In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we are highlighting Hispanic Advocacy and Community Empowerment Through Research (HACER). HACER is a CRF PPP borrower and an organization in Minnesota that works to strengthen the Latino community. We spoke with Rodolfo Gutierrez, Executive Director of HACER, to catch up with the organization and speak about the challenges that the Latino community faces today in the Twin Cities.
CRF: How did your services change during the pandemic? How did the PPP loan help you pivot?
“We went through a significant change in our work. We partnered with other organizations that were trusted in the Latino community and received contracts from agencies who asked us to support their outreach efforts to connect Latino communities with COVID-19 resources. That funded us with great resources as well and helped us expand our organization.
We grew from being six employees in the organization to having 23 people working at HACER. That also came with more interest in research and evaluation for programs and projects in place. Today we are handling almost 40 different projects related to either research, evaluation or outreach.”
CRF: How has the pandemic impacted the people and communities you serve? Do you have stats on number of MN Latino-owned businesses impacted by the pandemic?
“We did research with the University of Minnesota to measure the impact of COVID-19 on Latino owned businesses in Southern Minnesota. It was interesting, we generated a report in which we found that the effect of COVID-19 was different among these businesses. Some businesses were greatly affected to the point where they needed to close while businesses that provided services in relation to tax, financial, or legal services were more favored because of the crisis. “
CRF: Where do you see HACER going now?
“Well, that is a one-million-dollar question, but we are seeing that it’s somehow like Pandora’s box, when you open it, you see the disparities that Latinos are facing in the community. Particularly in Minnesota it’s related to healthcare access. Living conditions are not optimal and working conditions have had an impact on the health of our communities. Right now, we are speaking with different organizations and entities in the state moving forward and working out of COVID-19 into establishing better and more effective ways to deliver healthcare access. We are collaborating now with some partners and doing research related to what important elements need to be worked on. Not only bringing Latino medical doctors to the communities, but what else is important towards educating our communities and improving healthcare access.
One of the things we learned from our work study is that Latinos learn about resources last, since most of the information is in English, so they can’t really process the information. They don’t have information on what they need to do, where they need to go, etc. We see that happening everywhere and more specifically information related to healthcare. There is an organization we recently learned of that has been offering metal health assistance for 13 years. However, they don’t have anything translated on their website, so whenever a Latino needs to access those services, they won’t have that information because it’s published in English, not Spanish. So those are the things that we’re going to be working on in collaboration with other organizations.
About 6.1% of the entire population in Minnesota is Latino but we are also the youngest population in the state. We are the people who are going to attend school and graduate with degrees in relation to medicine, technology, engineering, etc. We need to do better for the entire community. So, we need to really invest in future generations, particularly those who will be going to college soon, and will serve the entire community—who are older. There will be a growing need of assistance in the future, it’s best to be prepared.”
CRF: How would you describe the needs of Latino/Latina people in the Twin Cities?
“That is a heavy question, there are several needs, and one of them is the need to get recognized as a very diverse community, being labeled as Latinos, Latinx or Latin has brought on many kinds of issues because we do have this wealthy middle class of Latinos who are coming in, some from other counties, who have risen to work here.
There are people from other countries-like Ecuador-crossing the border on their own two feet, crossing along Mexico to find work here in the U.S. searching for the American dream. Those communities are different from each other. Once we recognize those differences, we need to see them through a different pair of lenses. When we talk about Latin communities, many people think undocumented people—that is another stigma we need to break down. We do have a very healthy and potentially strong community of 90% of Latinos who are either residents or citizens of this country contributing to the economy.
We can establish strategies to help those falling behind in school, those that don’t have access to housing due to external reasons. Not having the information to seek help or not wanting to disclose personal information because they are afraid. In order to do so we need to start by recognizing those differences.”
CRF: Are you doing anything to celebrate Hispanic heritage month?
“Actually, we are participating in many different events, we didn’t just want to do our own event. There will be a ceremony in celebration of our new office. Now we’ll have many different spaces.”
CRF: Is your Latina Leadership Academy currently running? How has it changed during the pandemic?
“Yes, certainly. We do have a new approach that came out of the WCA foundation, and we are working on our Latina Leadership Academy with Team Motors designed for high school students who are looking for opportunities in leadership roles. That is a change we do have from the initial program, and we are also being very successful that way. We’ve also added a virtual approach, some in person activities, but there have been some events where we are delivering materials and holding drives to donate to families and children in need. We’ve had a lot of traction, so many people are helping us out with those initiatives and connecting them with job opportunities.
Last month we ended the first cycle of this new approach and automatically five of our participants were hired because they met potential employers via this program. Our program is based on research, so we’ve been committed to bringing information to participants and their families who may be interested in supporting them. This month we will be starting the second version of the new Latina Leadership Academy.”
CRF: Are there any organizations you work with that help Latino-owned businesses or community resource providers? Would you like to mention a few?
“We have multiple projects in collaboration with different organizations. The Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC) has a program oriented towards supporting Latin entrepreneurs, they offer education in legal support services and provide resources. There are other organizations in Minneapolis that create funds for Latin entrepreneurs as well and research to aid entrepreneurs who want to invest in their business.”
CRF: Any news from HACER that we can help raise awareness for?
“We are having an expansion to different programs, some related to COVID-19, healthcare awareness and more funds are being added in collaboration with 20 different organizations to help the Latino/Latina community in which we are the leading team for those projects.”
We highly encourage you to check out HACER if you’re interested to learn more about their leadership programs for students and find information on healthcare and business if you’re in the Twin Cities area.