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¡Viva Oklahoma! offers an opportunity to experience the Latino community’s growing economic and political growth



Wherever he drives in Oklahoma City, David Castillo sees new, Hispanic-owned businesses cropping up, far beyond Commerce Street. Increasingly, he said, the Latino community has thrived beyond the confines of a few square blocks on the city’s south side, which makes Saturday’s ¡Viva Oklahoma! Hispanic Chamber Expo and Career Fair, a business expo focusing on the growing Hispanic market for goods and services, so timely.

“It used to be just 25th or 29th Street,” said Castillo, Greater Oklahoma City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, about the community’s success. “Now, you drive down 44th or 59th Street, and you’re seeing new businesses opening up everywhere, so it’s incredible growth. And that’s just the south side. If you go to Bethany, if you go to Warr Acres, the Guatemalan community is growing tremendously over in that area.”

The expo runs 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday at Plaza Mayor at the Crossroads, 7000 Crossroads Blvd., and features more than 150 vendors, including retailers, universities, health services and hospitals and banks and credit unions, reaching out to the metro area’s growing Latino community.

Organizations do not necessarily have to be Hispanic-owned to be members of the chamber, which means that companies such as El Nacional Media Group share space on the roster with Lowe’s Home Improvement.

¡Viva Oklahoma! Hispanic Chamber Expo and Career Fair also hosts a career fair, creating an opportunity for companies to recruit from the community. Castillo said the career fair also is a prime hiring opportunity for businesses needing bilingual employees.

Saturday’s event also includes a talent contest, two live bands, mariachi performers and folkloric dancing. Oklahoma City Thunder and Oklahoma City Energy Football Club also will host sports activities for young attendees.

The Hispanic community’s power on a population level is now being felt on a political level. On July 11, immigration attorney and Democrat Michael Brooks-Jimenez won the state Senate seat for District 44, which is located in southwest OKC.

Castillo said Oklahoma’s demographic shifts are being felt on many levels, including increased buying power for Hispanics in the state.

“It’s actually $7.8 billion across Oklahoma,” he said of the economic impact. “We have over 400,000 Hispanics in Oklahoma, and [the demographic is] continually growing. Just look at Oklahoma City Public Schools — it’s about 55 percent Hispanic now, which is about a 20 percent increase in 10 years.”

The actual increases in Latino-owned business ownership help to raise the commercial power of the demographic. Castillo said the energy of the marketplace is reflected in the sheer number of people inquiring with or joining the Greater Oklahoma City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“We’ve seen big increases in Hispanic-owned businesses in recent years,” he said. “Recently, Oklahoma City was No. 2 in the nation for new Hispanic business growth, and Tulsa was No. 1. There are over 10,000 Hispanic businesses, and it’s growing every day. We see five to 10 people a week in our offices wanting to open new businesses.”

At the center of all this vibrancy is the Historic Capitol Hill district, located on SW 25th Street near Robinson Avenue. In 1996, the area was designated the Capitol Hill Urban Design District. One year later, Capitol Hill became an official Main Street community.

In the ensuing decade, the area that was a major commercial destination in the mid-20th century but lost much of its businesses to the growing popularity of malls like Crossroads Mall started repopulating its storefronts with over $15 million in private and public capital investment.

Now, the investment is accelerating. Earlier this year, developers Steve Mason and Aimee Ahpeatone acquired the former Yale Theatre for redevelopment.

In many ways, Plaza Mayor represents a full-circle development for the Latino community. Castillo said the former Crossroads Mall was nearly dead when it was rechristened Plaza Mayor at the Crossroads.

Now, Capitol Hill and the mall that displaced much of its business, Plaza Mayor, are being revitalized largely by Latino investment. Castillo said he welcomes the infusion of activity and funding in both locations.

“The more traffic you get, the more business you’re going to get,” he said. “And you don’t have to be Latino to buy in a Latino store. It opens the market for everybody.”

Print headline: ¡Viva Oklahoma!, An expo offers locals and businesses an opportunity to experience the Latino community’s growing economic and political growth.

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