Building bridges


AMIGOS seeks to create opportunities for Mexicans in Indiana

By Mark Ambrogi

Cecilia Alvarez-Heard considers herself a Hoosier now, but she has always been a Mexican as well.

Alvarez-Heard moved from Mexico on July 24, 2002, to be with Andrew Heard, whom she married in November 2003. Andrew Heard, originally from England, is engineer for XTrac, a company of transmission technology specialists who work with racing teams.

Alvarez-Heard, who lives in Zionsville with her family, has long wanted to do more for Mexicans in Central Indiana.

So she started AMIGOS, acronym for Amigos of Mexicans in Indiana Generating Opportunities. Alvarez-Heard serves as the founder and president of the nonprofit organization, which started in September 2014.

“Our mission is to bring education opportunities and be a bridge between Mexicans and Hoosiers in Indiana,” she said. “We want to promote our Mexican culture.”

Alvarez-Heard had noticed a void because other countries from Hispanic heritage had Central Indiana groups, such as Colombians, Venezuelans and Peruvians.

“It was amazing because we are the majority of the minority,” Alvarez-Heard said of the Mexicans. “We have around 90,000 Mexicans in Central Indiana.”

Making a difference

In addition to working on programs for the communities, Alvarez-Heard wants to find ways to help victims of domestic violence in the Hispanic community.

“We have a passion to help those with domestic violence,” said Alvarez-Heard, adding that she is starting a support group. “I have a passion to help people and the ladies in my organization also have that passion. We want to make a difference. It’s a big commitment. I want to show that we Mexicans can do positive things for Indiana.”

The group has participated in different festivals and the Indianapolis 500 parade. They helped put on Children’s Day at the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis in April.

Alvarez-Heard, from Monterrey, Mexico, met her husband when he was there working for a Champ Car race (open-wheel racing).

“I’m very proud to be Mexican, but I’m happy to live here now,” Alvarez-Heard said. “Indiana is a place for opportunities, and I have three kids who are Hoosiers. The winters are longer, but it’s all right. It’s a great, friendly place to live. This is our home.”

Alvarez-Heard’s group, AMIGOS, has 12 female volunteers, including treasurer Pamela Gemmer who lives in the Nora area of Indianapolis. Gemmer lived for 37 years in Mexico and was previously married to a Mexican man.

“I’m in my mid-70s, but my AMIGOS friends are keeping me young,” Gemmer said.

Her two sons, Dan and David Valdes, were raised in Mexico City before moving to the United States while in high school. Both were national champion swimmers for Mexico.

“I’ve become quite Hispanic in my heart,” Gemmer said. “I attended a university in Mexico and taught in a university in Mexico, in an American school and in a Mexican bilingual school. I worked for a Mexican radio station that was affiliated with CBS.”

Gemmer went to Mexico for the first time when she was 18 and moved there when she was 25.

“I immigrated to Mexico, which was a very challenging process, and I think it allows me to understand the challenges the Mexican population faces with their immigration into the United States,” Gemmer said. “I can see how the lifestyle is different. They are coming from a very family-oriented society. They are removed from their family, so they have to find trust in community relationship and depend on a community of people rather than family. They have to create a new kind of family. I think I am very sensitive to those kind of issues and the lifestyle and mindset differences.”

Meet Cecilia Alvarez-Heard

Personal: She and her husband have three children, 2-year-old twins Stefani and Sebastian and Sophia, who turns 5 in July. She worked in human resources in Mexico.

Favorite TV show: “Modern Family.”

Favorite vacation spots: Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo Mexico and Thailand

Favorite restaurant in Zionsville: The Friendly Tavern

Favorite Mexican restaurant: The tacos at Carniceria Guanajuato, 5210 W. Pike Plaza Rd., Indianapolis

Favorite music: ABBA, Queen, The Beatles, Latin music

Favorite spot to take kids in Zionsville: Lions Park and The Scoop

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