Esther Fuentes left the rest of her family behind in Nicaragua in 1992, traveling with only her mother and two sisters to the United States. They moved to Cleveland, Ohio, to begin a new life. Fuentes started a comfortable career as a banker, but she needed more. She aspired to help other Latinos in the U.S. who had struggles similar to hers.
“I remember when I came to the U.S. and didn’t speak any English,” she said. “It was very hard, and people here work very hard, but sometimes it’s just about where to find information because they don’t have the ability to communicate.”
Fuentes, 43, now fulfills this aspiration as the Board President at El Centro Comunal Latino and the assistant manager at Old National Bank. Splitting her time between the two jobs is challenging, but she said they give her a sense of fulfillment. They incorporate her love for helping others, specifically the Latino community in Bloomington.
El Centro is a 15-year-old nonprofit that helps the Latino population in Bloomington. The organization offers health programs, translation, tutoring, youth mentoring, cultural competency training and cultural events.
“I’ve always been active in the community,” she said. “The first thing I asked when coming was where do I need to go to be involved.”
After moving from Nicaragua, Fuentes decided to use this turning point in her life to make a difference for others in similar situations.
“The best part is knowing that I can help someone just by providing information,” she said. “By providing the knowledge, whether it’s financial or medical, it always helps.”
Fuentes moved from Managua to Cleveland, Ohio with her mother and two sisters. The rest of her family stayed in Nicaragua. Although she worries for them every day due to the tragedies occurring there, she knows how lucky she is for the opportunity to move.
“It made a 180-degree difference in my life,” she said. “I thank God and my mom for being able to be here. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Fuentes started her banking career in Cleveland. She moved to Bloomington in 2010 after a divorce and worked her way up to assistant manager at Old National Bank. Many customers couldn’t speak English, and she was the only bilingual employee. Now, customers drive as long as two hours to talk to Fuentes.
“I remember when I came to the U.S. and didn’t speak any English,” Fuentes said. “It was very hard. And people here work very hard, but sometimes it’s just about where to find information because they don’t have the ability to communicate.”
But before starting at El Centro, she said she still felt something was missing. While she was searching for more to complete her new life in Bloomington, a member of El Centro came to the bank.
“One day she came over to pick up a check from Old National,” she said. “I talked to her, and that’s how I got involved.”
Fuentes’ manager at Old National, April Bush, said she admires her for the way she incorporates her passion for the Latino community into her banking job as well.
“She has so much passion for it,” Bush said. “She helps more than she even realizes.”
Fuentes advocates for Latinos in Bloomington but said she wants to help all cultural groups. She hopes to increase acceptance of diversity in Bloomington and make all groups and individuals feel welcome.
“It’s hard as an individual from another place to come here and open up,” she said.
Fuentes said acceptance in Bloomington could improve if community groups are able to reach out to people at some level.
Fuentes found her place in Bloomington and doesn’t plan on leaving. As a banker, she is devoted. But as an advocate for cultural acceptance and an activist in the Latino community, she is full of passion.
“The best thing I get is knowing that I have the ability to make a change,” she said. “Knowing I made a difference to better lives in some way.”