Rodolfo Gutierrez is the Executive Director of HACER, a research organization that works with Latino communities to shape decisions and policy.
I was working in Mexico, at a university in the state of Baja California, then my wife and I received scholarships to do a PhD here in the US. We were both asked to request different universities and were planning on moving to Baltimore to study at Johns Hopkins, but my wife was not accepted. Her admission was granted here at the U, and I’ve been in Minneapolis for almost 20 years. It’s funny — I’ve been a Vikings fan since I was 5 years old. I saw them on TV playing at the old Metropolitan Stadium in the middle of a snowstorm and I was just amazed by those guys. I said: “I need to live in Minnesota eventually!”
It’s a unique approach, a community based participatory research model. Most research is being done at research centers, at colleges or universities, or research institutes. A researcher from Harvard did an investigation on how long it takes for a researcher who comes to a community to bring back something that people can use — it’s around seven years.
Our model means we deliver results faster. Once our research is completed, we’ve usually already delivered some products to the people who needed that information at that moment. DACA, for example — we worked with the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota to determine the potential number of applicants for that program, then they brought that information to foundations, and they worked to support many applicants as they could. We need to change that 7 year gap into more active participation with the research. That keeps me motivated — It takes more than one small step forward to really notice the big changes we need to see.
The Latino community is very diverse by origin, by race, by language. It can be very difficult to bring them together. But there’s a lot of fear among latinos. That calls us to come together with other organizations. We partner with friends who in the past felt they didn’t need us. Now we need to make sure we have better indicators of what community strategies are going to work, and what might be the real impact of our actions. So we’ve become more visible. That’s accompanied by more credibility around our work. We are constantly asked for people to come volunteer with us. People are looking at our work with value. It helps that we have a very positive environment, in the sense that people are willing to think with us about the needs of the Latino population in Minneapolis.
We need to be aware of our diversity. Embrace it and really work with it. It’s important to bring together the different communities of color and the American Indian community, to see ourselves as part of the larger community of Minneapolis, not divided in our different communities. I think we need to be careful about the rapid growth of the tall buildings here, because the taller they are the more they hide what’s going on down on the streets. We need to occupy the spaces we have here — I don’t see many white or African-American people buying in the Mexican stores, and I don’t see many Mexicans going to the Somanli stores. We need to start changing that, be proud of our diversity and enjoy it.
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