Hope and peace in living colors

Mural brightens new Lebanon apartment complex

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Just southwest of Walmart stands one of Lebanon’s newest apartment complexes, Colonia Paz (which translates to “community of peace”), more than halfway complete in its development and already housing many agriculture and workforce families.
As people pass its entrance on their way to and from the big-box store every day, they can easily see the chain-link fence bordering the contractor’s mobile office and the unfinished siding of the closest building, but it holds a hidden gem: a 60-foot mural painted on the west side of completed Building A.
According to the Woodburn-based Farmworker Housing Development Corporation, Portland artist Hector Hernandez painted “Cultural Reckoning of Paz (Peace)” as a tribute to those who grew, harvested and transported food for communities across the U.S. during the pandemic.
The group noted on its website that the mural “serves as a cultural and physical marker representing a time in which a nation of immigrants reckons with its identity comprising sections that symbolize the historical and timely realities of immigrant farmworkers in Oregon.”
The vibrant piece displays images rife with symbolism. A bright sun shines as a testament to workers laboring in harsh conditions, giving their lives to provide food. One of the workers wears a mask and protective gear as signs of resilience and strength. A glowing moon portrays the traditional Latin-American and Mexican imagery of day and night, light and darkness, good and hard times.
Butterflies emerging from the fields represent lives lost in the pandemic and the continued sacrifices to provide food to the region. Flying butterflies and doves illustrate the process of labor and sacrifice. A woman in a pear tree reaches toward a butterfly in a gesture of freedom. At the mural’s base are flowers resembling the Oaxacan-embroidered flowers of the Zapotec tradition, representing the confluence of Oregon’s indigenous cultural heritage.
FHDC was born from a need expressed by several community members and farmworkers, Communications and Advocacy Coordinator Anabel Hernandez-Mejia said. The nonprofit’s strengths are rooted in its connection to the farmworker and Latino cultures.
“That’s one of our strengths, knowing and understanding the Latino community and being able to serve them appropriately,” she said. “A lot of it is because as far as those working in the agricultural industry, it tends to be a higher percentage of migrants, but that doesn’t mean everybody on the property is Latino. We serve everybody.”
The organization focuses on rural areas because, according to Hernandez-Mejia, most affordable-housing development organizations tend to serve metropolitan areas where more resources are available.

Provided photo

FHDC and the Bend-based Pinnacle Architecture Inc. broke ground in May 2021 on Colonia Paz’s first phase, which consisted of 24 units in a three-story building on 9.3 acres in Lebanon. Funded through USDA Rural Development, Phase 1 was designated for anyone working in a qualifying agricultural industry and who met certain income limits, Hernandez-Mejia said. Those in the industry, she explained, include not only people who work in the fields and harvest, but also in canning, nurseries, landscape, harvesting and wholesale delivery of plants and produce.
Phase 2 began in August 2022, ushering in another four buildings to add 116 units reserved for “workforce” families, low-income residents who qualify based on Linn County’s average median income.
“We are needing more applicants in the 30% bracket,” Hernandez-Mejia said, adding that those with qualifying incomes at or below 30% of that AMI can expect to pay as low as $335 for a studio unit.
“The reason the vast majority of (the housing) is for the workforce is because we understand that Lebanon has those needs,” she said.
Families have already begun moving into the first two Colonia Paz buildings. Completion of the final two structures is expected by the end of February and March, respectively.
According to the nonprofit’s website, Hernandez’s murals are part of every complex as part of the community’s identity, inspiring hope and wonder.

An illustration of the Colonia Paz complex shows multi-level units and open space for farmworkers and low-income families in Lebanon. Provided photo

“When we develop housing, we want it to be safe, comfortable and instill a sense of connection and cultural meaning for residents and the surrounding communities,” the site reads. “Murals are our way of communicating our history, culture and vision for our homes.”
Farmworker families and Latino/a/x representatives in the mid-Willamette Valley chose Colonia Paz name to, as the site further stated, “unite and bring a sense of togetherness for communities during a time of global unrest, economic repositioning, and ongoing social and racial injustices.”
Two more murals are planned for the complex after construction is complete.

Prospective residents can pick up applications between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at FHDC Colonia Paz, 500 Weldwood Drive. (The office is closed from 1 to 2 p.m. for lunch.) Manager Mario Carbajal can be reached via email at [email protected] or by telephone at (971) 865-0307. If no one answers, Evolve Property Management strongly encourages callers to leave voicemails with their names and numbers.