Miel Athena Herrera
I was born in the U.S. and my parents are from Argentina. When my dad immigrated to the United States, Argentina was under a military dictatorship. He was only 16 and came to get away from that. My dad came alone and they weren’t refugees because that was in the 60’s when there was a lot of immigration from Latin America. Because my grandfather worked in a shipping company, travel was a little easier. I grew up in New Mexico and it was predominantly Latino. I didn’t experience much racism until I moved to Kansas, and I wasn’t excepting it. My dad migrated to a place where people spoke Spanish. In school, I learned English. When we decided to open Café Corazon, we looked at a bunch of places, but we go turned away as soon as seller heard “a Latino Coffeeshop.” It happened at least 10 times. We finally got our current location because the wall was falling but husband was able to fix it. The process of finding a place was depressing. I always went to coffee shops, and I knew that coffee was either grown in Latin America or Ethiopia. In a way this coffee was ours, our culture, and our roots. We didn’t want to be possessive, but we did want to make a stand to share the story the right way. Speaking Spanish was great with my business, but “others” did see me as outsiders. We didn’t get a lot of press and our business is not considered a big deal even though the community is open to us.
Ever since, people have opened different types of cultural cafes and it is a strength knowing we paved a path. When you are in business you become more resilient. You already are because of your immigrant experiences and background. When your household hasn’t been here for many generations, there are a lot of firsts. I was the first to go to college and I got into Columbia University, but I couldn’t afford it. Coming from an immigrant background and going through these experiences and challenges makes you more silent. People from Latin America come into our café or even people who studied there. This is a safe space for them because it reminds them of home. Students and people who are unaware of our culture come in to learn. This is a safe space for anyone that needs it. For any first-generation immigrant that wants to open a business, have a rock-solid business plan. You might walk into a place and not get a loan because you’re a person or color. Try to do something authentic and meaningful to make Kansas City a meaningful and better place. And, to my parents, thank you for helping me save money early on. Thank you for making me strong and knowing how to stand up to adversity.