Portland Early Learning Project Blog

Portland Mercado: Travel to Latin America Without Leaving the City

by PELP Team on 10/29/16

Portland Mercado was designed to be a community meeting place—a place to come together and experience Latin American culture through food, celebration, and entertainment. Whether you’re a student of Spanish language and cultures, or just enjoy experiencing great food and fun times, Portland Mercado is not to be missed.


In October, food carts at Portland Mercado were vandalized, leaving vendors with over $25,000 worth of damage. This was a devastating blow to the small businesses that operate at the Mercado. In other places, this amount might have been enough to shut business down. But the community has rallied around the Mercado to support their efforts to repair and recover.


Pip’s Donuts, the Portland Trailblazers, city council members and many from the community stopped by to show their support and eat some delicious food. In addition to this in-person support, a donation page has been set up through Square Space.


If you’ve ever thought about visiting the Mercado, now’s the time to go.  The fall and winter months are traditionally slower for the merchants, so come out and enjoy the energy and vibrancy the Mercado has to offer.


Stepping into the Mercado is like traveling to South America without leaving Portland. The colors are bright and the vibe is both energetic and inviting. Transplants from Mexico will appreciate the Mexican grocery, meat and pastry sections.


Visit Fiesta Tradicional if you’re thinking of throwing a Latino party. They carry handmade piñatas, candies and snacks, and will even make custom piñatas on special order to go with your party theme.


Outside, there is a rainbow of food carts ready to serve you anything from churros, authentic Columbian or Cuban food, tacos, tamales, mole and more. Covered seating lets you find a dry place to eat regardless of the weather.


Check out their events calendar for information on live music and holiday celebrations. You can even host an event of your own at the Mercado.


Portland Mercado is located at 7238 SE Foster Road. Stop by for a visit and you might find lots of reasons to go back, again and again.

Dia de los muertos

by PELP Team on 10/26/16

Día de los muertos


Have you ever had a picnic in the graveyard? At night? With lots of candles and a mariachi band? If so, you’ve probably been lucky enough to celebrate Día de los muertos, or Day of the Dead, an important cultural holiday celebrated in Mexico and some regions in Latin America, and even in some places in the United States!


Día de los muertos is the day people remember and honor their dead ancestors and relatives. It takes place every November 1 and 2 and has been celebrated for over 2000 years. Mesoamerican civilizations all shared a common belief in life after death: when people died, they didn’t cease to exist. Their soul continued to live in the afterlife. This belief caused the ancients to celebrate death rather than fear it.  


Today, Día de los muertos is a day to let relatives know they are not forgotten. One of the ways the living show their love for their deceased family is to create ofrendas either at the grave of their relative, or in their home. The word ofrenda means “offering” and is an altar dedicated to, and decorated for, the dead. Some might be simple, while others quiet elaborate, requiring days to assemble and consisting of several tiers of collected items.


Ofrendas generally include candles, incense, salt and water (for the dead who might be thirsty on their journey), and some favorite items of the dead person like clothing, food, or toys if the dead person is a child. Decorated sugar skulls, often with the name of the dead person written somewhere on it, are also common items included in the ofrenda. Bright orange marigolds are thought to attract spirits to their ofrendas and are used liberally in decorating.


Many Día de los muertos celebrations include a procession through the streets. Rather than watching from the sidelines, like you would a parade, everyone is encouraged to join. Some people bring photos of their deceased family members to carry along the procession. This is where you might see people dressed up in sugar skull make-up and Catrina costumes.


Catrina is a character based on “La Calavera Catrina,” a 1910 etching by Mexican printmaker Jose Guadalupe Posada that depicts a skeleton in a fancy, flowered hat. While the symbol started off as a mockery of native Mexicans who were abandoning their culture in favor of European traditions, Catrina is now a popular icon during Día de los muertos.


Día de los muertos is a holiday filled with joyous sights, sounds and food; a time to feel connected to ancestors who have passed on, and to celebrate the family bond that lasts beyond this life.


