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Hispanic/Latino community thrives and evolves here

by Hugo Urizar

About the author
Hugo Urizar is president and owner of http://www.mercohispano.com and Advanced Translation Service. He serves as president of the Hispanic Political Action Committee (H-PAC), CEO of the Ohio Hispanic/Latino Democratic Party Caucus (statewide), and member of the Community Relations Board of the Cleveland Orchestra. Originally from Paraguay, he attended law school at The Universidad Nacional of Asuncion, Paraguay, and came to the U.S. in 1969. An American citizen, he graduated with a bachelor of arts from The Maxine Goodman College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University.

Like the rest of the United States, Cleveland's international population is changing each and every day. The Hispanic/Latino population is the largest-increasing population not only nationwide, but also in Ohio. This increase is in the process of creating great changes in Ohio's culture, lifestyle and economy.

According to recently released data, there are approximately 39 million Hispanics/Latinos living in the U.S. Based on the 2000 U.S. Census, the Hispanic/Latino population will reach approximately 52.7 million by the year 2020 and will grow to about 80.2 million by 2040. By 2050, Hispanic Americans could constitute 25 percent of the U.S. population - nearly 100 million people. By this projection, there will be twice as many Hispanics/Latinos as African Americans during the last 40 years of the 21st century.

Out of the nation's 31.1 million foreign-born residents, 16.1 million were born in Latin America, and 21.5 million Hispanics are of Mexican origin. Census data also demonstrates that the Hispanic/Latino population in the United States is young. Only 5.3 percent are past 65 years of age. In 2000, 35.7 percent were less than 18, compared with 23.5 percent of non-Hispanic whites. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Census. Projections of the Resident Population by Age,Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin 1999-2100. Issued January 13, 2001.)

In Ohio, the largest concentrations of Latino populations are in the counties of Cuyahoga, Franklin, Lucas, Lorain, Hamilton, Mahoning, Montgomery, Summit, Butler, Sandusky, Wood, Lake, Stark, Defiance, Fulton and Ashtabula. Although the makeup of the different Hispanic communities around Ohio is changing rapidly due to the influx of new immigrants from Mexico and Central America, there are larger concentrations of Puerto Ricans and Central Americans in Cleveland, Lorain and Elyria while Mexicans are located predominantly in Toledo, Columbus, and Lake and Summit counties.

Migration trends
It appears that the first significant migration of Hispanics to Northeast Ohio occurred in the late 1900s and continued throughout the 1920s and 30s. This increase was composed mainly of Mexican railroad workers and agricultural workers who settled locally and later brought relatives and friends. The result of this migration fostered the creation of the oldest Hispanic social club in Cleveland, "Club Azteca," founded in 1919. In contrast to other groups of Latinos who would later migrate to Northeast Ohio, early Mexican settlers tended to return to Mexico. The other strong migration that followed came about with a push that was called "Operation Boot Strap." This occurred in the 1940s and 50s when Puerto Ricans were literally airlifted from their homeland to fulfill the strong demand for labor in the steel mills of Cleveland and Lorain.

Unlike early Mexicans, Puerto Ricans stayed in these urban areas. As evidence of their cohesiveness, many Puerto Ricans who migrated to Cleveland came from the same hometown of Yauco (which became a city on January 1, 2004), located on the southwest coast of Puerto Rico.

The latest concentration of Hispanic/Latino migration to Cleveland and Northeast Ohio belongs to Mexicans and Central Americans. This new wave of immigrants has a large impact on the makeup of the Hispanic community of Cleveland. Some recognizable markers are the rapid proliferation of Mexican and Central American restaurants and markets and the fact that Cinco de Mayo has been celebrated throughout the city.

In addition, more than 40 percent of the clientele served now by The Spanish American Committee, the largest Hispanic Social Service Agency in Cleveland, are Mexicans or Central Americans.

