Hispanic Young Professionals of New Orleans Give Back

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“I think it’s important to connect with people,” said Marina Manzanares, founder of Hispanic Young Professionals of Louisiana (HYPLA) and Assistant Vice President and Sales Manager at Metairie Bank. “Florinda has little kids that are going to grow up, and they are citizens of New Orleans. I think it’s important for them to see that a group of young professionals, the majority are Hispanic, that we’ve made it out there. Everyone has this stereotype of the Hispanic community. I think it shows her that that picture of what her kids’ future can be, and hopefully she can share that to her children. I don’t think they’ll be here, but that there was a group of people that gave back, and maybe they can do that later on. Hopefully she does that, and I know that part of [NOAHH’s] program is that they also have to give back and help on other projects, and I think people should do that in general. It doesn’t matter—Asian, Hispanic, Black, White, you know, we all should give back. No matter what.”

Marina and many other HYPLA members were on site on America Street, helping Florinda Avila build her new home as part of their activities for Hispanic Heritage Month in September. The build was planned for them to give back and help meet needs they had identified in the community. They decided to work specifically with Habitat because they saw the affiliate already trying to meet some of those needs with our homeownership program.

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“There’s a lot of resources, and unfortunately here in Louisiana,” she said, “all those resources are available everywhere throughout, but our community because it’s such a young generation and are either first generation or there’s a gap in between the very first group that came here about 40 years ago—those people are already established—and then now there’s those people who came right after Hurricane Katrina. They have a language barrier, so they don’t know these resources are available. And the fact that Habitat actually did make an effort to have someone that is bilingual, a bilingual case worker, just shows that they do care about our community. These are people that are here working hard, they’ve left everything behind, to come here to provide for their family, to better themselves, and also to provide for our society. I feel that the work that you guys are doing, you’re meeting that need because otherwise people wouldn’t even have access to homeownership. ”

HYPLA started a little over a year ago when Marina saw a need for career development opportunities and networking events. She organized the group through the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and decided to do something different for Hispanic Heritage Month the following year.

“When it comes to Hispanic Heritage Month,” said Marina, “It’s always a party, and there’s food, and I thought we should also find the best way to give back to our community. Immediately, we started thinking, ‘where are the needs for our community?’ So we thought of Habitat and contacted them.”

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Marina grew up in the Dominican Republic, where the spirit of giving in her community inspired her to bring that tradition with her when she came to New Orleans.

“I feel that whenever there’s anything that’s Hispanic related, it’s always that we’re receiving,” she said. “But we also give back, and that is also a part of our heritage. In our countries, we’re very much like, ‘I need to help so-and-so,’ I remember growing up, on Christmas, New Year’s or other holidays, you always had to make sure that the neighbor had a plate of food for Christmas. Even if it wasn’t Christmas. You always made sure that neighbor didn’t go without eating if they were in that situation, so its part of who we are. I think whenever we come here, it’s such a new experience for everyone. You’re trying to adapt, you’re trying to understand a new system. You forget that—you just get to where you don’t know your neighbor, so I think it’s important for people to know that there are organizations that you can get involved with and help others, even if you don’t know your neighbor.”

After going to school in Miami, she came to New Orleans in 2002 and started a flooring company. Her family lies in Mississippi and lost their property during Hurricane Katrina, but Marina was able to be part of the recovery process, which she says has helped the city.

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“I moved to New Orleans,” she explained. “I married a New Orleanian. We met in school, and he wanted to come back home. I did love it when we would come and visit before we got married. This is just such a cool place. Things have so much culture, and the food, so once Katrina happened and people wanted me to go back to Miami, it was just ‘no.’ People kept asking if I was going back to Miami because it was so recent after I moved, and I would say, ‘no, why?’ I think this is something that we can come back from, and I think it can be a much greater city than what it was before, and it certainly has.”

“Home is, to me, it’s where you go and you just forget about everything else,” she said. “It’s where you’re the most comfortable, but it’s also that one place where all your troubles come. Somehow because it’s home, you end up just letting it melt away, and I feel that a lot of people unfortunately don’t have that situation. That’s another reason why I feel like Habitat is a great mission, but it’s something that a lot of times is underappreciated. Not just owning a home, but having a place where you can go to and call home, that’s your own little space.”