Cornelius, Hillsboro, Aloha, Beaverton, and Forest Grove, all cities in Washington County, have large and growing populations of first and second-generation Mexican immigrants. As such, there is a network of traditional Mexican singers, dancers, and artists spread across the county. The Centro Cultural de Washington County, located in Cornelius, is a hub for the Latino community. Their Día de los Muertos celebration in November featured mariachi music, Ballet Folklórico, and Danza Azteca, all popular and living cultural traditions in the region. While Latinos make up a majority of the minority population in Washington County, there are also other communities from a range of diverse cultures.
José Ramirez of Tualatin’s Mariachi La Perla is a third-generation mariachi musician. Ramirez’s grandfather was a trumpet player, his father is a guitarist, and his uncle and brother play violin. When the family came together for holidays and celebrations there was always mariachi music. After moving from Mexico City to Oregon in 2009, Ramirez founded Mariachi La Perla which features two trumpets, a guitarrón (bass guitar), a vihuela (small, 5-stringed guitar), and three violins. Mariachi La Perla performs at festivals and for special occasions like weddings, baptisms, quinceañeras, and communions.
Mariachi programs have become ubiquitous in many school music programs in Washington County, where Latino children are steadily becoming the majority of the student population. Mariachi Una Voz represents the Hillsboro School District’s award-winning middle and high school mariachi program. Forest Grove’s schools have their own new and growing program.
Manuel Ramos founded Ballet Folklórico México En La Piel Academia to teach traditional folkloric dances to Forest Grove School District students. Originally from Ojinaga, Chihuahua, Ramos teaches a wide variety of regional Mexican folk dances to nearly 150 students who range in age from eight to eighteen. Many graduates return to teach younger students. Families are very involved in the fundraising, costume making, and choreography that enable the non-profit academy to function. Ballet Folklórico México En La Piel Academia’s final showcase takes place in late May each year.
In 2012, Beaverton resident Jonathan Martinez founded Mitotiliztli Tezkatlipoka, a Danza Azteca group. He and his sister began dancing traditional Mexican Ballet Folklórico as children in Los Angeles. After moving to Oregon in 2005, Martinez joined a group that focuses on Aztec dancing and drumming. He has been dancing and drumming with the several such Portland area groups ever since. Mitotiliztli Tezkatlipoka has about fifteen members who frequently perform at events that promote cultural and social awareness.
Anuradha Ganesh was born in Chennai, India. She began dancing with her father at the age of three, and spent seven years of informal study of Bharata Natyam, one of several styles of Indian classical dance. At ten, she began formal training with Guru Chitti Durga Devi in Kuchipudi dance. Ganesh received a scholarship from the Indian Government recognition of her achievement. She has been dancing and teaching Kuchipudi for 32 years now. Ganesh moved to Oregon in 2001 when her husband’s work brought them to the Beaverton area, where she taught at home and in studios for several years. She has since established her own studio, Nartana School of Kuchipudi, where many dancers, including her own daughter, study from the age of five through eighteen.
Wambui Machua is a chef and business owner in Beaverton. She is Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest ethnic group. Originally from Nairobi,Machua lived both in the capital city as well as in the rural town of Gachie. As a child, Wambui learned to cook from her mother and grandmother. She described cooking as a matriarchal tradition. Family family gatherings revolved around food. After moving to Oregon in the early 1990s, Machua supported herself by selling imported African art and teaching African cooking classes. She specializes in the national and regional foods like githeri (a bean stew), chapati (a flatbread), and ugali (a cornmeal mush). Machua offers cooking classes and workshops, hosts dinners, and prepares food for festivals through her business, Spice of Africa.