Bus Tour Newsletter #18 – March 2022

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The promise of economic opportunity has attracted diverse communities to Oregon for decades, adding to the state’s cultural mosaic. The relationship between jobs and housing, however, is not without its problems.

This blog post we recently published discusses the tie between WWII era industries and Black culture in Oregon. In the early 1900s, many Black residents worked in the burgeoning railroad industry in Oregon. The Black population then grew significantly from approximately 2,000 to more than 20,000 at the start of WWII as part of the influx of workers coming to work in the Kaiser shipyards.

This month’s newsletter will highlight how Oregon’s lumber and agricultural industries have influenced the demographics and culture of the state historically and in present day. 

A Troubled History

The inflow of lumberyard workers to Toledo, Oregon, in response to the timber boom in the early 20th Century is one example of how an industry can shape the demographics of a town through the movement of people to a specific place. 

Established by John Graham in 1866 under the Homestead Act, Toledo drew a mass of white colonizers after President Johnson signed an Executive Order in 1865 that opened portions of reservation land for settlement. Already home to the Siletz-Indian Tribe, there was racial tension and conflict from the start between white homesteaders and the Native population in the area where white settlers named Toledo.

In the early 1900s, the lumber industry in Toledo relied heavily on immigrant labor, attracting Japanese laborers seeking work opportunities. By the 1920s, the rise in anti-Asian immigrant sentiment amongst the white homesteaders of the territory was reflected in state law; Oregon passed the Alien Land Law legislation in 1923, disallowing Chinese and Japanese nationals from buying and leasing land in Oregon and banned them from operating farm machinery.

This legislation was backed by the American Legion and the Oregon Grange, the farmer-populist social reform group, for fear of Asian immigrants gaining power in the agricultural market. Prejudice and hostility against the Japanese laborers led to the Toledo Incident of 1925 in which a white mob incited violence against a group of Japanese lumberyard workers. 

Ogura, Tamakichi, and Kawamoto, Ichiro, Portland courthouse, July 21 1926. Tamakichi Ogura (l) and Ichiro Kawamoto at courthouse, Portland, July 21, 1926. Morning Oregonian, July 21, 1926, p. 6.

Continuing Inequities

Worker housing for employees in industrial towns has historically been a common source of housing for individuals and families. Today, farmworker housing supports immigrants working in the agricultural sector in Oregon.

While the U.S. agricultural industry is a white, male-dominated economic sector, the industry has always relied heavily on immigrant labor, giving rise to the need for farmworker housing. There are three types of farmworker housing: government housing; grower-owned housing; and privately rented housing.

However, farmworker housing presents higher potential for exploitation and health risks. There is also an overall separation between the larger population and labor industry workers that hides the realities of sub-standard conditions that some workers face in employer-provided or developed housing. 

Although there are regulations around farm labor housing in Oregon, there are still many risk factors for farmworkers who live in these dwellings. Housing conditions can have a direct impact on farmworker health.

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed an even greater risk for farmworkers living in shared dwellings due to overcrowding and the higher risk of spreading the disease. The stress, anxiety and vulnerability caused by COVID-19 has also increased the risk of violence and exploitation these residents face.

Moving Toward Solutions

One example of community-oriented farmworker housing is Juniper Gardens in Forest Grove. Developed with Community and Shelter Assistance Corporation (CASA), the nonprofit Bienestar constructed the apartment complex to house farmworker families and migrant farmworkers.

Juniper Gardens in Forest Grove (Source: apartments.com)

There are several supports offered to its residents based on their specific needs, including computer and homework clubs for children, a resident peer leader to assist with legal concerns, and rental subsidies provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Rental Assistance Program to ensure that rental costs do not exceed 30 percent of each household’s income.

Farmworker Housing Development Corporation also offers culturally relevant services for farmworkers and their families in their housing developments located in the mid-Willamette Valley.

There are many ways to show your support for Oregon farmworkers and to help protect their rights as members of our community mosaic. You can sign Oregon Food Bank’s pledge to take action for farmworkers and advocate for issues like securing overtime pay for agricultural workers, providing economic relief for wage loss, and demanding that OSHA enforce stronger rules for excessive heat, wildfire smoke and hazardous conditions. You can also educate yourself about the history of farmworkers in Oregon and the Bracero Program.

Braceros farming sugar beets, Oregon, 1943 (Source: Oregon Historical Society)

You can donate, volunteer, or become a member to support Pineros Y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, a radio station based in Woodburn that lobbies for farmworker rights. You can also get involved with the community-centered affordable housing nonprofit, CASA of Oregon, and register for their virtual 2022 Farmworker Housing Conference



While you’re here, check out our Poster Contest! Hurry – The submission deadline is March 11!

We want to hear from you

Is there a particular topic we discuss on the bus tour that you are interested in learning more about? Does your organization host events related to racial justice or other topics that come up on our bus tour? Email your events and ideas to information@fhco.org to have them included in our future newsletters. 

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