In November 1969, Feliciano Espinoza, Fred Bowman, Tony Dominguez, and Tulio Guldner organized the Hispano-American Association to respond to the needs of a growing and ethnically diverse Hispanic population. At the time they were approximately 6,000 residents of Hispanic descent in Indianapolis. The majority were Mexican, Cuban, or Puerto Rican.

Lugar stands at a microphone. Three men stand behind him.
Feliciano Espinoza with Mayor Lugar at the Hispano-American Multiservice Center, 1971 Credit: Connie Hamm, Indiana Historical Society View Source

In 1971, the Association, with $79,000 in grants from the federal government and support from the office of the Mayor and several of the city’s churches, founded the Hispano-American Center. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese offered the Saint Joseph parish hall at 617 E. North Street to provide it a home.

The Hispano-American Center initially sponsored the center. Starting with a small paid staff, a board of directors, and contributions from many volunteers, the center initially provided day-care services, language classes, and job information. It quickly grew into the principal source of social services and the hub of cultural activities for the city’s Latino Community. Beginning in 1974, Espinosa and Guldner also hosted a Spanish language radio show called the La Voz Latina on WIAN and with a change in station ownership on Wfyi 90.1. It was Indiana’s first Spanish radio program, and it aired for 15 years.

In 1977, the center obtained official nonprofit status and acquired its 617 E. North Street property from the Catholic Archdiocese. The City-County Council proposed a federation of all city, county, United Way, and individual centers that resulted in the formation of Community Centers of Indianapolis (CCI) in 1982 (see Community Centers). CCI assumed control of El Centro Hispano in 1983. Funding for CCI centers came from United Way Of Central Indiana, city funds, state funds, Central Indiana Council Of Aging, and the Indianapolis Network for Employment and Training.

As the only member of CCI without a defined neighborhood, the center addressed the needs of all Hispanics in the greater metropolitan area of the city. The center provided employment and immigration counseling, information and referral services, emergency assistance, and educational programming. In 1991, the board of directors changed the name to El Centro Hispano/The Hispanic Center to develop a broader community consciousness about the diversity within the Hispanic community.

A group of young adults are gathered together for a group photograph. A banner featuring a latin american figure in traditional style.
Young Latino youth holding a trophy, gathered for a group picture at the Hispano-American Multiservice Center, ca. 1975 Credit: Connie Hamm, Indiana Historical Society View Source

CCI acted as an oversight board for fundraising and bill paying until state funding contracted abruptly in 2003. CCI disbanded, and the Hispanic Center became an independent agency. Since the Center’s founding in 1971, the Hispanic population of Indianapolis had increased to over 30,000 residents or 4 percent of the population. The Center served as a port of entry for Hispanic immigrants and local Hispanic residents seeking health and social services. This community also had become increasingly diverse. Hispanic immigrants came from 21 different counties.

In 2002, the Hispanic community sought a way to reorganize and form a new federation of organizations, La Plaza, which was intended to include the Hispanic Center, the indianapolis hispanic chamber of commerce, the hispanic education center, and FIESTA Indianapolis. With the dissolution of CCI in 2003, funders did not accept this concept. In 2004, the Hispanic Education Center and Fiesta Indianapolis moved ahead to create a federation merging under the La Plaza name.

The Hispanic Center merged with La Plaza in January 2005. The Center left its longtime home at 617 E. North Street to become part of the umbrella organization, headquartered on the city’s far eastside.

Revised July 2021

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