Originally published in Bend Life Magazine, January/February 2007
An infusion of residents from abroad has long enriched the culture of Central Oregon and helps shape its future.
During its transformation from sleepy mill town to cosmopolitan hub, Bend has become home to people across the country. A better-kept secret is that Bend is also home to thousands of foreign-born residents. Central Oregon’s international community is growing by leaps and bounds, and from the perspective of this writer, that is just fine.
You see, I am one of those foreign residents, a native of Sweden who discovered Bend nearly three decades ago, married a local girl and settled here. I’m delighted to be an Oregonian, and yet there are things I miss about my homeland. During the holidays, for instance, I feel a growing homesickness. I miss the Swedish smörgåsbord with pickled herring, smoked eel, liver pâté and Wasa hard bread – comfort food for any Swede when life in a foreign country seems overwhelming.
I suspect that many of my fellow Bendites share a tug of homesickness. The 2000 Census puts the number of foreign-born Central Oregonians at 6,439, or about 3.7 percent of the population; more than half of them live in Deschutes County. Nearly twice that many speak a language other than English in their homes.
Of course, an influx from abroad is nothing new in these parts. Back in the 1920s, Swedish and Norwegian were widely spoken among mill workers. My own home in the Old Mill District was, from 1924 to 1968, the residence of Hjalmar and Anna Johnson, who came from northern Sweden seeking a better future. Hjalmar was a yard-piler at the Shevlin-Hixon mill; Anna worked at the Pilot Butte Inn and later at St. Charles Hospital when it was located atop Hospital Hill.
My own journey to Bend started in 1976 when I visited Bend for the first time, as a young man on vacation. Years later, on a subsequent visit, I met my wife-to-be, Nancy. We were married here in 1985 and eventually, after stops in Stockholm and Los Angeles, returned here to live.
Other foreign-born Bendites have their own unique stories, and in the following pages we offer glimpses into their experience. If there is a theme in the vignettes, it is that love and opportunity bring foreign residents to Bend.
Anna Johnson arrived in Bend in 1924 to visit her sister. I returned to fulfill a dream I had on my first visit: to live in a place filled with endless possibilities – and because Mount Bachelor had the best snow of any ski mountain in the region.
In an important sense, the history of Bend is like that of much of the U.S. when foreigner worked side by side with native-born Americans – themselves the children and grandchildren of immigrants – to build the community. The Swenssons, Larssons, Johnsons and others came to this timber-rich area to work in the mills. Today, the Russenbergers, Ramsays, Dos Santoses, Changs and many others are helping to shape the future of Central Oregon. My wish for my adopted hometown is that all of our citizens learn to embrace cultural difference and see the opportunities that can be born of ethnic diversity.
SWITZERLAND – Marcel Russenberger
Open the gate to the backyard and prepare to be transported to the Swiss Alps: Marcel Russenberger, 48, has created a small piece of the old country, complete with an Alpine-style playhouse and a vegetable garden with pumpkins and tomatoes.
Bicycle racing was Marcel’s ticket to the world outside his Swiss birth town of Schaffhausen, population of 34,000. “Bike racing is a big sport in Europe,” he says. “Each village has its own bike team.”
He rose into the elite ranks of the sport, competing in the vaunted Tour de France for three consecutive years in the early 1980s.
The road to Bend had as many twists and turns for Marcel as a mountain stage on the Tour. Through connections with American bike teams and a brother in Detroit, Marcel began training and racing in the U.S. Eventually the trail led to Bend’s annual Cascade Cycling Classic in 1989.
“I didn’t want to move to the States before I came to Bend,” Russenberger recalls. “Here, I felt comfortable with the closeness to nature and outdoor lifestyle. People to me to come back for the biking, hiking and fishing.” The clincher was a chance meeting at the Deschutes Brewery with his wife-to-be, Sally, former executive director of the Cascade Festival of Music. They married in 1997.
Nowadays you will find Marcel commuting around town by bicycle. “The Bend lifestyle is very much like in Europe,” he says. “The community is not necessarily built around the car, but around biking and walking.”
If there’s one particular challenge he finds being a foreign resident of Bend, it has to do with the Swiss tradition of punctuality. “People are not on time here,” Russenberger says. “If I am organizing something and people are not on time, it’s tough for me.”
Nonetheless, he is heavily involved in organizing the annual Chain Breaker mountain-bike race. Last year, more than 400 mountain bikers descended upon Bend from all over the Northwest to compete. “I design courses that I would like to race,” Russenberger says.
ECUADOR – Gitta Ramsey
The Latin spirit is strong in Gitta Ramsay. Mention good food, good company and dancing – especially salsa dancing – and her eyes light up.
Born as Gitta Aquirre in the coastal town of Guayaquil, Ecuador, she too an indirect path to Bend: She came via New York City. “I was always curious about other countries and cultures,” she says. “I went to visit a friend in New York, liked it and never looked back.”
