Rossi immigrant statue dedicated

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Editor’s note: Welcome to Perlman’s Potpourri, news items from across the Gateway and Parkrose neighborhoods of mid-Multnomah County from veteran Beat Reporter Lee Perlman.

Portland Immigrant Statue dedication
As Joe Rossi and friends dedicated the long-anticipated Portland Immigrant Statue at the traffic island at the intersection of Northeast 99th Avenue, Sandy Boulevard and Killingsworth Street Oct. 1, the message was that it symbolized not the Rossi clan (some have speculated it is a statue of Rossi’s great-grandfather, which Rossi has consistently denied), but our common heritage.

At the unveiling of the Portland Immigrant Statue, Joe Rossi, left, poses with sculptor James Gion in front of Gion’s newest creation at the traffic island where Northeast Sandy Boulevard and Killingsworth Street meet. Mid-county Memo photo/Tim Curran

“This statue is pretty unique,” Rossi told a crowd of about 150 people. “Most statues are about an individual, a war, an event. But very few projects represent everybody. If we’re not immigrants ourselves, we’re all here because someone from our family came here from another place. If you’re an immigrant today, this really welcomes you.”

The Rossi family roots are deep in Parkrose, going back to 1880 when newly arrived Italian émigré Alfonso DeBenedetti, Rossi’s great-grandfather, began farming in what became Parkrose some thirty years later.

A few years prior to patriarch Also Rossi’s death in 2009, the family ceased its farm operation at the Northeast 122nd Avenue farm. The Rossi family has extensive land holdings in Parkrose and other parts of Portland and Multnomah County.

Rossi used money from his recently re-organized and re-named non-profit organization to pay for the statue and raise money for construction and maintenance of the traffic island where it stands. Coincidentally, the statue stands on land that was part of the original DeBenedetti farmstead.

Rossi chose the artist, and then selected the statue design from a series of sketches submitted by sculptor James Gion. “We wanted to depict the moment he arrives,” Rossi said. “The next step is when he starts to participate in our economy.”

Several people associated with the project spoke of how the statue related to their own immigrant experience. Anna Canzano, a key supporter, said her parents emigrated here from Taiwan when she was an infant, but were not boat people; her parents were college-educated and came over in “a big 747.” However, they had the bad judgment to purchase a motel on Northeast Sandy Boulevard at 116th Avenue, which they renamed the Prestige.

“Sandy in the ‘70s was kind of rough,” Canzano recalled. “There was a lot of business, and not much of it legal. My parents asked, ‘Where are the gold-paved streets, the amber waves of grain?’ The only amber waves were down the road at Rossi Farms, and the streets of gold were crystal meth.” Moreover, she said, “My parents were confronted every day with their identity: they were foreigners in a foreign land.” Eventually the family escaped the problems when they sold the motel to an Indian couple. “Thank you for honoring those who came before us who laid the foundation for us, and those who will come after us,” Canzano said.

Another immigrant was Ken Bello of Walsh Construction, which built a concrete wall behind the stature. He said the statue represented “people helping to shape our community. Some of our best skilled workers came here from around the world.” When Bello himself came here from Nigeria, “My journey was not as difficult as some, I knew the language,” but “I literally went door to door looking for work and no one would hire me. Finally someone did.”

His daughter, he said, thinks that employment is “her birthright that doors would open to her just because she’s American. I’ve tried to explain to her what this means, and she doesn’t get it. People in other countries are limited by circumstances of birth. We are privileged to call ourselves American, and that is something we should never take for granted.”

City commissioner Nick Fish spoke of his own ancestors, and of his mother-in-law who emigrated from Spain. He noted of the statue, “None of the funds came from government. Were it not for generous contributions we wouldn’t be here today. Every great project starts with someone who has a great idea and won’t take no for an answer.” He said it was appropriate that the statue should be in Parkrose, “one of the most diverse communities in Portland.”

Another council member, Amanda Fritz, herself an immigrant from England, officially unveiled the statue and served as grand marshal in the eight-vehicle, one band parade up Sandy Boulevard to Parkrose High School, where the public was served an anniversary cake and a few businesses had set-up booths for the occasion.

During his opening remarks Rossi said, “Parkrose is 100 years and two days old today.” A brochure handed out at the event contained a page with photos relating to neighborhood history.
Some expressed disappointment because there was barely a nod to Parkrose history, ostensibly one of the reasons for the event.

Rossi told the Memo that during the unveiling ceremony he had wanted to emphasize the universal significance of the statue. “(Parkrose Community Foundation member) Luke Shepard got into the history more at the high school,” he said.

