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Can Latinos save Detroit?

by Ulises Silva

That smack you heard last week was Detroit slapping its collective forehead after the Census released its numbers. No, not the numbers telling us what we already knew (i.e., that, contrary to what Hollywood says, there are LOTS of Latinos in the U.S.). Rather, the numbers telling another familiar story: that people are leaving Detroit.

Actually, the numbers were worse than expected: a city designed for two million people now has 713,777 in it, representing a sharper population decline than even New Orleans after Katrina.

So, yeah, maybe at first, those of us working or living in Detroit slapped our foreheads when we heard the news. I mean, there we were, still giddy with excitement over that deliciously defiant Chrysler Super Bowl ad and its brilliant “Imported from Detroit” tagline.


There we were, glad that someone finally used words other than blight, crime, and Kwame to describe the Motor City, and glad that someone managed to film an entire commercial without featuring everyone’s favorite ruin porn locale. And, sure, the Census results were like the proverbial rain on our “Hurray Detroit” parade.

But in every crisis lies opportunity.

On the one hand, you have a battered city that’s received another piece of bad news. On the other side of prosperity, you have Latinos, whom the Census named the big winners in this year’s “Fastest Growing Demographic Making Glen Beck and Friends Nervous.” And Latinos are starting to pop up in states not normally associated with Latinos—including Michigan.

Can you see where I’m going with this?

The fact is, Latinos already have a sizable and growing presence in Southwest Detroit, an area that has weathered the city’s ups and downs. Take a drive through Mexicantown, Hubbard-Richard, and Hubbard Farms neighborhoods, and you’ll see plenty of Latinos and Latino-run businesses, including the popular Café Con Leche coffeehouse. Stop in at the SER-Metro Detroit workforce development agency, and you’ll meet a staff that’s required to be bilingual in Spanish and English. Organizations like LA SED are already in place to help Latino entrepreneurship, while places like COMPAS provide the cultural connections vital to our identity.

So why would Latinos want to come to Detroit? For one, the overall cost of living here is lower than Chicago and New York City—to say nothing of the availability and affordability of quality homes. (You really think you’ll find a 1500 sq. ft. house in NYC for under $60,000?) Second, retail and commercial space is plentiful and understandably affordable, which bodes well for Latino entrepreneurs. And third, well, let’s face it: the city has plenty of room for growth. Ambitious redevelopment projects are fixing up parts of the cities, but redeveloped neighborhoods still need people to live in them. Latinos could help fill those neighborhoods with the kind of drive, work ethic, and vitality the city is going to need if it’s going to make a comeback.

You know it’s promising when Latinos are described as offering “rays of hope” to a distressed area—a term not exactly being used to describe us in other economically troubled areas like Arizona. A Detroiter in a VBS.TV video described Detroit as the Wild West because of the room for growth, innovation, and opportunity. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if Latinos seized that opportunity, came to Detroit, and became key players in the city’s return to glory?

After all, “Importado desde Detroit” sure has a nice ring to it…

To learn more about Ulises, visit Digital Decaf.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


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About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. Jalisco No Se Raja! says:

    A ray of hope, indeed. Hispanics in Wayne County grew by 62% from 1990-2000 and by over 30% from 2000-2010. Also, Hispanics have helped other unlikely states gain congressional seats (e.g., Utah, South Carolina and Nevada). If anyone can help regain Michigan’s seat, it will be the Hispanics. We got this.

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