Michigan’s BIPOC Creative Community is Booming

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When I was getting ready to visit Michigan last year I thought, “Are there going to be other people who look like me?” As a Latina who loves to travel, and often travels solo, this question crosses my mind. And for many BIPOC travelers, this may have crossed your mind as well. It can be intimidating traveling to a new place not knowing if you can identify with the community, but I’m here to share that there is a place for BIPOC travelers – and there are thriving Black and Latine residents doing incredible things throughout the state of Michigan. 

Food Connects Us All

In recent years, Detroit has been experiencing a fast-growing culinary scene. From pop-ups, sustainable restaurants, recognition from the James Beard Foundation, and more, the city is quickly becoming a food hub. Food is something that connects us as people and as travelers visiting a new city, so naturally you might want to add some of the best and emerging restaurants to your itinerary.

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Credits: Unsplash

Detroit-born chef, entrepreneur, and food activist, Kiki Bokungu Louya is a star in the city’s culinary scene, and she’s doing incredible things. Louya is a first-generation Congolese American who gained recognition as a visionary in the American food industry. She founded Folk, an award-winning brunch restaurant, known for its delicious waffles and “Farm Sammie,” with the mission to support the fair treatment of food and farm workers alike. She also founded Nest Egg Detroit, the country’s first all-women-owned hospitality group.

Credit: folkdetroit

The popular Bravo series Top Chef tapped Louya to be a contestant in the show’s 18th season, which premiered in the spring of 2021. In addition to displaying her culinary skills, she hoped her presence on the show would increase visibility and representation of BIPOC creatives in media. With the fast-growing food scene, we can only hope that there will be more chefs and culinary professionals who will follow her lead.

Louya works with local community partners to develop economic strategies for the growth and advancement of Northwest Detroit’s commercial corridors with special attention to human-centered design and green infrastructure. She is also a Certified Market Manager and the planning force behind the Northwest Detroit Farmers’ Market 2020 Season.

You’re Never Too “Anything” To Create Art

When visiting a new city, museums or art galleries might be on your itinerary. You might even have art hanging from the walls of your hotel or take a selfie in front of a mural in a hip neighborhood you stumble upon. Art makes us feel, art is self-expression, and art is all around us. Some of us create art as a hobby; very few of us do it as a profession. But for 92-year-old Nora Chapa Mendoza – a painter, educator, and activist – art is life.

Credit: Kresge Foundation’s X

Nora Chapa Mendoza was born in Texas, just miles away from the Mexican border. In her twenties, she relocated to Detroit, where she has remained an influential figure in the city’s vibrant arts scene. In 1978, Mendoza co-founded Nuestras Artes de Michigan (NAM) alongside a group of fellow Latine artists. Additionally, she played a pivotal role as a founding member of the Michigan Hispanic Cultural/Art Association (MHCC). Demonstrating her entrepreneurial spirit, Mendoza inaugurated Galeria Mendoza, her own art gallery, in 1981. It marked a significant milestone as the “first legitimate Latin American art gallery ever established in Detroit.” Despite its success, she eventually shut down the gallery to channel her energies into her own artistic endeavors.

Over the years Mendoza has received numerous awards and accolades. She has also gained recognition for celebrating her mixed Native American heritage, earning the title of certified elder of Kanto al Pueblo in Mesa, Arizona, during the 1980s. Mendoza is truly a trailblazer in the Detroit arts scene and is beloved for her lifelong involvement in various causes including the fight for farm workers, labor rights for migrants, and women’s rights.

You can visit galleries throughout Michigan that showcase work from BIPOC artists:

Galeria Mendoza | Casa de Rosado Galeria and Cultural Center | 204 E. Mount Hope Ave, Lansing, MI

Buckham Gallery | 121 W 2nd St, Flint, MI

Center for African American Art at the Detroit Institute of Arts | 5200 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 

Lindo Mexico Gallery | 1742 28th ST SW, Wyoming MI 

Sharing First-Gen Stories 

First-generation children can have many hardships such as self-identity, financial strain, educational hurdles, and more. Writer, producer, and filmmaker, Cynthia Martinez, grew up with similar struggles as a Latina in Holland, Michigan and she saw an opportunity to document first-gen student struggles in First Voice Generation

First Voice Generation is a documentary film directed and produced by Martinez that follows the stories of three Latine high school students in Holland, Michigan, during the global pandemic year. Growing up in a historically Dutch community can feel isolating for these children of immigrants as they were faced with many challenges and the dream of going to college.

Martinez never anticipated becoming a filmmaker, but upon recognizing the obstacles hindering Latine access to higher education, she felt compelled to alter this narrative and enhance Hispanic/Latine representation through education. First Voice Generation is now an award-winning film touring the country at film festivals and colleges.

There are various smaller and independent film festivals that take place in Michigan. Be sure to check them out:

Credit:  firstvoicegeneration

Ann Arbor Film Festival: In its 62nd year, the Ann Arbor Film Festival is North America’s oldest avant-garde and experimental film festival.

East Lansing Film Festival: The East Lansing Film Festival is a non-profit organization that showcases independent films in the mid-Michigan area.

Freep Film Festival: The Freep Film Festival is a documentary-focused festival aimed to feature films that highlight the issues, people, and places in and around Detroit and the state of Michigan.

Capital City Film Festival: The Capital City Film Festival showcases an eclectic mix of independent films, live music, and interactive media, from artists all over the world.

Michigan has gained much diversity over the last 20 years and is home to prospering artists, pioneers, and inspiring individuals. Whether you’re looking to explore Detroit’s emerging food scene, Traverse City’s wineries and vineyards, the museums and art and culture in Ann Arbor, or the Upper Peninsula’s scenic natural beauty, Michigan has a place for you.

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