In a previous interview, Rossi told the Memo ten years ago, while visiting Favale di Malvaro, the Italian village DeBenedetti emigrated from, seeing the Monument to the Emigrant statue for the first time inspired and deeply affected him. “I was really moved that this small village of people (population 500) commissioned a statue to celebrate all their descendants that came to America.” The Italian statue, like its newly minted American cousin, depicts an Italian immigrant with a suitcase.

The Portland Immigrant Statue joins a dozen other North American cities with statue tributes to immigrants.
For more information about the Portland Immigrant Statue, click here.

During his speech, Rossi made a passing reference to the fact that at one time the family land holdings comprised much of where Parkrose Middle and High Schools are now. Singling out Superintendent Dr. Karen Fischer Gray in the audience he said, “Every time you build another building, Dr. Gray, my family shakes because you’re building on our farm.”

School district considers Rossi Farm purchase
The dig at Superintendent Karen Fischer Gray noted above had a special edge. According to both Gray and Rossi, the district has held private discussions with Rossi family members about purchasing about a quarter-acre of the family farm property adjacent to Parkrose Middle School on Northeast Shave Street, currently occupied by Rossi’s community garden.

To honor the late Aldo Rossi’s personal commitment to Parkrose schools and its sports programs — he rarely missed a home football game over the course of 60 years — the Parkrose School District installed a plaque forever reserving his grandstand seat. District Superintendent Dr. Karen Fischer Gray, right, sits next to "Aldo’s seat" with his immediate family members, from left, wife Irene and children Nick, Angela Schilleriff and Joe. Mid-county Memo photo/Tim Curran

The May bond measure vote to build a new middle school that passed was the impetus for the additional land request. According to Gray, the district wants to “square-up the property.”

Rossi told the Memo that talks with the district so far have been, “more like discussions than negotiations at this point.” He declined to discuss his willingness to sell before consulting with other family members. Gray declined to discuss whether the district would consider condemnation to acquire the land if negotiations failed.

Development due at 99th and Glisan
Gateway, an area where development has lagged, is now getting new activity at Northeast 99th Avenue and Glisan Street. Developer Gordon Jones recently prepared a parcel of land he owns between 97th and 99th avenues south of Glisan for development by “deconstructing” two single family homes that had been moved to the site during the construction of the I-205 Freeway. Most of the material was saved for recycling and re-use, Jones told the Memo.

On the north side of the lot, Jones plans to build two “mirror image” four-story rental structures, one on 97th near Flanders, the second facing 99th. Each will have 45 units, of which 15 will be studios, six one-bedrooms and 12 two-bedrooms. The rents will be “affordable” to people earning 60 percent or more of median area family income. For this, Jones hopes to gain temporary tax abatement for the property, excusing him from paying property taxes for the improvements. The project must undergo design review.

To the south, Jones plans a second phase involving two buildings to the north and south of Northeast Flanders Street. These plans are “a little less certain,” Jones says.

As part of the project, Jones is constructing a new section of Northeast 97th Avenue south of Glisan, and Northeast Flanders Street between 97th and 99th. The latter will be a “wooneft,” a European-style pedestrian street without curbs where cars are permitted but pedestrians are the dominant transportation mode. Jones is paying for the improvements together with other property owners through a Local Improvement District assessment, with an assist from the Portland Development Commission and the Bureau of Environmental Services.

It represents an approach advocated by Mid-county leader Bonny McKnight and others to provide pedestrian connections by means other than traditional standards streets, which in some cases may be unaffordable or retard development.

The two northern structures will have 56 off-street parking spaces, at a ratio of less than two-thirds of a space per unit. The lots will offer a charging station for electric vehicles, and possibly smaller spaces for motor scooters.

The project has other “green” features. It will consist of “very energy-efficient” modular units created by Miranda Industries that will be assembled on site with a “very short construction schedule” and an end product that is “close to a net zero energy building. I want this to set a standard for the new Gateway Eco-District,” Jones said.

Jones has been working on the project for more than five years. While he hopes to profit from it — “I can’t afford to do things that don’t have a financial payback” — he takes pride in its contribution to the community.

Meanwhile, to the east, the Portland Design Commission has scheduled a “design advisory,” an informal discussion, for the afternoon of Nov. 3 to review plans for Glisan Commons. As reported in October’s Perlman’s Potpourri, “Three agencies collaborate on Glisan project,” this would be a collaborative project by three non-profits: Human Solutions, Ride Connection and REACH Community Development. Human Solutions would build 67 affordable studio and one-bedroom units, Ride Connection would have a parking lot for its vehicles and ground-floor office space for its employees, and, at the top, REACH would build 60 senior housing units.

