Accelerating Downtown GR's transition to a best-in-class American city.
College student Angelica Cristobal grew up in Grand Rapids where her parents, immigrants from Guatemala, worked long hours in factory and agricultural jobs. They knew education was key to a better future for their daughter, but with their own limited schooling, they weren’t sure how to support her. As an 8th grader, Angelica discovered the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, where she would take part in several years of programs that offered academic guidance as well as experiences kids from families of college graduates might take for granted, such as visits to college campuses. On her first day in the program, Angelica visited Grand Valley State University, where she is now an honors student.
Grand Rapids resident Rita Hernandez used to work in food service, in jobs that were physically demanding and temporary. Now she’s a full-time bank-teller, making used her customer service experience in a more secure role with opportunities to grow. She made the switch with help from a training program at the Hispanic Center, organized in partnership with her new employer Fifth Third Bank, which was in need of qualified bilingual Spanish-English tellers.
The Center, founded in 1978, is located in a former fire station on Grandville Avenue in the diverse Roosevelt Park neighborhood, which has seen rapid growth and new retail in recent years. People of Latin American descent have lived in Grand Rapids since at least the 1920s, but in recent decades they have been the city’s fastest-growing minority group. In the 2010 census, about 16% of residents identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino, up from 13% percent in 2000.
The Center is home to a bilingual preschool, a variety of programs for youth including after-school tutoring, and help for the basic needs of the community from Spanish interpretation to food pantry referrals or advice on immigration issues. They are also the main organizers of Grand Rapids’ annual Hispanic Festival held downtown in August or September. While you’re here, be sure to explore the neighborhood to find vibrant murals and local favorite international restaurants.
Cover photo: hispanicctrwm via Instagram.