One of the fun treats enjoyed with the Dia de los Muertos celebration is Pan de Muerto, or Day of the Dead bread. Make some of this sweet bread at home and celebrate Dia de los Muertos with loving thoughts of your departed family.


Pan de Muerto (Day of the Dead Bread)


1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling

1/2 teaspoon fine salt

1 teaspoon anise seed

1/2 ounce (2 packets) active dry yeast

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup water

8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)

4 large eggs

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface

Vegetable oil, for oiling the bowl

1 egg yolk beaten with 2 teaspoons water



1.         Combine the sugar, salt, anise seed, and yeast in a small mixing bowl. Heat the milk, water, and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until the butter is just melted; do not allow it to boil. Add the milk mixture to the dry mixture and beat well with a wire whisk.

2.         Stir in the eggs and 1 1/2 cups of the flour and beat well. Add the remaining flour, little by little, stirring well with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together.

3.         Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured wooden board and knead it until it’s smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky, about 9 to 10 minutes. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and allow the dough to rise in a warm area until it has doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

4.         Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Punch down the dough and divide it into 2 pieces. Cut 3 small (about 1-ounce) balls from each half and mold them into skull-and-bones shapes. Shape the large pieces of dough into round loafs and place the skull-and-bones on top. Place the breads on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and let them rise another hour.

5.         Brush the loaves with the egg yolk mixture and bake. Halfway through baking, about 20 minutes, remove the loaves from the oven and brush again with the egg wash and sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar. Return to the oven and bake until the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped, about another 20 minutes.

Different Levels of Learning

by PELP Team on 10/19/16

When our children learn a skill, such as a new language, parents or caregivers might feel anxious to test their progress. It’s exciting, after all, to see a child’s growth and development happen right before our eyes.  However, learning is a process and there are several different levels kids go through as they work their way towards proficiency.

Learning vs. Performing

“What did you learn today,” is an innocent enough question and, one might think, a great way to start a discussion with your child about their learning progress. However, this type of question doesn’t provide insight into what he or she is learning as much as it tests his or her ability to perform on command. Our current education model focuses primarily on performance as proof that a child is learning, so it’s natural to think this is a good way to understand progress. While performance can certainly give us some solid information on what a child has mastered, it provides only a portion of what a child might actually "know" or be developing on the inside.

Context – Developing Skills and Mastering Skills

New learners might find it easy to use their language skills in the classroom where the teacher and all of the familiar teaching tools are readily available. Once they leave that environment, however, and the cue cards are gone and the books aren’t being read, it’s more difficult to find where the newly acquired vocabulary fits into their world. Practicing, learning, mastering, manipulating, and then speaking a new language in a variety of situations takes time. A class that utilizes speaking as one of its main teaching methods is best equipped to help students make that transition from “classroom only” speaking, to speaking newly learned vocabulary or grammar outside the context of class. This is challenging and shows the highest level of mastery.

It Takes Time

In an immersion school setting, where a child speaks and listens to Spanish for six or more hours a day, it can take up to seven years to gain true, native-like proficiency. During this process, typically at the beginning, a child may go through a silent period where he does not speak the newer language and/or his own native language for weeks, months, or even a year; and all of this is considered normal along the vast continuum of learning.

While it's likely a child will learn to communicate effectively and fluidly in much less than seven years, how long it takes your child to bring language from class into other settings depends on a myriad of things, and the mix is truly unique to each individual. Their personality (extrovert or introvert), their learning style (visual, verbal, auditory, kinesthetic) and most important, how much exposure and practice your child has outside of the class will determine how quickly they learn.

Just as a child who practices soccer once a week does better if she has weekend games, opportunities to play at recess or PE, and a soccer ball at home, so will a student studying language progress faster the more opportunities she has for practice and exposure.

However your child progresses in their learning journey, he or she will do best with your patience and encouragement along the way.

