Oregon’s Latino leaders are raising the bar in green building
By Stephen Aigiuer, Green Hammer
Stephen Aiguier is the founder of Green Hammer, an integrated design, build and energy firm based in Portland. You can reach him at Stephen@greenhammer.com or 503.804.1746.
For the past two years in Woodburn, a group of primarily Latino farmworkers has been volunteering to build one the of world’s most innovative commercial office buildings. At 5 p.m. on Aug. 25, they will open their doors and share their efforts with the public.
This first Passive House office building to seek certification in the United States is the new home for the Capaces Leadership Institute. The institute builds on 30 years of community organizing led by Oregon’s largest farmworkers’ union, PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noreste — Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United). With this new building, Capaces, which translates to "capable or able," has transformed into a unique space where the social-change leaders of today and tomorrow share their ideas and values while gaining skills to apply them.
Many builders and architects have shied away from the rigorous, complex details of the Passive House standard, so how is it that a group of migrant farmworkers has volunteered thousands of hours to construct one of the world’s most innovative buildings in Woodburn? Larry Kleinman, co-founding partner of PCUN, put it this way: "It’s the unlikely doing the improbable to achieve the amazing."
To me it seems no less heroic than the battle for human rights these workers have been fighting for most of their lives.
To put things in perspective, in 1846, Ashland basically shared its border with Mexico. That’s only 165 years ago. In two human lifetimes, the U.S. relationship with Mexico evolved from invader, to conqueror, to exploiter. We seem to get stuck and send confusing messages on that last point.
Between 1850 and 1880, 60 percent of the miners and railway crews in the United States were Mexican. In 1918, during World War I, when the U.S. was sending 150,000 new troops per month to Europe, quotas on Mexican immigration were ignored as they became a powerful tool to drive the nation’s economic machine. Then, during the Great Depression, Mexicans were cited as a reason for the failed economy and suffered violent physical attacks, verbal abuse and were politically dehumanized. In the 1930s, roughly 300,000 Mexican workers and their families — many of them with children born in the United States who were therefore citizens — were deported back to Mexico.
Between World War II and the Cold War, more than 5 million Mexicans signed temporary work agreements that allowed them to cross the border legally and work with little to no U.S. employment protections. They ended up in work camps without proper plumbing, electricity and on wages dependent upon production — not a straight hourly wage. About 40 years ago, the Border Industrialization Program, was established to effectively allow U.S. companies to manufacture in Mexico without paying tariffs and pay the Mexican workers a fraction of the price of a U.S. worker. In 2012 the minimum wage requirements for these maquiladoras is just $4.60 per day.
In Oregon, as recently as 1977, the Immigration Naturalization Service was leading another reign of terror, hunting Latin American workers. For someone who moved to Oregon for its progressive values, it’s hard to stomach the modern civil rights realities in the state I now call home. In the late 1970s, while I was free-roaming the forests of Vermont, Oregon children in the Latino community were hiding in fear from the INS and the flyers placed on their doorsteps stating "Open Season on Wetbacks."
There are more atrocities to account for, that’s just the abridged version, but it’s clear to me the United States has fostered a long history of disregard for the human rights of non-Anglo peoples. So as repulsive as it is, it shouldn’t be a shock that we still fight for basic human rights in this country today.
It was amidst the turmoil of the late 1970’s that PCUN formed to bring recognition to and fight for the human rights of the immigrant workers that the U.S. economic system has perpetually exploited. With three decades battling for social justice in Oregon, PCUN’s pursuit of Passive House — which is the most beneficial building performance standard from a health, comfort and energy payback perspective — makes perfect sense.
Our team at Green Hammer was warning about the complexities of taking on such a project with volunteer labor, but we had little idea as to how such a challenge would seem so trivial to such a tenacious and stalwart community. In the two years we’ve been collaborating with PCUN and PCUN’s architect Communitecture to complete this ambitious project, I’ve come to learn and be inspired by just how strong, cooperative and pure-of-heart people can be. It gives me hope about our country’s future, despite our mixed history.
To know that an organization like Capaces Leadership Institute exists and how it put together its new building — without debt and by the goodwill and volunteer time of hundreds of stakeholders — makes me proud to have played our part. It reminds me of the truth in the words of Cesar Chavez, the man who inspired us when he said "Si se puede!" Yes we can.
I look forward to seeing many of you on Aug. 25 to cut the ribbon and celebrate the grand opening of this extraordinarily capable Capaces Leadership Institute.
If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending on your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.