Spotlight: Yolanda Lorge

1. When did Grupo Latinoamericano begin and why?

Grupo Latinoamericano was started in 1987 by a group of Hispanics in the area of Springfield. It was mostly professionals and at that time the Hispanic and Latino community was very small in this area. We started a social club, getting together to talk about literature, having dances, and eating together. But then individually we began to see newcomers to the area and those people were a different demographic. They were the working class who came from rural areas, especially Mexico, who not only didn’t know English but didn’t know the American systems. Then together, we decided to change it into a not-for-profit service organization. We function completely on a volunteer basis. We don’t have staff and all of our services and programs are free except for our Spanish courses.

2. How many members/people are involved with Grupo Latinoamericano?

We have a Board of Directors of nine people, but we use volunteers to teach English and to help with big events such as our Cinco de Mayo event. Sometimes we also have informational workshops over immigration laws, parenting, mental health, physical health, you name it, and since we have a lot of people who come to those, we need extra health which is where our volunteers come in.

3. How big is the Hispanic and Latino population in the Ozarks?

According to the last census, in Springfield, there were like 6,000 and in Greene Country around 16,000. However, there are always newcomers. In some areas, it grows faster because of the industry. There are small towns, but with the Hispanic workforce, other services and industries come, like to Monett. Or for instance, to Noel, Missouri, west of Joplin. The Hispanic population only used to be 10%, but now Hispanics represent over 50% of the population there. In the schools at Noel, the Hispanic population is 60%.

4. What event that Grupo Latinoamericano participates in is your favorite?

We participate in any community events we are invited to. We have a dance group which is artistic, and many events want that and our diversity. Which fortunately for us Hispanics, we have a rich culture as far as music and dances. The large event that we organize is Cinco de Mayo, which is now huge in the United States. We take this opportunity to educate the non-Hispanic community and because of the relaxed environment, people are more open to learning. During Hispanic Heritage month, we also collaborate with many organizations such as churches. I also love our Christmas party because we celebrate it the traditional Mexican way and a lot of people come to that.

5. What do you hope the organization accomplishes with the grant from CFO?

I hope we are able to collaborate with the community in a bigger way and have the opportunity to inform and educate the entire community, both non-Hispanic and Hispanics/Latinos. I also hope that the community realizes that we are a part of the community. It’s not that they are one and we are the other. We aren’t the other because Hispanics were here before the British, through Spain. Many Americans don’t know that Spanish was the first European language spoken in this land. The Spaniards built St. Augustine, Florida, and Sante Fe, New Mexico 46 years before Jamestown. We are not just newcomers.

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