatro Campesino and give shape to Chicano theatre. Our own touring production honor that empowering vision that travels where the community is, with another important link: Lakin Valdez, the son of ETC founder Luis Valdez and a life-time participant in his father’s company, wrote and directed Searching for Aztlán, a very contemporary story that reaches from the history of the Aztecs to the future of Latinidad.

Join us at Milagro during its run, starting with a specially priced preview on January 8, before its premiere on January 9, and closing on January 17!

And on January 11, don’t miss the free discussion Let’s talk about Aztlán at 3:30 pm. Join the cast and director in a conversation with Chicano líderes who inspired this production in a conversation about their own search for the legendary Aztlán. (You do not need to attend the production to join the discussion.)

Of course, you can also bring a performance to your community!