Asa Zuccaro never bought into negative mythology about Mexico.
Stereotypical depictions of an impoverished nation where filth and violence were plagued every corner just didn’t resonate with his experience as the product of proud, hard-working Mexican immigrants who positively contributed to Flint.
After college he visited the nation to see things for himself. The self-discovery tour helped fuel a passion for a career serving immigrants and families like his. Recently named executive director of the Hispanic Technology & Community Center, he says he’s eager to empower multicultural residents throughout the city.
“We want to make sure that Latinos take pride in their culture,” says Zuccaro, 26. “We just had an election where there was a lot of oppressive speech and hate speech specifically directed at Latinos and Mexicans.”
Zuccaro comes from a family line of leaders in the city. His grandfather is one-time boxer Jesse Ascentio, who for decades oversaw the CERCA (Community Education Recreation and Cultural Awareness) Boxing Team, a free east side recreation program. Ascentio also marched with Latino rights activist Cesar Chavez, while other Ascentios operate businesses in the city.
Zuccaro and the Hispanic Technology & Community Center will host a celebration of Chavez’s on March 31, which would have been his 91st birthday, at Mott Community College.
It was during college when Zuccaro began feeling the call to commit himself to promoting Flint’s diversity and culture. An Africana studies and psychology major at the University of Michigan-Flint, he was active in student leadership and programming when he observed low enrollment and academic challenges among scholars of color. At one point he was one of only about five Latino students on campus. He began collaborating with members of the Black Student Union to support campus diversity.
Zuccaro graduated in 2014 and felt a deeper yearning to research his roots.
“I needed to learn more about my own culture. I’m a couple generations down, so I wanted to see how active it was in my life,” he says.
“I was really curious to see, ‘How Mexican was I?’”
Just 30 days after graduating he visited Mexico, where he taught English as a second language, living with a foreign exchange student who’d previously studied in Flint.
Not only was he glad he’d never bought into negative stereotypes about his family’s native country, his heart swelled with pride.
“It was beautiful,” he remembers. “It was literally the promised land.”
On returning to Flint he wanted to make a career of changing the social atmosphere in higher education. But there weren’t many diversity coordinators or similar positions that seemed to fit his ideal job description.
“At that point I really wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t know how to go about obtaining that,” Zuccaro says.
After two years working in corporate and business positions he found his answer through AmeriCorps. Seeking an opportunity to gain experience in the non-profit sector, he saw a perfect fit when the organization launched the Flint Recovery Corps in 2017. Flint Recovery Corps staffs local agencies with full-time and part-time professionals or students to help address the long-term needs of residents impacted by the water crisis.
“When I heard about that I said, ‘I got to be a part of it.’ I couldn’t think of there being a better fit,” Zuccaro says.
While supporting immigrants and other residents in such areas as food security and literacy through Flint Recovery Corp, he gained experience in non-profit management, community impact and more.
When Zuccaro learned of the position at Hispanic Technology & Community Center he again felt called to serve. He was named executive director March 1.
Among his goals are establishing a strategic plan and generally helping to re-establish “a strong sense of community” among Flint’s Latinos. He says the Center will collaborate with organizations like Latinos United for Flint.
Having married a Mexican wife who immigrated to the city and is still learning English, Zuccaro recognizes firsthand the need to promote more inclusion.
And while he remains appreciative of others who represent diverse backgrounds, the Hispanic Technology & Community Center post presents a platform to support families like the one that produced him.
“There are really no other people that I’d rather work with than the Hispanic community in Flint,” Zuccaro says. “These are truly my people.”
— Lead photo by Danen Williams