When you migrate to a new area—be it for a job, because you fell in love, or for a better opportunity in life—there isn’t always someone there to guide you. Someone there to help you make your new home, home.
La Plaza is that place for many Hispanics who move to the Indianapolis area. I was able to borrow some time from Miriam Acevedo Davis, the President and CEO of La Plaza as she kicks off Hispanic Heritage Month and celebrates the 50th year for La Plaza.
Originally from Puerto Rico, Miriam is familiar with moving from one home to another, she called Manhattan her home, as well as Columbus, Indiana, before joining the 317 community. As she leads Central Indiana’s oldest and largest Latino nonprofit, she is well-versed in understanding the needs of those new to a city and has spent the last 17 years in her role being very intentional in bringing meaningful dialogue, education, and resources to those migrating to Central Indiana.
Taking the story back to before Miriam took the reins, empecemos desde el principio. In 1971, the organization was founded as El Centro Hispano as the needs of a growing Hispanic community were recognized and unmet. El Centro Hispano grew and worked to promote awareness and understanding of Central Indiana’s Latino community by founding FIESTA in 1980. In 2004, not only did El Centro Hispano, FIESTA, and the Hispanic Education Center join forces—Miriam Acevedo Davis was also named executive director of the newly formed La Plaza.
Though the name has changed, the mission has never wavered. La Plaza works to advocate and educate those in the Latino community. They create opportunities for their community by teaching financial literacy, assisting those dealing with domestic violence, and helping meet basic needs. Then families and students can put more focus on advancing their lives, education, and generational wealth. By assisting those leaving less than liveable circumstances, survivors can focus on what their next chapter looks like. By teaching financial literacy, more families and individuals can pave the way for even stronger generations to come.
In the last decade, Hispanic enrollment has grown by nearly 59% in Indy’s 11 school districts, according to Chalkboard Indiana, an essential education reporting publication. That growth brings the Hispanic student population to 20%. With it, the most recent census indicates that 13.2% (or roughly 130,000 people) identify as Hispanic or Latino in Central Indiana, compared to the 9,000 Latinos that resided in Central Indiana in the 1990s.
In 2019, La Plaza received over 7,000 phone calls and assisted about 250 walk-ins who sought referrals to information and assistance. Of students that have participated in their programming, 90% have achieved significant improvement in both language and art skills. Of all the resources La Plaza has offered, Miriam shares that the Latino Opportunity Center has proven to be one of their most impactful and successful programs.
Miriam shares that reaching out to organizations and simply asking how you can get involved is a great first step in becoming an active member of the community. She did that same first step when she moved to Indianapolis while she was studying for her Masters at Butler University and quickly joined the Board for Hispanic Education Center before becoming the CEO of La Plaza. She shares how impactful the experience was as she was able to connect and meet other leaders in the community.
La Plaza welcomes the community to celebrate and learn about the Latino culture during this Hispanic Heritage Month, as they also celebrate their milestone of 50 years. “We celebrate Hispanic heritage every day of the year, so for us to commit a month to it, it’s wonderful,” says Miriam. She says that they also celebrate FIESTA Indianapolis as a way to highlight the different cultures within the Latino community with 26 different Hispanic countries being represented in the Indianapolis community. FIESTA will be hosted online this year and is welcome to all.
As the Hispanic youth population continues to grow, role models in the community are as important as ever. “I think some organizations are doing wonderful things in leadership–providing the training, the mentoring, and leadership training for Latinos,” she says. Additionally, La Plaza offers Tu Futuro, which provides “high school students with exposure to ways they can be engaged in their communities,” shares Miriam.
As leaders in the Hispanic community, it’s important to not only grow our own opportunities and paths but to help pave the way for those that will come after us. La Plaza, Miriam, and all its volunteers are working tirelessly to provide those paths for our community’s future Latino leaders. Join them in celebrating 50 years of servitude and welcoming the next 50 years to come.