It was in New York that Gitta met her husband, Scott, a native Oregonian; both worked in sales in the decorating and housewares business, Eventually they moved to Bend, where Scott’s parents live. In fact, they moved to Bend twice. The first stay lasted only 14 months. Bend was too small for the big-city girl. “I was used to the melting pot of New York, with people coming from everywhere,” she recalls. “There were not many Latinos in Bend in 1998.”
After a few years in San Francisco, the couple moved back again, this time determined to stay. “We started noticing a huge wave of change as we were visiting Bend,” says Gitta. “Suddenly there was more growth, progress and ethnic diversity in town.”
Sharing a passion for decorating and collecting unusual housewares, Gitta and Scott opened a vintage home-décor store, Casarama, in northeast Bend. Today, warm and sensual Latin music pulsates through its two floors.
Gitta, 46, confesses that she’s used to a more active social climate that Bend offers. She relies on her circle of friends from Chile, Venezuela, Cuba, Brazil and Puerto Rico,” she says. “We meet once a month, and each take turn to serve up dishes from their home country.
“Even though there has been a change in the cultural climate in Bend, there is still not enough ethnic diversity,” she continues. “Bend has a long ay to go.”
PORTUGAL – Manuel dos Santos
Manuel dos Santos has created a very tangible image of his home country. He is a co-owner of Café Sintra in downtown Bend and Sunriver, which he named after the small village of Sintra, Portugal, where he grew up.
When Manuel was seven, his family moved for three years to Washington, D.C, where his father worked as a military attaché with the Portuguese embassy. Later, Dos Santos attended Fresno State University for an American education.
“It was my sister who brought me to Bend,” he says. “Her in-laws live here, and I kept coming here for summer visits. I met my wife, Toni, In Bend, and the rest is history.”
Toni’s family owned Marcello’s restaurant in Sunriver “and that’s how I got my start as a restaurant owner,” Manuel recalls. When the space next door to Marcello’s became available, he and Toni decided to open a European-style café.
The café culture is an important part of the continental lifestyle. Most urban Europeans live in apartments or small homes with little space for entertaining, so most social interactions take place at cafés or restaurants.
“Originally we only wanted to serve coffee and pastries, but it escalated, and we ended up doing full breakfasts and lunches,” Manuel says. A little over two years ago, the Dos Santoses expanded their business to Bend when they opened up the new café.
Manuel, 37, admits there are things he wishes he could find in Bend that he had growing up in Portugal. “I miss the culture, the food and the social interactions of my hometown,” he says, adding that there is a big difference between the American and Portuguese lifestyles. “The Portuguese spend more time enjoying family, friends, good food and good wine. Americans are all about work!”
Dos Santos sees few challenges in being a foreigner in Bend. To the contrary: “People in Bend treat you like you’re and equal. Sometimes they treat you extra nice if they find out you’re from another country.”
TAIWAN – Linyee Chang
Dr. Linyee Chang, a radiation oncologist at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, was only seven when she moved to Virginia from her native Taipei.
“My father is a physician and initially came to the United States on a fellowship,” she recalls. “They liked him so well, they invited him to stay.” Unhappy with the autocratic Taiwanese government at the time and attracted by the freedom of the United States, the senior Chang accepted the invitation and sent for his family.
When his training was done, the family moved to Portland, where Linyee grew up and got her medical education (at Oregon Health Sciences University). At the University of Oregon, where she did her undergraduate work, she met her husband, Matt Hoskins, a Eugene native who considered Bend “his dream place to live,” Linyee says. He is an outdoor enthusiast and loves everything that Bend has to offer.”
She, on the other hand, is more inclined to urban life. But when a job opportunity at the St. Charles cancer facility presented itself, Chang, 44, jumped at it. “Despite Bend being a small town, the medical community is definitely not small town,” she says. “Bend has attracted very high-caliber physicians, and I knew I was going to practice medicine at a very high level. It made for an easy transition from Portland to Bend.”
There was another reason that tipped the scale” “My husband went down on his knees and begged me to move to Bend,” Chang says.
Linyee draws a distinction between foreign residents and Americans with foreign background, such as herself. She consider herself, foremost, and Oregonian.
“My parents wanted us to become Americanized and quickly integrate into our new society,” she recalls – but assimilation came at a price. “I lost the native language and the ties with Chinese ancestry,” she says.
As an Oregonia of Chinese ancestry, Chang has encountered few challenges in Bend. “It has surprised me,” she admits. “As a medical practitioner, you think it may be a problem. That is one of the reasons I have maintained my last name. I want people to know, even before the appointment, that they are going to see a Chinese physician.”
Through her 12 years of residence in Bend, Chang has seen more Asians move into the community, something that points to a greater diversity. “I don’t feel as much that I am instantly recognizable anymore,” she says.