Cultural Exchanges and Home Stays

by PELP Team on 10/12/16

Have you ever considered hosting a foreign exchange student? Cultural Exchanges or Home Stays are a great way to learn about another culture and even practice a different language. According to the International Student Exchange website, young children are perfect host siblings as their interest, curiosity and acceptance of people different from themselves is strongest at a young age.

Cultural Exchanges can last anywhere from a few weeks to a whole school year and can be a good fit for traditional and non-traditional families. There are many different agencies that facilitate these exchanges, and a quick internet search will help you locate the right one for you. Additionally, you can check with your local high school for suggestions.

Of course opening your home and family to another person naturally comes with its ups and downs. Here are a few things to consider before hosting a foreign exchange student.


Having another child in the house will change the dynamic. Having a teenager will really change the dynamic. Be prepared to spend more time with your student to help with homework, have conversations, or maybe even drive them places. No one thing is going to require a lot of time, but your time will need to be allocated differently and this requires some adjustments.

You will need to be prepared to parent and discipline if necessary. Establish the rules upfront (like curfews or screen time) and be prepared to enforce them.


Any foreign exchange program coordinator will tell you, it’s not the host’s responsibility to entertain students. The goal is to have them participate in normal American life. However, if you plan on taking a family vacation, or going to the movies, or out to dinner, you will have another ticket to buy or mouth to feed.


At the end of the school year, you will have come to see your exchange student as one of your own family. Saying goodbye will be hard. You might worry about how your children will take the separation. Will the student remember you? Will they keep in touch? Is it even worth it to form such a close attachment if this new family member leaves after nine months?

Most host families would answer that question with a resounding “yes!” Here are some of the benefits that come from welcoming an exchange student into your home.

Gain a son/daughter

Be prepared to bond with your exchange student in a way that is enriching and fulfilling. They will rely on your to help them navigate their American experience and for that they will show you gratitude and love. The memories you make with them will last a lifetime.

They will pitch in and become part of the family. Maybe they will cook you a dish from their country. They will tell you everything you want to know about life in their country; the differences, the similarities, what they miss, and what they don’t miss. There will be plenty of time to get beyond the basics and learn more than you would, even from a short vacation to their home country.

Play Tour Guide

Just as you will be learning a lot from your student, you will have the opportunity to show your him or her your world, first hand. Take hikes, visit parks and scenic areas, take them grocery shopping or to a mall. Even daily errands can be a fun experience for someone new. Bring them to your church and let them participate in youth groups and meet more friends. Take them to a soup kitchen or a clothes closet to volunteer. Your routine is the ultimate country tour for them.

Help your own children learn and grow

Families of exchange students agree that having an older kid in the home has its distinct advantages. Exchange students are generally smart, motivated, hard-working and accomplished, and that provides a great example for younger family members.

Having another person in your home can change the dynamic in a good way. One family found they were a little nicer to each other and more polite because there was someone else around watching them all the time.

One mom says, “It was a good opportunity for my kids to learn to help someone and to get to know someone they hadn’t met before. It took some prompting, but they could come up with questions and activities to engage the student and I think that was good practice for learning to interact with new people in general.”


Here we are, back at attachment again. Yes, it’s one of the negatives of hosting an exchange student, but ultimately, it’s one of the greatest benefits. Growing close to, and getting to know someone from another culture adds richness and dimension to the life of your family that would be hard to replicate any other way.

If you’re thinking of hosting an exchange student, contact your local high school for recommendations on agencies.

Have you hosted a foreign exchange student before? Tell us about it!

Get Your Taco Fix in Portland

by PELP Team on 09/30/16

By Afton Nelson

No matter what Portland neighborhood you find yourself in, you’re never far away from great tacos. Take some time to explore the city by visiting one of these amazing taco restaurants. And when you’re done, pick another one on the list and visit that one too. It might just be the best way to see Portland.

