The Elkhart Truth

GOSHEN, Ind. (AP) _ When Nayo Ulloa and his wife, Heather Bridger-Ulloa, reminisce about their time living in northern California, one of the first things they mention is the melting pot of cultures on the west coast.

“Every weekend, there was some kind of cultural event,” Bridger-Ulloa told The Elkhart Truth ( ). “There would be the Vietnamese festival or the Peruvian festival or the Cambodian festival. It’s just part of the fabric of daily life to the point where you kind of take it for granted, especially with the opportunities for kids.”

The couple moved to Goshen about 2 1/2 years ago to settle down in a smaller city closer to Bridger-Ulloa’s family. They landed among a circle of friends that included bilingual and multicultural families who said they wanted to find a place to help their kids learn about their heritage, folk music and dancing.

“There isn’t really anything like that, so we thought, if it doesn’t exist, maybe we can try to start something,” Bridger-Ulloa said.

Bridger-Ulloa is a trained interpreter and translator fluent in English and Spanish. Her husband was born and raised in Peru. He is a professional musician and adjunct professor who teaches Latino studies and Spanish at Goshen College.

During his time in Goshen, Ulloa said he has noticed that Latin-American residents are not well integrated with the rest of the community.

“Some of it is self-segregation from people wanting to feel comfortable with others that speak their own language and enjoy their culture,” Bridger-Ulloa added. “We found also that there aren’t a whole lot of public spaces and events where Spanish speakers and the larger English-speaking community can get together and get to know each other.”

Ulloa said opening a culture center has unveiled a complex web of sociological, political and economic barriers among the two communities. The barriers, he said, will be tough to break through, but he believes it is possible with the community’s willingness and cooperation.

The husband and wife envision the culture center as a place for children and adults. Ulloa hopes families are able to teach children about their background and give them an appreciation of where they come from.

“I think this is the time we really need to put something like this together,” said Elias Garcia, a Goshen resident who supports the couple’s efforts. “This is the time because we have a large Hispanic population, and there is a second generation of kids that is growing up, and they don’t know much about their culture.”

Goshen’s population was 28 percent Hispanic, according to the most recent U.S. Census count.

Terry Martin, a teacher at Parkside Elementary School, hopes the culture center will break down barriers through education.

“I think having a Latin-American culture and language center would help increase people’s awareness and appreciation for Latin-American culture and hopefully pave the way for a dual immersion school in Goshen,” he said.

A dual immersion school would teach students to read, write, speak and understand English and Spanish, Martin explained.

Ulloa, his wife and supporters have distributed surveys at schools, churches and health clinics throughout Goshen to gauge community needs and interest in a Latin-American culture center.

“We want to know what people want,” Ulloa said. “We also want to see what they can bring to the table, what they can contribute, like teaching language classes or teaching music or dancing.”

Bridger-Ulloa said the next step will be to establish a nonprofit organization and find a space for the center as she and her husband continue to generate support.