Latin American center opens in new location

by Raiza Beltran

With bold colors, broad windows and the sounds of a live mariachi band playing in the background, the Resource Center of the Americas opened its doors Saturday at a new location in south Minneapolis.
Festive spirit filled the air as hundreds of visitors exchanged exuberant smiles and sang along with the music.
Formerly located in the Lutheran Episcopal Center at 317 17th Ave. S.E., the center has been looking for a new home since early 1998. On campus, the center was best known for its popular restaurant, Cafe of the Americas, located across the street in the Newman Center.
The resource center’s new 15,000-square-foot building on the corner of 27th Avenue, Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue sits in the center of the Longfellow neighborhood, a community seeing an increase of immigrant residents.
“There is a changing Latino presence here in Lake Street,” said Pam Costain, the center’s executive director. “The Longfellow Community Council was looking for an organization to aid in this.”
About 40,000 Latin Americans and people of Chicano heritage live in Minneapolis, and more than 100,000 live in Minnesota, according the center’s grand-opening pamphlet.
Costain said the center has plans for programs catering to the community’s needs, including English as a Second Language classes, Spanish literacy programs and bi-cultural family development projects.
First known as the Central America Resource Center in 1983, the organization was housed in the former Newman Center at 17th and University avenues southeast.
After the center needed more room to expand, staff members moved their offices across the street to the basement of the Lutheran Episcopal Center in 1991. The center’s restaurant, Cafe of the Americas, stayed in the Newman Center location.
“By 1998, we were running out of space,” Costain said. “We realized the University was more concerned with real estate, and we started looking around.”
Members of the organization contributed generously to the new south Minneapolis home, Costain said. Neighborhood residents Bill Halverstadt and Donna Holtan Halverstadt donated an 80-year-old building worth $362,000 to the center.
The entire project is expected to cost $1.6 million; donors contributed about $1.4 million.
The center now boasts three levels in the fully restored building. The Cafe of the Americas will offer its usual North, Central and South American dishes, specialty coffees and baked desserts in a brightly lit, street-level room with seating for 30.
“It’s our crowning achievement,” Costain said, referring to community efforts supporting the center.
However, the center’s biggest attraction is a bilingual bookstore right next door with books specializing in Latin American issues. The resource center bookstore has the state’s largest supply of books written in both Spanish and English.
The center and cafe are open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. On Saturday, the resource center is open from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Raiza Beltran welcomes comments at She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3221.