Street trees available
Street tree planting season is once again approaching, and Friends of Trees is offering homeowners the chance to purchase new street trees for their parking strips. The cost ranges from $35 to $75 depending on variety, a fraction of the normal retail cost. The organization offers a selection of “site appropriate” trees not likely to create problems with their roots or interfere with overhead wires. They will also take care of all necessary permits and provide a team of volunteers to do the planting. In exchange, they ask tree owners to pledge to care for and water the new trees for at least two years.

Get your street trees! Friends of Trees is selling trees to homeowners for its annual Spring planting in east Portland. .

Below are the purchase deadlines and planting schedules for participating East Portland neighborhoods:
For Lents and Powellhurst-Gilbert: December 5 deadline for a January 14 planting. For Centennial, Hazelwood and Mill Park: December 19 deadline for a January 28 planting. For Argay, Parkrose, Parkrose Heights, Russell and Wilkes: February 6 deadline for a March 10 planting. Incidentally, the volunteer planters referred to above could be you; according to FOT Communications Director Teri Ruch, you’ll get free coffee and pastry in the morning, pizza in the afternoon, companionship, and the satisfaction of having made someone’s street nicer for years to come. For more information call 503-282-8846 or click here.

Portland Plan hearings due
Last month city staff released their draft recommendations for the Portland Plan, which will set policy for public action and private development, and form the basis for an update of the 1980 Portland Comprehensive Plan, including zone changes.

The draft is available here. The Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission will hold three hearings this month to take public testimony on the draft.

They will be Nov. 8 at Jefferson High School, 5210 N. Kerby Ave.; Nov. 15 at Parkrose High School, 20003 N.E. Shaver St.; and Nov. 19 at 1900 S.W. Fourth Ave. All three hearings are 5:30 to 9 p.m. Residents can also submit written testimony through Nov. 30 to Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, Portland Plan Testimony, 1900 S.W. Fourth Ave., Portland, Ore. 97201 or to psc@portlandoregon.gov, with the subject line Portland Plan Testimony.

The commissioners will hold a work session to formulate its recommendations, based on what they have read and heard from citizens and staff beginning at 12:30 p.m. December 13 at 1900 S.W. Fourth Ave.; the public can attend, but no additional testimony will be heard. The recommendation is then forwarded to City Council, which will hold additional hearings and take action early next year.

2010 Census documents eastward poverty shift
At a briefing to the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission recently, City planner Uma Krishnan reviewed 2010 census data that showed what has seemed obvious to many: east Portland is growing poorer per capita and more ethnically diverse.

The 2010 Census documents east Portland is growing poorer per capita and more diverse. Photo by Ross William Hamilton/The Oregonian

The city as a whole is becoming more ethnically diverse: the percentage of whites has dropped from 94 percent of the population in 1960 to 74 in 2010. African-Americans are a growing percentage of the population, but not at a very fast pace, from 4.2 percent in 1960 to six percent in 2010. The Latino population is much larger and growing faster; it  increased from 36,000, or 6.8 percent of the population, in 2000 to nearly 59,000 or 9.4 percent in 2010. There was also a substantial Asian increase: In a decade, Asians added 8,200 people, a percentage increase of more than 24 percent.

Economically, Asian households as a whole are doing better than whites, with both groups having a median household income of just over $50,000 annually. Hispanic household income was $36,000. Native American income was $34,000. Not only were African-Americans near the bottom of the list economically, with incomes below $27,000, but in addition, singular among all of the groups, they showed a decrease in absolute income (the actual rate of pay for work performed) one is paid for from the decade before.

All ethnic groups showed an increase in the percentage of people below the federal poverty line in the last ten years, but the situation was worse for some than others. The numbers showed 13 percent of white households so afflicted, 17 percent of Asians, 26 percent of Latinos, 32.5 percent of African-Americans, and more than 33 percent of Native Americans.

The data showed a high concentration of both Asians and Latinos in census tracts east of I-205, true for African-Americans. A census tract in Powellhurst-Gilbert showed whites comprised less than 50 percent of the total population, while Asians were more than 27 percent.

Also in Mid-Multnomah County, most census tracts showed an increase in the number of households below the poverty line in the last ten years; many showed a dramatic increase.


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