Expanding Vanport’s Legacy

The Vanport Mosaic Festival hosted several public events of all different origins with the common goal of recalling forgotten voices via memory activism. From art exhibits to walking tours to theater productions, teachers, artists and communities unite through Vanport Mosaic, using each other’s experiences to get a better understanding of the world we live in.

Vanport Mosaic was created in 2014 to actively remember the city of Vanport, which was lost to a devastating flood in 1948. The festival’s co-founder and co-director, Laura Lo Forti, said there seems to be an “intentional, collective amnesia, so [together] we should intentionally remember as an act of resistance.”

One of the many featured artists, Henk Pander, has created several watercolor and oil paintings of the Vanport flooding. His dynamic paintings detail the beauty of what was once there, alongside the peoples’ vivid loss and grief. By attaching a salient visual to the Vanport flood, Pander inclines the audience to feel along with the subject, bringing new life to this historical event.

In addition to their work remembering the lost city, the Vanport Mosaic has grown to include new, modern narratives that also shouldn’t be forgotten. Through storytelling and discussions, personal accounts are shared that might not make it into history books, ensuring that we remember stories that have been overlooked by the white, cishet and male mainstream.

An event called “Gathering Hope: A Story Swap” gave a platform to some of those less Fox News-esque stories. Four main speakers took to the stage to discuss their personal experiences with various facets of discrimination, like ableism, antisemitism, racism and transphobia. After the main speakers contributed, the floor was open for an open mic and many audience members stood up to share their stories as well. Events like the Story Swap help to open eyes and arms to experiences that may never be understood otherwise.

A screening of the documentary Divided States: the 2017 MAX Train Attack detailed the graphic stabbings that occurred Memorial Day Weekend two years ago. The film was emotional—interviewing Portland eyewitnesses, families of the victims and a survivor of the attack, Micah Fletcher. After the film ended, a few people stood up from the back of the theater and walked down toward the stage, including Micah himself. Some impactful poetry was shared before sitting down with the event’s organizers to discuss the stabbing two years prior.

Throughout the different events, there seemed to be a recurring theme amongst the various organizers—that it was so wonderful for everyone to be together. The panels felt like conversations, and the people attending felt like family. Vanport Mosaic in a way is meant to convey an understanding that community and history involve every single one of us, and that all of our stories are worth telling.