Portland Spirit event goes awash

Representatives from Portland States’ chapter of Movimento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA), met with the management of the Willamette River cruise ship, the Portland Spirit, Monday morning to discuss complaints about poor treatment at a recent event aboard the ship, and concerns that the rough treatment of guests may have been racially motivated.

The Nov. 14 event, called “A Rendezvous through an Autumn’s Night,” was a joint fundraiser for MEChA and the PSU chapter of the NAACP. Guests enjoyed a night of dancing aboard the ship, with the top dance floor featuring Latin music and the bottom floor featuring hip-hop.

One issue was that the expected turnout for the event was about 200, but due to MEChA advertising efforts, more than 500 people, approximately 75 percent of whom where Latino, came to the event. According to Jesus Acosta, coordinator for PSU MEChA, the Portland Spirit did not have the staff on hand to handle the larger crowd.

MEChA and the NAACP also complained to the Portland Spirit representatives that they were charged an additional $550 dollars due to a half-hour delay in the boat’s departure, which a MEChA member was forced to charge to a credit card. The two groups had paid $2,000, plus a $1,000 security deposit to rent the boat from 11 p.m. until 1 a.m., but due to the delay, the boat did not depart until 11:30, and the groups were charged for the additional time.

“I never asked for the money back, I just brought up the point,” Acosta said.

The delay in departure was apparently caused by confusion over what constituted acceptable identification to board the boat. Because alcohol was served, passengers were required to show identification proving that they were 21. According to Acosta, MEChA had been told that student I.D.s would be considered acceptable identification, but on the night of the event, the ship’s crew would only accept driver’s licenses, so the event had to be reorganized to partition off a beer garden.

According to Acosta, the delay was an unnecessary result of the lack of staff. “Things were ready to go at 10:30,” he said.

Once the ship was underway, some security issues with guests occurred, according to MEChA member Alexis Romanos. The ship’s security discovered some marijuana that had been abandoned by guests, a chair was thrown overboard, and a passenger projectile vomited on the way to the bathroom. Some partygoers also apparently arrived at the party already intoxicated.

When the ship returned to dock, the Portland Police were waiting on shore, apparently in response to an incident in which a passenger broke the lights in one of the ship’s bathrooms.

Once passengers were back on shore, police used a tazer on a Latino man who had attended the event in the process of arresting him.

Two passengers’ coats were also stolen from the coat check area aboard the boat while under the supervision of Portland Spirit staff.

Representatives from both MEChA and the NAACP voiced disappointment about how the Portland Spirit staff handled the event, mostly citing a poor level of service, rough handling by security and a lack of adequate staff.

“If there was more staff, none of these things would have happened,” Roberto Guiterrez, a MEChA spokesperson, said.

“There was no need for all the roughness and bad attitudes they had toward our guests,” Acosta added.

“Any time you invest in something you expect to get a return that is comparable,” Stacia Brownell, president of the NAACP at PSU, said.

Daniel Yates, president of the Portland Spirit, said that the issues were “more like concerns” than complaints, and that he was confident that they could be resolved in future events.

“We try to be a good partner with Portland State,” he said.

Yates explained that the identification issue was a matter of state liquor law, and that since the crowd was much larger than predicted, the ship’s crew “really went out of our way” to get extra staff for the event.

Brownell also said that because of the nature of the two groups hosting the event many passengers had questions about whether the treatment they received was racially motivated or just bad service.

“We want to know if it was really a race thing or just protocol,” Romanos said.

Yates strongly denies that there was any racial motivation behind the events.

“I think that it is absolutely outrageous that anyone would say that,” Yates commented, pointing out that the Portland Spirit tries to be accommodating to a wide variety of groups.

“We’re very proud of the diversity level of our clientele,” he said.

While both Acosta and Guiterrez said that most of the representatives they spoke with seemed receptive, there was one who asked them questions that seemed to them irrelevant and racially motivated.

“He asked me ‘Where were you born?’ and ‘What do your parents do, agricultural?'” Guiterrez said.

Still, Acosta and Guiterrez discussed with the Portland Spirit representatives how events could be better handled in the future.

Acosta remains optimistic about holding future events on the Portland Spirit, pointing out that the fundraiser was a huge success, and that despite the negative aspects of the evening, he still receives emails from people telling him how much fun they had. He also mentioned that MEChA is planning future events aboard the Portland Spirit.

Yates also agreed that the event was largely a success. “We all agreed in the room that 95 percent of the people had a wonderful time.”