Political impact
Compared with Toledo and even Lorain, Cleveland Hispanics have made little progress in electing Latinos to public office. The first and longest-serving Latino elected as a public official is Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Jose Villanueva - first appointed to his seat by former Governor Dick Celeste. Villanueva was then re-elected several times. The only other Latino elected as a public official is Cleveland City Councilman Nelson Cintrón Jr.

During the past five years, there were positive steps taken to correct the lack of involvement of Latinos in the political arena. The Hispanic Political Action Committee (H-PAC) was founded in 2000, and subsequently played a pivotal role in the 2001 mayoral election with voters registration drives and in uniting the Latino eight percent electorate behind a winning candidate. Organizations such as The Latinos Unidos, The Hispanic Round Table, Latinas, and The Ohio Office of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration are also addressing similar issues. An indication that Hispanics are more involved in issues that affect their lives is the fact that more and more hispanics are serving as board members in important Cleveland non-profit institutions.

Based on all the political indicators that surround Cleveland politics, it appears that for the second time in a period of four years the Latino vote will be again a decisive factor in the upcoming Cleveland mayoral race this November.

Social service
The social service needs of the Hispanic/Latino community are been being met though hispanic social service agencies such as:

  • The Spanish American Committee, founded in 1966. SPAM was the first Hispanic organization in Cleveland. This agency provides services in day care, housing, employment services, immigration services, paralegal, advocacy, etc.
  • Catholic Charities Health and Human Services, which provides services in domestic violence counseling, outpatient mental health counseling, Healthy Start, etc.
  • Hispanic Senior Center, which provides culturally specific lunch every weekday, recreation, transportation, etc.
  • HUMADAOP, an organization created to empower the Hispanic/Latino community to eliminate the negative impact of HIV/AIDS, violence and the abuse of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs through culturally sensitive prevention, education, intervention, and treatment services.
  • Esperanza, which provides training and scholarships.
  • Julia de Burgos, which promotes the arts and the Puerto Rican Friendly Day Parade. On the business side, The Hispanic Business Association provides services to small and medium-size Hispanic businesses in the area.

Cultural connections
Nowadays in Cleveland, you can try the best Mexican food in Luchitas, Mi Pueblo, and Nuevo Acapulco; you can visit Spain by savoring the magnificent Spanish cuisine and excellent wines of Viva Barcelona, Mallorca, and Marbella; you can enjoy Central American food in La Tortilla Feliz, a piece of borinquen in Lozada or a Cuban sandwich in Lelolai.

Hispanic/Latino food markets are also predominant in Northeast Ohio, with Rico Supermarket on Lorain Avenue, La Borincana on Fulton Road, and Caribe Grocery on West 25th Street.

In addition to restaurants, Cleveland also has a large contingent of Latino social clubs including Club San Lorenzo, Alma Yaucana, Azteca, Club Moda, etc., where you can dance and listen to Latin music by Samy DeLeon, Roberto Ocasio's Latin Jazz Project, The Tropical Jam Orchestra, Tropical Rhythms, among others.

The proliferation of Cleveland's Spanish-speaking population has also led to the development of Spanish newspapers such as Latino Barrio, Eco Latino, and El Sol de Ohio, all containing exclusive coverage of area news, events, and information. Other Spanish-speaking media sources outside of Cleveland include La Prensa newspaper and Bravo magazine in Toledo, and Hola newsletter in Painsville.

The Internet also impacts Cleveland's Spanish-speaking population. The development of the Web site mercohispano.com serves as an interactive Hispanic resource guide with news, and information about bilingual doctors, realtors, restaurants, lawyers, and local and statewide events. Cleveland's most renowned Spanish-speaking church is La Sagrada Familia. Of Catholic denomination, this church was built due in large part to funds raised by the Hispanic/Latino community. Father David Fallon and the congregation are very dedicated to work in the Northeast Ohio community. One of the strongest assets of this vibrant community is the connection of its people with their country of origin. This well-established network is benefiting Northeast Ohio in economic development, education and the arts.

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Promueve la diversidad dentro de nuestra propia comunidad hispana en cualquier lugar de EE.UU. / Promote diversity even among our own Hispanic Community anywhere in the USA.
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