Virginia Nunes Gutierrez beams at me from behind the counter of Bottoms Up Coffee Co-Op where she is now a budding barista and community advocate. The shop – which opened this past March of 2016 – is the realized product of Virginia and sister, Victoria Calderón Nunes’s, dream to revitalize and empower Franklinton. Proceeds from each cup of coffee combat the infant mortality rate in Columbus, Ohio (which are among the worst in the country), while the building gives start-ups and entrepreneurs space to work and collaborate.
A black and white mural blankets the west exterior of Bottoms Up. It’s the painted replica of an old photograph taken after Columbus’s great flood of 1913 knocked two homes at the corner of W. Broad and S. Cypress Streets to their sides. Virginia and Victoria commissioned this artwork as a nod to the challenges Franklinton and its residents have faced and continue to overcome.
By understanding the historic struggle of Franklinton, the sisters seek to reinforce pre-existing strengths of the place many residents still refer to as “The Bottoms.” As we sat in the sunny interior of Bottoms Up, Virginia kindly spoke to me – in between making lattes for customers – about her experience building the shop and a community here in Columbus, Ohio. Below are excerpts from our conversation on assisting communities in need, identifying as Latina, and experiencing difference:
Virginia speaks on revitalization in Franklinton:
🎧 Listen (2:58)
“What we don’t want is great revitalization and economic development to displace people who have been here 30-plus years.
[We’re] figuring out how we can do this intentionally… so with a for-profit model… part of the funds from the coffee shop go toward organizations that are working towards lowering infant mortality, since Franklinton is a hotspot for infant mortality.”
Our conversation on Columbus and family:
🎧 Listen (3:51)
“Seeing that people from a lot of different places come together and live in harmony in the same city is really awesome. In the nonprofit world something that concerned me too is that you see a lot of positive things for a lot of people, but there’s still a large population of people living in poverty. Since there are resources out there… there’s a disconnect or a gap somewhere.”
“Those of us who see Columbus as an opportunity city need to make it part of our social responsibility to make sure our community is also feeling it [these resources] across the board – no matter what zip code you’re born into…”
The tricky question of identity and experiencing difference in Columbus:
🎧 Listen (3:06)
“I identify my self as Hispanic, Latina, Venezuelan, but it took a while to get there… to think about – where am I from!?… I think it comes down to where you spend a lot of your time… But this changes and it’s not black or white ever.”
“There are micro-aggressions that happen every day that you don’t really notice… little things you always wonder: ‘Is it because of how I look?’ or ‘Is it because of how I talk?’ that you’re treated differently? But the positive experiences definitely outweigh the negative.”
Unless otherwise noted, all photos and text are copyrighted to Leticia Wiggins. Music for introduction & interlude by The Original Soundtrack (thanks, guys!).