Our Stronger Communities

It was sugar that launched our “stronger” Hispanic-influenced neighborhood in Southwest Detroit.

Southwest Detroit

The café’s founders, Jordi and Melissa, are Hispanic like almost half the residents of the new Council District 6 which includes the old neighborhood known as Southwest. The café is one of more than 1,000 locally-owned small businesses in Southwest.

Jordi is a Spaniard from Barcelona. Melissa’s parents came to Southwest from Mexico and she was born and raised in Detroit.

As it happened, the first Mexicans to travel north on the Missouri Railroad to Michigan were lured here in the early 1900s by something sweet: sugar beets and the promise of steady work in the fields.

By 1917, a few Mexican workers began arriving in Detroit looking to extend their work up north beyond the short sugar-beet-growing season. They settled first in the factory district near downtown and gradually moved west and south to Corktown and then Mexicantown in Southwest.

Gradually overcoming discrimination, our community’s Hispanics have come to work in Detroit’s stores and factories and to open their own businesses. The original Mexican immigrants have been joined by people from Puerto Rico and virtually every country in Central and South America.

Almost all Detroit’s Mexican immigrants were Catholics and the Detroit Archdiocese’s churches and schools played a big role in helping the community get started

The first exclusively Mexican church in the Great Lakes region was Our Lady of Guadalupe, organized in 1920 and officially opened on Oct. 12, 1923, just northwest of downtown. Funding came partly from 150 Mexican families who donated $6,000—the equivalent today of more than $80,000. The church was placed where Kirby and Roosevelt then crossed because the bishop thought the Mexican community would grow into that area. But, of course, they didn’t and that’s why the church closed in the 1957. Since WorldWar II, the community has centered along West Vernor Highway, where Café con Leche has been located since 2007.

Southwest and District 6 are now Detroit’s most diverse and vibrant neighborhood. We’re stronger because of our community’s diversity. The café is inspired by our love of Latin culture, but it’s dedicated to being a place where anyone and everyone will feel comfortable and welcomed.

(Our very brief history of the Hispanic community in Southwest draws on a few sources, including these books:

Latinos in Michigan by David A. Badillo

Proletarians of the North by Zaragosa Vargas

Detroit’s Mexicantown by Maria Elena Rodriguez

Our thanks, too, to the Archdiocese of Detroit and archivist Heidi Christein.)

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