2014 Portland ‘Immigrant of the Year’ revealed

Take a look, and see who the finalists were, and learn this year’s honoree …

Gathered on the sidewalk in front of this, the Portland Immigrant Statue, the 2014 Portland “Immigrant of the Year” program is about to begin.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

The tradition of honoring an individual from Portland’s diverse immigrant community began in 2011, with the unveiling of the Portland Immigrant Statue in Parkrose.

> To read our story about the unveiling of the statue,
and links back to stories showing how it was designed
and sculpted, CLICK HERE.

Friends of the nominees, businesspeople, and neighbors gather for the revealing of the 2014 Portland “Immigrant of the Year”.

On November 21st, folks huddled under canopies, trying to avoid wind-blown rain, at the Portland Immigrant Statue site in outer East Portland – on a traffic island along NE Sandy Boulevard at Killingsworth Street.

Just before the noontime ceremony, began, Joe Rossi – himself, the son of an immigrant farmer – talked about the award.

Joe Rossi, of the Parkrose Community Foundation, tells about why this award is given each year.

“This is an honor that we bestow once a year on someone in the Portland area who is a ‘bridge person’ for our immigrant community,” Rossi told East Portland News.

“This is an individual who loves the culture of his origin, immigrated to America, and equally loves America,” Rossi explained. “And now, this person helps newer immigrants who are coming into the community. Those are the criteria for the award.”

It is important to celebrate the contributions made by immigrants to the greater Portland area, Joe Rossi says.

As the program began, Rossi explained that Sandy Boulevard was originally a Native American trail that connected what is now Parkrose, with Portland. He told how immigrant farmers had worked this fertile area, then considered to be the major food production area for the greater Portland metropolitan area.

“Because of the farm job opportunities, this area attracted many immigrants who hoped to get farm jobs to help support their families,” Rossi said. “The man represented by the Portland Immigrant Statue is newly arrived, looking off into the fields – perhaps looking for work, as he ponders his future in this new land.”

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish then stepped up, and commented on the statue and awards program. “This project is a collaboration between a private organization and the government, and was funded with private funds, but is located on public property.

“This is one of the most effective collaborations I’ve seen,” Fish added. “It involves people in our community, as well as several other officials.”


2014 Portland Immigrant of the Year Nominee

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish congratulates the 2014 Portland “Immigrant of the Year” Nominee: Som Nath Subedi.

The first Nominee called forward was Som Nath Subedi.

Subedi and his family were forced to leave their home in the Kingdom of Bhutan, a landlocked country in South Asia located at the eastern end of the Himalayas, due to years of the ruler’s political persecution.

“We fled to a refugee camp in Nepal, where I spent my childhood without hope, without a life and future,” Subedi said.

After resettling in Portland in 2008, Subedi began working for Lutheran Community Services NW as a refugee case manager for newcomer refugees, and he is continuing to integrate refugees into being self-sufficient and inclusive members of society.

Som Nath Subedi accepts his award from Nick Fish.

Most notably, Subedi encourages and worked with others from his community to develop a democratic model, whereby approximately 500 Portland area community members were given the opportunity to vote for the first time ever for their leadership. [CLICK HERE to read the East Portland News story about this historic gathering].


2014 Portland Immigrant of the Year Nominee

-7 Commissioner Nick Fish invites forward 2014 Portland Immigrant of the Year Nominee Hongsa Chanthavong.

After the fall of Laos, when it became Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Hongsa Chanthavong spent several years in a communist “re-education camp” before arriving in the United States in 1983.

In 1984 Chanthavong began as a Business Specialist for the Economic Development Projects at the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization (IRCO).

Hongsa Chanthavong accepts his award from Nick Fish.

Chanthavong founded in 1994, and continues to be director of, the Asian Family Center at the IRCO, where he is an advocate for immigrants in the Laotian, Vietnamese, and Cambodian communites.

Among many of his activities, Chanthavong has coordinated leadership trainings and workshops for refugee minority leaders.

2014 Portland Immigrant of the Year
Juan Carlos Chavez de Vera

Joe Rossi and Commissioner Nick Fish stand with 2014 Portland “Immigrant of the Year”, Juan Carlos Chavez de Vera.

Commissioner Nick Fish told the group the story of 2014 Portland “Immigrant of the Year”, Juan Carlos Chavez de Vera.

Juan Carlos was born in a small town near Havana City, in Cuba, and at 12 years of age he won a scholarship to one of the best schools in his country.

After a year of military service, Chavez de Vera attended the University of Havana, and found he had a gift for languages; he eventually became an Italian Language Professor at the National Center for Language in Havana.

While Chavez de Vera lived his country, Juan Carlos didn’t agree with Communist ideals, and tried to leave the country on several occasions. Invited to visit Ecuador in 2002, he left family and friends behind, in “pursuit of freedom, happiness, and human rights,” he said.

Coming to Portland in 2004 Chavez de Vera worked as a Family Advocate for Human Solutions, and in 2006 with Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon Sponsors Organized to Assist Refugees (SOAR), where he continues to serve as Immigration Specialist for the Cuban Haitian Assistance Program.

In 2008, he became partially accredited to appear before the Board of Immigration Appeals, which permits him to provide both legal education and services to clients. He has become an expert in laws regarding the Cuban Adjustment Act.

Joe Rossi, Juan Carlos Chavez de Vera, Commissioner Nick Fish, and Amelia Salvador stand before the Portland Immigrant Statue during the 2014 Portland “Immigrant of the Year” award ceremony.

Through his work, Chavez de Vera has helped more than 1,000 Cubans and other immigrants become self-sufficient in the United States, by providing legal services and crime prevention information.

“Because of all he does for the immigrant community, Juan Carlos Chavez de Vera is presented with the 2014 Portland Immigrant of the Year,” Fish said. “The inscription on the award reads, ‘In honor and gratitude for your struggles, hard work, and contributions to the immigrant community’.”

After receiving his award, Chavez de Vera said, “I did not expect to receive this award. It’s a big honor for me. Coming from a small town in Cuba, to now receiving this award, is for me – oh my God, it is incredible.”

After the 2014 Portland “Immigrant of the Year” award ceremony, nominees Hongsa Chanthavong and Som Nath Subedi, stand with award-winner Carlos Chavez de Vera, Commissioner Nick Fish, Amelia Salvador, and Joe Rossi.

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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