I found this Ostendeutsch ten-schilling coin (minted in 1974) on MLK, near Fremont, not too long ago. In a way, it was a reminder of the once deeply-rooted German immigrant community that settled the Albina area, and built so many shops and community spaces along Union Avenue (now MLK). Some of those buildings remain, decades later, though put to other uses by newer residents and their communities.
The fact of Albina having once been a community with a large and prominent ethnic German community has popped up in community discussions recently, regarding race and gentrification in inner North/Northeast Portland.
As gentrification, and its front-line soldiers, push out Albina’s black population (they are often forced to move to east County, much further from the city’s core), any appeals to take those folks into consideration when looking at further changes in the area have too often fallen on deaf ears.
One of the responses I’ve heard from from white residents of Albina has been (paraphrased) that if ‘we’re going to look at the historical black population of Albina and wonder why those people leaving and what’s to be done about it, why aren’t we looking at the earlier German community that lived in Albina and considering their needs, or why they left?’ This facetious ‘reasoning’ has been one of the arguments wielded by people in inner N/NE to make erase black people, and their needs, from the conversations about gentrification and development.
In fact, it mocks those who have been displaced in recent years.
This history of Albina from the German immigrant population’s perspective is important, and has been documented. It’s worth exploring why the German immigrant families and their descendants largely moved out of Albina, and what it meant for their sense of community. In the meantime, let’s talk with the people who are being displaced NOW – even if you’re afraid to.
I’d like to end with a quote from a Salon article written by Daniel José Older:
“These power plays – cultural, political, economic, racial — are the mechanics of a city at war with itself. It is a slow, dirty war, steeped in American traditions of racism and capitalism. The participants are often wary, confused, doubtful. Macklemore summarized the attitudes of many young white wealthy newcomers in his fateful text to Kendrick Lamar on Grammy night: “It’s weird and sucks that I robbed you.” But as with Macklemore, being surprised about a system that has been in place for generations is useless. White supremacy is nothing if not predictable. To forge ahead, we require an outrageousness that sees beyond the tired tropes and easy outs that mass media provides. This path demands we organize with clarity about privilege and the shifting power dynamics of community. It requires foresight, discomfort and risk-taking. It will be on the Web and in the streets, in conversations, rants and marches.
We need a new mythology.”