|Forest Grove, Oregon: My Hometown c. early 1950s|
His descriptions challenged my memories because I was a product of Forest Grove Oregon’s Central elementary school and Harvey Clark middle school. (Clark was founder of the town’s Pacific University and, ironically, created the first school there in the 1840s to educate Native Americans, mixed-race children and orphans.)
In the 1940s and ‘50s I saw no prejudice. But then, Forest Grove had no blacks, no Latinos, no more Indians and — possibly—just a handful of Jews or Asians. It was accepted knowledge that these people were not allowed to spend the night in town. Mexican migrants could work the fields, but no one knew where they stayed. I saw the first and only blacks when we drove into Portland 20 miles away. Pacific had a number of Hawaiian and Japanese students, but they weren’t “townies” so they didn’t count.
While Mom was descended from over 200 years of New Englanders, Dad was German-American, which raised a tiny bit of local skepticism during World War II. I left this white utopia when my family moved in 1954 to the Los Angeles area, followed by another move to New Jersey “back East.” We had left the provincialism of that farm and logging town. I began to see the world in all its beauty and diversity. I grew up and married a Taiwanese woman. My younger brother married a non-observant Jew. A cousin married a black, but she was a folk singer who ran away to Greenwich Village. And my grandson has just married a Mexican national who is a dentist.
Will Forest Grove ever be exposed to people who are “different”? Oregon has its legacy of the black exclusion law enacted in 1844 that ordered whipping of blacks — 39 lashes once every six months — until they left the territory. Today, African-Americans make up only 2 percent of Oregon’s population, Latinos 12 percent and Asians 4 percent.
Perhaps in the more progressive parts of our country, we’ve answered the question, “Can’t we all learn to get along?”