A project celebrating Hispanic Heritage is one step closer to becoming a reality.
“It's a long time coming,” said Casimiro Rodriguez Sr., the president and founder of the Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York.
Four years, a pandemic, and many ups and downs later, ground was broken on the Hispanic Heritage Cultural Institute.
“It's the first of its kind in upstate New York to have a facility of this magnitude, where you're able to celebrate, share and preserve the history of a community that's been long in existence here in Western New York [for] over a century,” said Rodriguez.
He was a huge part of getting all the T’s crossed and I’s dotted on this project, raising $18 million so far to get it done.
“This is the rendering of the facility, the way it's going to look from the corner of Niagara and Hudson,” said Rodriguez looking over some images.
Born and raised in Western New York, “Cas” wants this place to pass on that history and inspire the future.
“Those folks which were the early settlers, they had limited education,” he said.” They didn't speak the language. But one of the things that really motivated them was [...] to succeed as a community and as families.”
Photos and interviews will be on display, each with a story.
“For example, the Borinqueneers, the only segregated Puerto Rican U.S. Army regiment during the Korean War,” Rodriguez said. “We have members of our community that served in that regiment. We want to capture their stories. We want to capture their experience in combat.”
It's a way to bring the past to life.
“Our young folks - it's very important that they don't lose their heritage," he added. "The schools teach just so much, but this facility will teach that much more.”
There are plans to have offices for community groups, Spanish and English classes, workforce development and more as a way to benefit everyone.
“We're a community as one and we just appreciate to be the catalyst that will be able to inspire other communities and other ethnic groups to be able to celebrate and also preserve their history," said Rodriguez. "This is just the beginning.”
The plan is for the Institute to open in about 18 months, or around March 2025.