Henry Jiménez, executive director of the Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC) in Saint Paul, Minnesota, believes investing in your local community begins at your doorstep. He takes supporting the immigrant and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities around him personally, and he channels that mission through his work with Rebuild & Heal Minnesota — a fundraising collaborative effort that supports immigrant-owned businesses affected by social injustice.
I connected with Henry, a recipient of the Ally Charitable Foundation grant, about the importance of uplifting our local communities, preserving the cultures that flourish because of small businesses, and how we as individuals can do our part through investing in ourselves and the people around us.
We often hear how important it is to support locally owned businesses, but why are these businesses so integral to the communities around them?
We shouldn’t support locally owned businesses because they’re businesses. They’re part of our culture — and backing them is about saving those roots, whatever that means to you. To me, it’s the Latino and south Minneapolis community and culture. No matter where you are, when you spend money locally, you invest in the culture that’s established there — one you may have grown up in, and one that’s continuing to grow.
For example, I grew up eating foods like paletas, but when I moved to Minnesota 13 years ago, a paletería didn’t exist in my community for many years. So, for a long time in my adulthood, I couldn’t access that part of my culture. Now that I have children, it’s even more important for me to have a paletería nearby so I can introduce my kids to the foods and flavors I grew up with — upholding that part of my culture for both of us!
Local BIPOC- or immigrant-owned businesses provide more than just a service or product to communities — they are pillars of our culture. If they aren’t supported and go out of business, it creates a lapse in representation of those cultures.
How does the work you do at Rebuild & Heal and the LEDC to support immigrant and BIPOC-owned businesses reflect your own life experiences?
I work for a nonprofit and there’s not one client that doesn’t remind me of my father, mother, tío or tía (that’s uncle and aunt in Spanish), or someone in my family. The barriers or struggles they’re facing are always similar to those my father and family members experienced when they were establishing their way of making ends meet. Because of this, I take it very personally, and I always treat everyone as family, especially during these difficult times.
Can investing in yourself be an investment in the communities you care about?
It’s always been difficult for me to think, “Me, me, me.” Latinos are always about, “Us, us, us.” If I have something, I break it into pieces so everybody eats — todos comemos. That’s our mentality.
Over time I’ve realized that investing in myself — through my education, for example — has helped me better advocate for and support the needs of my community. While I could do what I’m doing without education or experience, the more I know and invest in myself, the more I can do for the folks I care about.
I’ve found that directly investing in people, including yourself, is important because individuals are connected to and understand what communities need — and they’re the best advocates for them.
What are other ways individuals can invest in and support their local communities?
Sometimes folks think you need to work with an established volunteer program, but I think the best opportunities are the ones you make for yourself because they’re more personal.
People choose to live in certain places because they love something about it. But every single location also presents an opportunity. Start by focusing within walking distance of your house. Ask yourself: How can I make this area better? How can I help make these BIPOC businesses better because I see and respect how hardworking the owner is?
If you care about the local school district, reach out about volunteering positions or ask about a career day you can participate in. If you really like the nearby taqueria, for example, I encourage you to think, “Beyond eating here once a week, how can I give it more business?” That might mean working with your company to have these small businesses cater events each month — or even catering your own post-Covid parties.
It can be tedious, and it can be hard, but you have to reconsider how you invest in the people, cultures, and communities around you. It’s a social justice issue, which is not always easy to think about. But investing your time and money to support your local community is an opportunity anyone can take advantage of.
At Ally, we’re committed to enriching communities around the country by supporting locally owned immigrant and BIPOC businesses. That’s why we’re working with Rebuild & Heal to ensure local businesses have the resources they need to flourish — so they can continue contributing to the vibrant and rich cultures that they’re rooted in.