Hispanic Heritage Hub is a beacon for an underserved community, say supporters

Clevelanders Mariely Luengo and Marcia Moreno have founded the Hispanic Heritage Hub, a website that lists events for Hispanic Heritage Month and also aims to be a comprehensive year-round guide to local Hispanic vendors, speakers, and other business people.
Valerie Mayén, owner of the Yellowcake women’s outerwear shop in Cleveland, one of the businesses listed on the Hispanic Heritage Hub. (Photo by Coly Puzzuoli)

From September 15 to October 15, Cleveland’s Hispanic leaders join others around the U.S. in championing the history, culture, and contributions of their diverse and dynamic communities. In the past, that effort has too often culminated in non-Hispanic Clevelanders complimenting their neighbors’ taste in food and music, then spending their money elsewhere for the other 11 months of the year.

Helping to ensure that focus never fades is the Hispanic Heritage Hub, a new website and vendor space launched by Clevelanders Mariely Luengo and Marcia Moreno. In the years ahead, the site will ideally foster stronger connections between the Hispanic community and Cleveland corporate leaders.

“That spotlight needs to be used for empowerment and economic development,” says Luengo, an independent strategic solutions consultant. “We get that spotlight once a year to make it clear who we are and what we want to do. Hispanic Heritage Month means different things to different people, but the community just wants to showcase one another.”

A 30-day observance is not enough to accomplish this monumental task, notes Luengo, a first-generation native of Puerto Rico. Hispanic heritage is a limelight that should shine year-round, going far beyond the usual office trip to a lunch-time taco bar. Instead, hub creators hope to develop a baked-in environment of “cultural competence” that shuns typical corporate box-ticking.

Marcia Moreno, president and founder of AmMore Consulting, views the platform as a “living, breathing document” showcasing Hispanic vendors, events, and speakers. The website – still being built out – features local events for Hispanic Heritage Month as well as a drop-down menu highlighting Hispanic vendors across industries. The site also includes a “Speakers Bureau” featuring speakers in occupations ranging from attorneys and pediatricians to educators and artists.

Hub architects aim to include 40-50% of all local Hispanic vendors by year’s end. Although the city of Cleveland is the focus, an owner from Lorain would not be excluded if they wanted to join the party.

“We’ve been changing the site every hour, and we’ll continue updating to include new vendors and speakers,” says Moreno. “Before this, we didn’t have a centralized way to bring attention to Hispanic business owners.”

Brooklyn print shop Ortiz Art Drafts Designs is listed on the Hispanic Heritage Hub. (Photo by Coly Puzzuoli)

Expanding the narrative

Business listings for the hub directories come from – among other sources – the Minority Business Association, Greater Cleveland Partnership, JumpStart, local Hispanic chambers of commerce, and good old fashioned cold calling. (Participants can also ask to join the hub here.) Aside from a comprehensive directory of Hispanic entrepreneurs, the platform will eventually include nonprofit listings, a full events calendar, and a history of Hispanic culture in Cleveland.

Nationwide, Hispanics comprise 20% of the population. In Cleveland, they encompass 13%, and that number is growing. According to the 2020 Census, the city of Cleveland gained more than 9,000 Hispanics since the previous count, even as the city’s overall population shrank. Outside the city, most of the county’s Hispanic population resides in the suburb of Brooklyn, which borders both Linndale and Cleveland. Outside Cuyahoga County, the cities of Lorain and Painesville are each more than a quarter Hispanic.

The hub will also illuminate diversity within the demographic, a point sometimes missed by the wider community, Luengo says. The population as a whole is diverse, including migrants from Puerto Rico as well as immigrants from Cuba, Mexico, Spain, and South and Central America. Further pushing back against the idea that Hispanics are a monolith, the online hub will center people with disabilities, the LGBTQ community, and other marginalized groups.

Harnessing the demographic’s growing influence was a spark for the platform’s creation. Luengo recalls ending last year’s heritage month with the depressing knowledge that her community would be largely ignored until the following September.

“I was having a happy hour with my colleagues and friends, and everyone felt deflated after all the work we did,” Luengo says. “We knew we wouldn’t have the spotlight again until the next year.”

Conceptual conversations about the hub began soon after, with organizers dedicated to designing a one-stop shop for Hispanic vendors. A two-year grant from Cleveland Foundation is funding this year’s pilot along with the platform’s continued growth. The Young Latino Network – a Cleveland civic engagement group – is acting as fiscal agent for the grant.

Meanwhile, Luengo is excited to collect a wealth of vendor data that simply didn’t exist in any organized manner until now. The remainder of 2022 will be spent filling out the hub’s ranks of entrepreneurs, thereby continuing to expand the hub beyond traditional Hispanic narratives around delicious food and high-energy music.

“Those things are amazing, but you can get a great lawyer and accountant, too,” says Luengo. “We are trying to be diverse in the kinds of vendors we highlight.”

The Hispanic Heritage Hub team, from left, Claudia Longo, Laura Kent, Marcia Moreno, Ariel Vergez, Mariely Luengo, Otelia Vergez, and Dahlia Rodriguez. (Photo courtesy of Pueblo Strategies)

A commitment of support

Hispanic Heritage Week, which started nationally in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson, was extended by the Reagan administration in the late ‘80s to cover a 30-day period starting September 15. This date marks the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile also celebrate their independence during the 30-day period.

Cleveland Hispanic leaders express concern that the month-long celebration has been co-opted by corporations seeking a quick DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) boost, even as they likely don’t know the different independent traditions layered within the month.  

La Mega Media director of community outreach Claudia Longo expects that to change as the website grows. Longo, who arrived in Cleveland from Uruguay in 2002, manages planning and administration for the recently revealed hub. The site is getting attention, and its supporters are delivering the message about the hub to non-Hispanic business executives seeking deeper connections with the community, says Longo. One overriding goal is making the hub a brand template for Columbus, Cincinnati, and other Ohio cities.

“We have funding for two years, and now want to extend that to five,” says Longo. “The idea is for this to be a brand that anyone can take over, anytime. We’re building that base now and getting it ready to move forward.”

“Intentionality” will be the watchword moving ahead, insofar as how Hispanics can educate companies on the very active population within their midst, says Longo. Support from businesses may come in many forms, including utilizing an authentic Hispanic restaurant for an office party rather than getting burritos from Chipotle.

Site co-creator Moreno says a veritable “Yellow Pages” can do much to remove barriers between Hispanics and the larger region. No longer will corporations have an excuse to shunt the population aside as has been the unfortunate trend in years past, she says.

“Be serious about supporting the community, including inclusive hiring and giving business to Hispanic vendors,” Longo says. “It’s about supporting organizations doing incredible work, not just consuming products and programs for one month of the year.”

This article is sponsored by Destination Cleveland.

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