On a late July weekend, the area outside Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio (Latino Communities United In Service) is bustling with activity, including food distribution and a vaccine clinic.
“It’s like a little health and wellness fair,” said Janelle Calvo-Nieto, food access coordinator for CLUES. “We are expecting 200 people to show up. We’re going to have fresh produce, fruits and meat, as well.”
CLUES is located on East Seventh Street in St. Paul. The nonprofit social services organization was founded in 1981 by and for Latinos to provide culturally and linguistically relevant services. Over the years, it has helped many Latino families in the Twin Cities by striving to build community connections and targeting resources to Latinos in need.
In Minnesota, 5.5% of the population is Latino, for a total population of 309,283 Latinos, according to CLUES. Of those Latinos living in Minnesota, 21% are living under the poverty level.
One of CLUES’ latest projects is a community garden that aims to give Latino families fresh produce. CLUES has many services available to Latinos in the area. As well as those services, it also has many activities and events planned for community members.
Patricia Morales, a volunteer and community member, said through a translator, “CLUES has helped me in many ways, especially economic ways. Like how food prices are going up, especially fresh produce.” Morales has also participated in computer classes through CLUES.
Reyna Lopez, a community member, started volunteering at CLUES in January.
“I met a lot of Latinos there, people from my country I have never met before and that is amazing,” she said.
Many people have had similar experiences through CLUES.
Jennifer Peña, an intern at CLUES, said that filling community needs is activism.
“This fake activism that goes around in the Twin Cities, a lot of the time people will be like, ‘Oh yeah, let’s go protest,’ and they use the protests as an excuse to think that’s what actual change is when actual change is laws and actually doing things that will better the community.”
Lopez said when she’s not in the Twin Cities she faces racism and microaggressions, which is why the community that CLUES is building is so important to Latino people. She recalled once ordering a Coke at a bar outside of the Twin Cities; the server asked her what she was doing there and if she spoke English.
“It’s not happening in the Twin Cities area but outside it’s happening all the time,” Lopez said. At CLUES, she said she can connect with open-minded people and share experiences and culture.
The name of CLUES’ community garden, Jardin de Armonia y Accion, reflects that type of healthy, positive and accepting environment. The name, which translates to The Garden of Harmony and Action, is a new symbol, Morales said, of a harmonious community.