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We’ve recently completed a nearly five-year stay in Arizona to move back to Oregon – specifically to the upper Willamette Valley about 40 miles outside of Portland. Good to be h-o-m-e!

During our desert hiatus, we had many interactions with people of Mexican heritage as well as others from the Southern hemisphere. Natural situation if you live in a state that borders Mexico.

When we left the overheated, drought-threatened “bliss” of a 55+ community for the damp climes of Oregon, we generally believed those Spanish heritage interactions would decline. We were wrong!

If anything, those occasions of cross-cultural contact seem to have increased to almost daily occurrences.

Oregon, like other coastal states, has seen an influx of Mexican and other Southern Hemisphere-born citizens. Just as is the case of transient, native-born Americans who’ve sought out the “peace and quiet” of the Northwest, many Latins have moved here and become participants in local economies.

A “for instance.” Last weekend, we bought a couple of occasional chairs to make up for the ones we left behind. The well-groomed and courteous sales clerk who helped us was filling out our sales receipt on a computer. A woman, obviously Hispanic, interrupted with a question. In Spanish. The man working with us turned to his right and answered her query in flawless (I think) Spanish without missing a beat. Entirely professional and multi-lingual. A real asset to any business.

In Arizona, nearly all lower level service jobs – garbage collection, car washing, janitorial, yard work – are filled by Hispanics. We seldom had an interaction with any Spanish heritage workers in sales or any other mid-level service employment. Just didn’t happen.

But here, on many business occasions, we’ve been graciously assisted by Spanish-speaking men and women.

Oh sure, if you’re dining in a Mexican restaurant or you’re in a small Mexican grocery store, you’ll hear and see the cultural differences. But, on the sales floor of a Chevrolet dealer? Dealing with an insurance broker? Consultation with a doctor born in Guatemala?

Welcome to these recent changes in Northwest living. Positive additions to most any town.

From what we’ve seen, the Spanish heritage influences being felt in our state – and I’m sure in others – have been mostly positive. Oh, you still see names with South American and Mexican origins in the local arrest and court action listings in the local paper. (Yes, Virginia, a lot of small town newspapers still do that. The few that are left.) But, you also see many Smiths, Abbotts, Olsens and Corleones as well. A real Heinz-57 mix of American scofflaws.

It’s interesting to see how our little community of about 35,000 has “moved over” to make room for these new citizens.

I was looking at a newspaper insert the other night, one sponsored by our city fathers. And mothers. It was a comprehensive list of all the activities available this Summer through the parks and rec department. Half printed in English. Half in Spanish.

Local directional signage, driver’s license materials, larger grocery selections of Spanish food items. A parks and rec publication. Not intrusive. Just added information for those who speak Spanish.

As others in our small community have, I welcome the addition of peoples who have talents and energy to add. There’s room for all and all are welcome. As it should be.

Still, I’ve got to confess. Sometimes, I get rankled by this assistance offered to people who don’t speak any English. I know. I know. We’re trying to be inclusive and welcoming. I gotcha.

But, travel to other non-English speaking countries, like Germany or Japan or Greece, and you’re not likely to see such mundane things as driver’s license instructions, inner-city bus schedules, necessary government forms and such offered in English. Not to mention parks and rec.

I truly believe, if you’re going to live in this country and enjoy the rewards of such residency, some effort should be made to learn the native language. And, I’m sure some folks do. We’ve got lots of students in our educational system who are learning by osmosis if nothing else.

But, we’re still staffing “English as a Second Language” efforts requiring multi-lingual teachers and other support staff. Many schools are using materials designed for kids who don’t speak English. Are the costs of such accommodation really necessary?

I’ll just leave those questions hanging there for your individual answers. In English, of course.

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