Authentic Awesome

You know those little-hole-in-the-wall places that fly under the radar for everyone except those neighborhood locals? When you have to walk through a Mexican grocery store to get to your tacos, you know you’ve found one of these delicious secrets. Taqueria Y Panaderia is in the St. Johns neighborhood and sits in the back of a well-stocked grocery and bakery (“panaderia” means “bakery” in Spanish). The dining area is large enough to accommodate the police and firefighters who seem to stop by every day, as well as the local neighbors. It’s not fancy, but the tacos more than make up for it. Don’t forget to hit the salsa bar and load up. Their specialty taco is lengua, or tongue. Don’t knock it until you try it. It’s tender and delicious.

Another local secret is Panaderia Mexicana Cinco de Mayo located in a tiny grocery store over in the Sellwood neighborhood. It’s a nice little family owned business that specializes in not just tacos, but also pastries (Try the churros!) They offer freshly made tortillas and excellent pastor, and the tacos are $2 each. You’ll be lucky to find a spot in the back of the store, next to the beverage fridge, to sit down, so consider getting your tacos to go.

While Ole Frijole isn’t in the back of a grocery store, its building and location are anything but fancy. That’s okay. You’ll know by the lunchtime line pushing out the door that you’ve put your taco faith in the right place. They offer both crunchy and soft corn tacos and the prices are reasonable. Upgrade to a platter with beans and rice on the side for a hearty, inexpensive meal that will leave you satisfied.

Hipster Awesome

Sometimes you find a restaurant in a trendy part of town. Right away you know you’re going to be paying a little more for your tacos. The décor is hip, the clientele seems a bit more sophisticated, and you wonder if su accento is going to be good enough to order.

Tamale Boy might make you feel a tad intimidated (especially if you walk in with a bunch of kids), but order anyway. And make sure that when you do, you get the table made spicy guacamole. You won’t regret it. There is a lovely patio for outdoor seating and the tacos are worth the slightly-higher price.

If you want to eat tacos and geek out over your favorite Major League Soccer Team, the Portland Timbers, head over to Burnside, just around the corner from Providence Park and order tacos from Uno Mas Taquiza. Their Barbacoa is life changing. Enjoy the Timbers centric décor, watch a soccer game, or even play a few rounds of foosball at their table in the back. Just make sure you sample at least three of their many salsas at their delicious salsa bar. It’s actually just squeeze bottles in an iced basin next to the register, but the delicious flavor combos are not to be missed.

Expect a Line Awesome

Por Que No? on Hawthorne has a line for a reason, and you’ll know once you bite into one of their amazing tacos. This place has everything: squid, shrimp, fish, two flavors of chicken, veggie and chorizo, along with all the other taco standards. Get two tacos and add a side of pintos for a delicious meal. They also offer a selection of seasonal fruit juices, horchata, and Jamaica, a hibiscus flower tea over ice. The décor is Mexican kitsch and it’s fantastic.

KOi Fusion might also have a line, but that’s because it’s a food cart and there is no indoor seating. Don’t let that sway you from trying their Korean-Mexican fusion tacos, bowls or burritos. This is the food cart that drove out on the tarmac of Portland International Airport to meet Air Force One and fill President Obama’s taco needs. Whether you try their bulgogi beef tacos, chicken, pork or tofu, all their food is fresh, local, non-gmo and their beef is grass fed.

Dinner-only Awesome

Taquiera Nueve boasts a crispy wild boar taco and, man, is it delicious. But the suadero (a pan fried, fatty brisket) is no “also ran.” They open at five and seating fills up quickly so you might find yourself waiting for a table to open. No worries. Just peruse the menu and enjoy the fun atmosphere. Maybe order a glass of their house-made limeade. It is amazing.

Nuestra Cocina is tucked in a little neighborhood on the southeast corner of Ladd’s Addition and is open for dinner only. Their specialty is a stuffed gordita, but the sopa de lima con pollo is also a must-try dish. And the tacos! Don’t forget the tacos. While the small selection only includes a pork and a cactus mushroom taco, they prove the saying, “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”

This list is just a taste of the fantastic taco eating opportunities Portland provides. Did we miss your favorite taco place? Let us know so we can try it for ourselves. 

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