We took some time recently to catch up with Jorge Riopedre, Executive Director at Delmar Divine to learn more about Hispanic Heritage Month.  Mark and Jorge are former Leadership St. Louis classmates and the first person who came to mind to share stories about his Hispanic heritage.  Oddly enough, when Mark introduced me to Jorge through email, I had just heard his name and the work he is doing with Delmar Divine at a Chamber of Commerce event the week prior and I thought – what an awesome guy, I have to meet him!  So what follows is more than just a celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, it’s the celebration and recognition of an incredible individual who is doing amazing work in the St. Louis community.

Jorge Riopedre – Executive Director Delmar Divine

B: Why is Hispanic Heritage Month so important?

J: In general, celebrating the heritage of members of our community is so important because we are a nation of immigrants.  We should take the opportunity to acknowledge and recognize their contributions that have made us a better country.

Specific to Hispanics, it is important to recognize and celebrate Hispanic heritage because Hispanics make up a significant part of the St. Louis community.  We have important relationships with Latin American sister cities.  I went with a World Trade Center St. Louis delegation to establish the one in Rosario, Argentina.  And did you know that Mexico, where we have a sister city in San Luis Potosí, is Missouri’s second largest trading partner?

B: What are we celebrating and why does the celebration run mid-month?

J: It would seem odd that the celebration spans 2 months but there is a very good reason!  Eight Latin America countries’ independence days fall between September 15 and October 15 although it’s very commonly misunderstood that Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of Mexico’s Independence Day.  We are celebrating the desire for sovereignty and independence of the Latin America countries.

  • Costa Rica: Sept. 15, 1821
  • El Salvador: Sept. 15, 1821
  • Guatemala: Sept. 15, 1821
  • Honduras: Sept. 15, 1821
  • Nicaragua: Sept. 15, 1821
  • Mexico: Sept. 16, 1810 (If you’re wondering, Cinco de Mayo isn’t a celebration of independence. Rather, it’s a relatively minor holiday in Mexico to mark an 1862 Franco-Mexican War victory at the Battle of Puebla.)
  • Chile: Sept. 18, 1810 (The Britain community in Valparaiso, Chile, gave the Arco Britanico, above, on Chile’s 100th anniversary of independence.)
  • Belize: Sept. 21, 1981


B: How do you celebrate?

J: Largely with food!  With more than 30 distinct cultures and countries in Latin America, there are variations in celebrations but one thing that we all have in common is that food is an expression of culture and central to celebration.

Food connects us, it’s an anchor point to our heritage, it has an emotional component for sure. There are three dishes that especially bring back memories for me – and we still cook them today in our home:

  • Ceviche – a traditional raw fish dish from Peru
  • Picadillo – Cuban beef hash
  • Pollo Zacatecas – a chicken dish with an incredible tomatillo sauce (see recipe below!)

In 2015, I went to Zacatecas on an Eisenhower Fellowship and I came home to tell my wife all about pollo zacatecas.  She is a great cook, looked up the recipe and perfected the dish!

Jorge contributed to this cookbook put out by Eisenhower Fellowships. The introduction in the cookbook talked about Kitchen Travels: The best way to experience the world is through food. Nothing brings one closer to the local culture than the smell, sound, and taste of the food of the region. Let’s share our favorite recipes and explore together. Travel to new, exciting, beautiful places in your kitchen and feel the different cultures and our friendship along the way. Through food we can share our memories and experiences and “leave marks” on our lives in new and great ways.

B: How have you/can we continue to raise awareness of Hispanic Heritage?

J: Prior to Delmar Divine, I spent the last 13 years working first at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and then at Casa de Salud.  It is so important to recognize how much Hispanics contribute to our culture and economy.  Sometimes we need a reminder that our future and prosperity depends on everyone around us.

Also consider that we aren’t celebrating something foreign or exotic.  We are rejoicing in the infusion of cultures and a brighter future!

B: How can others celebrate?

J: Celebrate with culture immersion!  Look up a recipe and cook it, just like my wife did.  If that’s not your skill, patronize a Hispanic restaurant.  Some of my favorites in St. Louis are Mango (Peruvian), Asador del Sur (Argentinian), and Las Palmas (Mexican).  Hop on Netflix and watch thriving Hispanic cinema or read books about Hispanic contributions in history.

The main point is to build awareness, a more meaningful connection and a better internal understanding of what led us to where we are today.  Understanding cultures that have become part of our national fabric is to better understand ourselves.

Learn more about Delmar Divine – Coming 2021

J: The “Delmar divide” is something we must address, and I am proud to be part of a project to bring economic opportunities and innovation to north city. 

Delmar Divine – Coming 2021

Delmar Divine is a social innovation, high impact real estate initiative that will set an example for community development, social improvement and collaboration in St. Louis and the nation.

Delmar Divine transforms good intentions into an action plan for working together, intentionally and deliberately. This mixed-use development for social innovators provides office space, shared services and other resources for not for profits, foundations and community support organizations. Delmar Divine will also feature approximately 150 apartments designed for the young, diverse professional, providing great and efficient spaces at reasonable prices. Through this initiative, and in collaboration with a host of other projects focusing on north city, we will begin the hard work of erasing this infamous dividing line of St. Louis so that we may, together, enjoy a more prosperous and just future.