GV celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month

Kyle Bindas

As part of its celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Grand Valley State University hosted one of its own graduates to present her research.

In a speech titled “The Origins of Latino Grand Rapids: Community Building and Pan-ethnic Identity Formation from the 1940s to the 1970s,” GVSU alumna Delia Fernández discussed her research about how the Latino community in Grand Rapids came to be Thursday, Sept. 22 in Kirkhof Center Room 2263.

Fernández’s speech focused on two major topics: how Latinos arrived in West Michigan and how their community and identity in West Michigan was formed.

Fernández said what mostly brought Latinos to the region was the prospect of jobs, inspired by recruitment of Michigan companies and state-sponsored initiatives that brought Latinos to the region, as well as chain and step migration.

She said Latinos faced a strange plight as they arrived in West Michigan. They did not have a place in the existing population. The vast majority of the population was white, with only a small percentage of other ethnicities.

“When Mexicans arrived in the 1920s and 30s, native whites and immigrants from across western and eastern Europe dominated the city’s population of about 160,000,” Fernández said. “Less than 5,000 African Americans lived in Grand Rapids.”

The local population did not know how to handle the arrival of a new group and the Latinos had a hard time finding their place within it.

“This shared radicalization as neither black nor white joined Mexicans and Puerto Ricans together as a distinctive population that did not fit into the prevailing local racial hierarchy,” Fernández said.

The unique place of these populations helped them come together in a variety of ways. This new camaraderie created a new cultural identity, of which Fernández said she herself is a part of. It is know as a nationality of Puerto Rican and Mexican parentage, “Mexi-Rican”

“Although these marriages were not without protest, they left long-lasting legacies, because their children represented the forging of a new ethnic identity: Mexi-Ricans,” Fernández said.

According to Fernández, she acquired her information after a long period, from a large variety of sources including interviews, city directories, police reports and prison profiles.

Professor David Stark, coordinator of the Latin American studies program, hopes this event will shed light on the story of the local Latino community.

“We have a growing presence of Latino students on campus, and a lot of those Latinos are from Grand Rapids and West Michigan are going to learn about their story and heritage,” Stark said. “I think it’s the diversity of all these different stories and heritages that make up the tapestry of American culture and American society.”

This talk is part of a series of events GVSU is hosting as part of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which goes from Thursday, Sept. 15 to Saturday, Oct. 15. Other events in the series include a series of talks from guest speakers, a performance of the Opera Grand Rapids featuring a guest singer who combines opera and Tango, and a celebration of the Day of the Dead hosted by the Latino Student Union.