When Adriana Chavela emigrated from Mexico City to Hendersonville in 2003 — joining her parents who had lived there since 1996, when her father retired as a pilot for Aero Mexico — the resident Hispanic community was still very small. “There was one Mexican store on Four Seasons Boulevard,” she remembers. “But they didn’t have a carniceria or many of the things we needed. To get things to cook, we went to the La Unica Mexican store in Greenville once a week.”
As the Hispanic community in Hendersonville grew, so did Chavela’s vision to nurture that growth and build bridges between immigrants and the existing community. In the freshly painted entry of the 100-year-old Ernest W. Ewbank home in Jackson Park, the center is now running with activities such as salsa and bachata dancing, folklore for adults and kids and different networking events. An open house will take place on Thursday, March 26.
“The house hasn’t been used much over the years, so people who come to the park for walking and tennis have been stopping in and asking what is happening,” Chavela says. “When we tell them, they want to know when we will be open and how to be involved. They have been very welcoming.”
The Hola Cultural Center is intended to provide a central, physical location where people from all cultures can connect through the arts. It will serve as an active partner in the educational, economic and cultural development of diverse groups of people in Western North Carolina.
The timeline of the center can be traced to 2013. After two companies she worked for closed their Hendersonville offices, Chavela launched Hola Carolina magazine. “I had two kids on my own and no job. The idea for the magazine came to me in a dream, and I used my last $200 to put together a media kit,” she says. “I knocked on doors everywhere and sold the first copy in two weeks.”
Hola Carolina was by no means an overnight success, but its exposure and influence spread when the magazine began sponsoring and producing Hendersonville’s International Children’s Day Festival in Jackson Park and creating new multicultural celebrations such as Fiesta Hendersonville in downtown Hendersonville and Hola Asheville in Pack Square Park.
When applying for permits and soliciting sponsorships, Chavela was consistently asked if Hola Carolina was part of a nonprofit organization. The magazine did not, so she went to the Community Foundation of Henderson County for advice. “When Adriana asked us for help in starting a nonprofit to support some of the things she wanted to do, we pointed her in the direction of other groups doing similar things,” remembers McCray Benson, president and CEO. “They really took the reins and sought out similar groups and mentors.”
In 2017, Hola Community Arts was approved as a 501(c)(3), and, shortly after, applied for funding from the Community Grant Program. “[Organizers] started discussing having a cultural center, open for everyone regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, race or background,” says Benson. “They envisioned a place to share not only culture but to educate and welcome diverse groups and support understanding across all groups. It felt like such a positive approach to things that have been challenging to communities and a medium in which we could look for how to be best neighbors and friends.”
“After every festival, we had people come to us, asking where they could take a class in dance or folklore or cooking or language,” says Chavela. “They were so interested to learn more, and I would explain that we didn’t have a space. It became clear that what was needed was a permanent, physical space.” One day, when she and her husband, Ron Stamey, were driving through Jackson Park, they saw the Ewbank house and thought it might be a possibility.
“We saw we might be able to accommodate some leased office space to them and asked them to make a proposal to present to the Board of Commissioners,” says Carleen Dixon, director of the Henderson County Parks and Recreation Department. “I think in every situation we work to embrace anyone who has an interest in using parks and our facilities to create partnerships to allow us to reach more people we may not otherwise. Those partnerships are a great asset to the community and its citizens.”
Hola Community Arts received approval from the Board of Commissioners on Nov. 4. “It is exciting to have a place our volunteers can come as we plan festivals and where vendors can apply for space,” says Chavela. “We can do pre-festival meetings and a post-festival reception here to say thank you.”
She points to Cocina Latina as a successful program of Hola Community Arts that can grow in the cultural center. “Cocina Latina started with a few single mothers who wanted to start food businesses but were cooking in unauthorized kitchens. They wanted to sell at our festivals, but we couldn’t allow it,” she explains. “One of our board members suggested we start a program with classes to teach the women how to do it in a regulated way. We brought in people from the health department, from insurance [companies] and Mountain BizWorks to teach them the business. We held the classes in a church and other nonprofit spaces, and two of those women have started their own businesses. Now we can do the classes in our own place and help more women, and men, too.”
Another office in the HCC is outfitted as a video production studio where Hola Carolina Arts and Hola Carolina magazine film videos for their social media platforms and that also will be available for use by community members. “I hope youths come together to use it, to create videos for their peers,” Chavela says. “At our festivals, we have volunteers from UNC Asheville and Warren Wilson College who work with young people from the immigrant community. They are the same age but have such different lives. Working together, they are both exposed to other worlds.”
The first floor is shared space with the Parks and Recreation Department, and use of it must be scheduled through that agency. Chavela envisions the larger rooms being used for visual art exhibitions, live music and dance classes (some of which is already happening).
“When we have our festivals, we try to bring everyone together. Not just the Latin culture but all the different people of the community, to show no one is alone,” says Chavela. “The family that donated this house to the county could not know that one day it would be the Hola Cultural Center, but I hope they would be proud of what we are doing.”
WHAT:Hola Cultural Center open house
WHERE: 801 4th Ave. East, Hendersonville, holacommunityarts.org
WHEN:Thursday, March 26, 5-8 p.m.