Sept. 15-Oct. 15 is recognized as Hispanic Heritage Month. MCAN invited Anita I. Martinez, executive director of the Michigan Hispanic Collaborative, to reflect on her college experience and how it ties into her current work.

Like most people, I expected my educational and professional life to be linear; I would go to school, get a job, and find a way to give back to my family and my community. These core values have always been my guiding compass. For the most part, this has been my path, but there have been challenges along the way.

I grew into my identity as a proud Latina of Puerto Rican descent during my high school and undergraduate years. As a Southwest Detroiter, I commuted every day to a predominantly white, all girls suburban high school. I was constantly moving between “dos mundos,” two worlds. I was the only Latina in my high school graduating class. This experience taught me the value of perseverance, expressing my voice, and working hard.

These lessons were invaluable during my time as an undergrad at the University of Michigan. Without any formal mentorship, I stumbled forward. I had to figure out all the hidden rules to college success that seemed to come so naturally to those around me. It was easy to let imposter syndrome kick in while coexisting with others that didn’t eat the same arroz con gandules, roll their r’s in Spanish class like I did, or have a full appreciation for the challenges I persevered against to be in the classroom with them.

After graduating, my career started in the corporate sector. Once again, I was one of the only Latinas in the room advocating for my own community. Over time, my desire to make a direct impact drew me to community-focused work.

Fast-forward to 2022. I am humbled and honored to be working in community development as the first executive director of the Michigan Hispanic Collaborative. Our vision is to “strengthen Michigan’s economy and eradicate Hispanic poverty through higher education and career success.”

Many of the Hispanic parents and students we work with tell us that they sometimes feel unseen. Throughout my journey, I have known that feeling as well. There is still a lot of work to be done to remove the screen of Hispanic invisibility in our Michigan communities and ensure their movement out of poverty.

In Michigan, over 20% of Hispanics live below the poverty line, and that number doubles to 40% for Hispanics in Detroit. Currently, Michigan Hispanics graduate college at about a 20% rate, and that number is just 8% in Detroit. Hispanics are highly overrepresented manual labor, service, and non-credentialed workforces. We need to improve the Hispanic professional workforce pipeline so that Latinos can advance to corporate spaces and don’t feel invisible like I did when they get there.

To learn more about MiHC and what we’re doing to address these issues, please visit or follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.