Capital Ideas: Vincent Delgado

Unable to resist the allure of Central America, Vincent Delgado and some friends bought round trip tickets to Acapulco, Mexico after college. But after they landed, they just kept heading south, eventually settling in Antigua, Guatemala. Tossing out their return tickets, they turned a small adventure into a two-year life experience.

When Delgado returned, he worked as a political reporter for the Lansing State Journal (LSJ) and became deeply attached to the refugee community. He left the LSJ and started working with refugees through St. Vincent Catholic Charities. After several years, he co-founded the Refugee Development Center with the former pastor of Christ Lutheran Church, Rev. David Thiele in an attempt provide educational resources for refugees while connecting them to the community.

Delgado continues to work with the international community, just on a larger scale. Delgado is the academic specialist for Michigan State University’s (MSU) Residential College in the Arts and Humanities (RCAH). He’s deeply engaged with the idea of civic engagement — working with students to weave them into the fabric of their community, both regionally and internationally.

Capital Gains recently sat down with him for a talk about education, community involvement and the Capital region's future.

Capital Gains: What is the nexus of the RCAH model?

Vince Delgado: One of the ideas is that good, strong, useful, engaged arts and humanities work should be engaged.

When we talk about it that way, we’re talking about being engaged in a community of learning, a community of scholarship, but also engaged in the community that’s impacted by that work. If you’re doing community arts you should be understanding why it’s import to be connected to the community and working with the community to develop that work.

There continues to be competing ideas about engagement. It comes out of services and volunteering work that’s been done from the ground — work that’s been laid since the 60s and 70s. Engagement seeks a deeper involvement or deeper look at community involvement.

It needs to be an interactive relationships where you’re reflecting on your relationships, and what you’re doing, and whether you’re effective and really committed to the community. There’s also this whole idea of passion — this popular quote that says, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” So it’s about being passionate about what you do and celebratory and connected.

CG: Does the Lansing community understand and participate in community engagement?

VD:  There are people and, I think, the nation as a whole, who are starting to come around to this notion that we need to begin to consider our work in the community outside of the standardized or mass industrialized way of looking at it — the model that says it’s a matter of how many people are putting hoursin, and how many hours they’re putting in, and if those are high, itmust be successful.

The engagement model that people are trying to comearound to is that actually, it’s not [that]. It should be about how deeply we’re engaged together, how deeply we’re building relationships that matter and how sustainable those relationships are, long term.

You see that with this whole movement in the country toward sustainability. It used to be, "How many Priuses can we crank out and get people to buy?" The whole discussion is now going to "How efficient can we make our own homes? How can we do something that matters?"

I think it’s a great shift in the way people are looking at things, and I think that’s happening in Lansing and the rest of the country.

CG: During one of your Chautauqua experiences in Detroit, you came back with this idea about community investment in infrastructure. What does that mean?

VD: We were in Midtown. We met with folks involved with economic development groups and there were a couple of interesting things that I had never heard before.

This may be unique to Detroit because there’s been such a strong disinvestment in the city, but there’s this whole notion that infrastructure in cities — and when I mean cities I mean the city governments — can’t necessarily be relied upon to develop and maintain critical infrastructure. It could mean roads, police presence or security. It could mean lights or community fabric development such as community gardens and those types of things.

The disinvestment in Detroit is such that now neighbors are starting to say, "We have to do this ourselves." So in Midtown, they’re building their own medians; they’re putting in their own traffic lights and that’s something I’ve never heard of before.

The most interesting thing about it is that it appears the foundation community has kind of decided that they need to kind of take the lead in finding places in Detroit that are area assets that need to be fostered, nurtured and strengthened in order for Detroit to turn around.

CG: What is the disconnect between community diversity and the resources supporting that community?

VD: We need to talk about what we have, and a lot of times there’s discussions about how immigrants and refugees sort of lead the ways into great neighborhoods and then they revitalize them and upkeep and fix the houses. That’s the model — they become the neighborhoods that attract the artistic community and others and it becomes the place to be and off we go.

Because we have such a diverse community, that model doesn’t necessarily fit. Because that would mean that immigrants would basically just make all of our community vibrant. 

However, it’s also that model that presupposes that immigrants and refuges are given resources to reinvigorate our housing stock, and I don’t think that necessary true in our community. And there’s a reason for that.

One is the incredibly diversity. Places where that model fits are places like Minneapolis or Dearborn, where there’s been one group from one region of the world who has come in and has connections to each other and connections to places elsewhere, so resources are coming back and forth globally. They kind of rebuild the community that way, through their ethnic group, through their connections.

Lansing, on the other hand, has one of the most diverse areas. We don’t have one large group. We have pockets of a couple hundred here, a couple hundred there, from all over the world. There’s almost not enough capacity for one group to reinvigorate one particular neighborhood.

The other issue, and this is related, is that if you have one group, they can gain some political power, where they can go to the philanthropic community and can get some assistance and work with the city. When you have lots of diverse groups, there’s not one group that can begin to do that.

For that reason, I think refugees and immigrants in Mid-Michigan need a stronger welcome from the entire community: business leaders that welcome them into their networks, teachers that help them become strong partners in our schools and colleges, government officials that work together with them to navigate our bureaucracies and neighbors that are happy to show them around. It’s almost as if the region needs a centralized clearing house to make sure our welcome is robust and backed by a real — not just words —welcome.

CG: Are the creative class and the entrepreneurial class different?

VD: State leadership in part is talking about the knowledge economy as an area of the economy that could help the state and at the same time they’re talking about entrepreneurship. People kind of put those in two different classes.

There’s been some folks that have been thinking a lot about this — and it’s not just me — that these areas are more linked, and the way to look at both of them is by basically looking at the world around us and figuring out, "How do we come up with ways of adding value to what we have so creativity tries new things?"

Entrepreneurship is not about franchising small pizzerias. A lot of times entrepreneurship is about looking at the landscape and thinking, "How do I add value to the resources that exist and either give them back to the community in a way that they add value" —that’s social entrepreneurship — "or sell it to the community to support my family?" In both of those, there’s some connection between creativity and entrepreneurship.

Another interesting connection is the failure model that both use. Entrepreneurs and artistic creative types also know that you have to fail, and there can’t be a fear of failure. The model is fail, fail, fail, succeed some. 

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Ivy Hughes is the managing editor of Capital Gains and can be reached here

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.


Vince Delgado at his office at MSU

All Photographs © Dave Trumpie

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