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Hispanic Chamber of Commerce celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month

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From left, Andrea Flannery, Janessa Calderon, Sangeetha Rayapati and Dwight Ford stand together on Thursday, Sept. 23, in front of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. 

Families lined the street and the smell of tacos filled the air as a crowd gathered this week in Moline to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.

Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. It became law under President Reagan in 1988. Sept. 15 was chosen as the start date because it is the independence day of five Central American countries.

Since the last census, the U.S. Hispanic population stands at 62.1 million. It is projected to be 133 million by 2050.  Today in the United States, there are more than four million Hispanic-owned businesses with a GDP of more than $660 billion. 

Data also shows that the Hispanic population in the Iowa and Illinois Quad-Cities stands around 11%. These numbers will be ever-increasing in the coming years as the Hispanic population continues to climb, according to chamber director Janessa Calderon.

In the Quad-Cities, supporting the Hispanic community is vital for growth, she said.

"Bringing the culture brings different diversity," she said. "In the future, when we embrace then go to their small mom-and-pop shops and support them, they'll have success."

Founded in 2008, the Hispanic Chamber now has about 300 members. With the Latino population experiencing an uptick through the 2020 census, she has high hopes more members will join soon.

"It's important to recognize that Latino businesses are seen as a different culture, but they have an impact on the culture in the Quad-Cities area," Calderon said.

Dwight Ford, executive director of Project Now, said his organization recently joined the Hispanic Chamber. In an effort to help support the community, Project Now teamed up with Head Start and the Moline Public Library to provide a literacy program for immigrant families.

Ford said helping individuals live a self-sufficient life was what having a community was all about. Living separate is a thing of the past, and moving forward, community needs to be about being accountable and accessible to one another, he said. 

"The truth is this isn't just about us," he said. "This is about seeing beyond our personal self-interests and to a collective interest. The city of Moline is strong today ... because of our ability to see beyond ourselves."

Head Start Director Andrea Flannery said on average, immigrant families had fewer than 10 books in their household, compared with English-speaking families who have about 50 on average. Building literacy is critical for the success of these families and the children who will grow up in the community, she said.

Reading a proclamation on behalf of the city of Moline, Mayor Sangeetha Rayapati said the Hispanic Chamber has a goal to support and grow diversity in the area. The businesses in the city that take a chance in entrepreneurship and growth are all reflections of how the country was founded, she said.

"I am so thankful that so many people want good for this community," she said.

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