Latinos in Grand Rapids

The Latino, or Hispanic, community in Grand Rapids dates back as far as the 1920s, when several young men came here to work in railroad jobs. Over the next few decades, they were joined by a relatively small number of seasonal workers, primarily from Mexico, who came to the area for summer farm work and decided to settle here with their families.

Like immigrants before them, these new arrivals settled among neighbors who looked and spoke like them. Grandville Avenue, just south of downtown, served as the entry point for many Latinos - just as it had been for other immigrant groups before them.

By 1975, two-thirds of the residents of this area were Hispanic, and the business strip was lined with Hispanic-owned stores. Still, the number of Latinos living in Grand Rapids remained quite small - just 5,000 as of the 1980 census.

Thirty years later, the picture is quite different. Almost 16 percent of city residents reported Hispanic or Latino origin in the 2010 census, and 32 percent of Grand Rapids Public School students were Hispanic in 2011. Some suburban communities south and west of the city boast even larger numbers of Hispanic residents - so large that Hispanics are now the largest minority population in Kent County.

Today, about 70 percent of our Hispanic population is of Mexican heritage, followed by people of Puerto Rican, Guatemalan, Cuban and Dominican descent. While each group takes great pride in the distinctive traditions of their homeland, they are united by common values of faith, family and entrepreneurial spirit - the same values that have always defined Grand Rapids.

Community Highlights

The Hispanic Center of West Michigan provides a wide range of services in the historic heart of the Grand Rapids Latino community.

The West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce works to increase the economic advancement of Latino-owned businesses.

LaVoz and Lazo Cultural present news of interest to the local Hispanic community.

Latino-owned markets and bakeries offer a broad selection of imported groceries and traditional sweets.

San Chez, named one of America's top 50 Hispanic restaurants, is one of many area eateries serving up deliciously authentic Spanish and Mexican dishes.