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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

HISPANIC COMMUNITY - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

HISPANIC COMMUNITY. By the 1990s Spanish-speaking individuals constituted the fastest-growing portion of America's immigrant population. Though Cleveland's Spanish-speaking community did not grow as rapidly as those in Florida or California, it was, in 1990, the largest linguistically defined segment of the local population; 20,290 individuals in Greater Cleveland spoke Spanish. Composed of migrants from Puerto Rico and immigrants from Cuba, Mexico, South and Central America, and Spain, this segment of Cleveland's population has been referred to as Hispanic or Latino. Organizations such as the CENTRO CULTURAL HISPANO DE CLEVELAND, INC. (HISPANIC CULTURAL CENTER OF CLEVELAND), and special governmental offices, such as the Mayor's Hispanic Liaison, serve the needs of the overall community.

The overwhelming majority of the local Spanish-speaking population consists of Puerto Ricans. The Puerto Rican community of Cleveland is relatively new. Although a few Puerto Ricans settled in Cleveland following the Spanish-American War, and others arrived after World War I, the largest influx to northern Ohio occurred between 1945-65. After World War II, young unmarried Puerto Rican men were recruited to work in the factories of Lorain and in the greenhouses of northern Ohio. When their contracts terminated, many were attracted to Cleveland by its diverse job opportunities. Although most had not originally intended to stay in Ohio permanently, many changed their minds and sent for friends and relatives to join them. In 1955 Cleveland reported a total of 1,500 Puerto Rican residents. In 1960 Puerto Ricans accounted for about 82% of all Spanish-speaking residents in the city. Cleveland's Puerto Rican population increased dramatically owing to a high birth rate and migration from the island, New York, and Chicago. In 1983 approx. 25,000 persons of Puerto Rican descent lived in Greater Cleveland. As a group, Puerto Ricans were unique settlers in that they were already American citizens when they arrived in Cleveland, and they could easily travel back and forth to their homeland.

The majority of Puerto Ricans who came to Cleveland in the 1950s settled on the east side around Hough, Lexington, and, later, Superior avenues. These areas attracted Puerto Ricans because of their proximity to Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church and St. Paul's Shrine, where Spanish-speaking Trinitarian priests were located. In 1958 an exodus of Puerto Ricans from the east side to the near west side began. Inner city deterioration and a desire to be closer to jobs in steel mills and industrial mills in the FLATS area prompted the large-scale movement. Approximately two-thirds of Greater Cleveland's Puerto Ricans now (1995) live on the near west side from W. 5th to W. 65th streets, between Detroit and Clark avenues. On the east side, some Puerto Ricans are still found in the original settlement, from E. 30th to E. 77th and Wade Park to St. Clair. A growing number are settling in the N. Broadway area. Puerto Rican households are also, scattered throughout Greater Cleveland's SUBURBS.

Historically, most Puerto Ricans are Roman Catholics, but unlike most Catholics, Puerto Ricans did not bring their own priests with them. In 1954 the Cleveland Diocese established a Spanish Catholic mission, and OUR LADY OF FATIMA PARISH Catholic on Quimby Ave. offered masses in Spanish. Other parishes often opposed Spanish masses and did not welcome new members from the Puerto Rican community. As a result of determined and sustained efforts by many of Greater Cleveland's Puerto Ricans, a church on W. 32nd St. near Lorain Ave. was purchased in 1975 and became SAN JUAN BAUTISTA. Though it is primarily Puerto Rican, other Spanish-speaking people are in the parish. Several Protestant churches in Greater Cleveland also have Puerto Rican followings, and a number of Catholic and Protestant churches offered special services and bilingual education programs for Spanish-speaking persons of all ages in 1995. The first Pentecostal church in Cleveland was the Spanish Assembly of God on W. 11th St., founded in 1952.

As a group, Puerto Ricans are fiercely proud of their traditions and customs. First-generation parents have attempted to maintain island traditions in their homes and clubs, which often bear the names of native island towns. Puerto Rican social, cultural, civic, and service clubs exist in Cleveland. The SPANISH AMERICAN COMMITTEE, a well-known social-service organization that serves primarily the Puerto Rican community, has been active since 1966. The Hispanic Community Forum sponsored the first annual Hispanic convention in Cleveland in 1984. Puerto Rican Friendly Day, an activity uniquely Puerto Rican, has been observed by Cleveland's Puerto Ricans each summer since 1969. Its purpose is to bring together the city's Puerto Rican residents and to educate the Cleveland community about Puerto Rican culture.

Mexicans constitute the 2nd-largest Spanish-speaking ethnic group in Cleveland. The first Mexicans settled in Cleveland during the early 1920s, and a slow but steady stream of immigrants increased the city's Mexican population to 679 in 1920. During the following decades, the Mexican population fell to 162 as a result of the Depression, which caused many Mexicans to return to Mexico. During the 1940s, the steel industry in Cleveland and Lorain recruited large numbers of Mexican immigrants for war work. Some of those in Lorain eventually moved to Cleveland because of greater opportunities for employment in the larger city. Many Mexican immigrants decided to stay permanently in Cleveland. By 1983 approx. 4,000 people born in Mexico or of Mexican descent lived in the city. The early Mexicans were from rural areas. They came seeking economic opportunity and freedom from political instability and religious persecution. These early arrivals did not form ethnic settlements, as did many other immigrant groups. Instead, they, settled in various parts of the city. In 1995 the majority of Mexican-Americans lived on the west side around Lorain Ave., Detroit Ave., and Randall and W. 52nd St. Others are scattered throughout Greater Cleveland. One of the first cultural and social clubs started by Mexicans was the CLUB AZTECA, founded in 1932. In 1951 the club purchased a store and suite at 5606 Detroit Ave. to serve as the center of social and cultural activities for Cleveland's Mexicans. In 1990 320 Mexicans resided in Cleveland.

Most of Cleveland's Cubans came to the city following Castro's seizure of power in 1959. Prior to this time, only 200 Cubans resided in Cleveland. The Cleveland Cuban Refugee Resettlement Committee, composed of Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish organizations, helped relocate refugees of the various faiths. Most of the new arrivals were families who intended to return to Cuba as soon as Castro was ousted. After the Bay of Pigs, many decided to stay permanently in Cleveland. In 1980 there were about 650 Cubans in Cleveland. The population within the city declined to 140 in 1990. The majority were well-educated, experienced business people. Some American industries that had operated plants in Cuba offered jobs to the refugees. The Cubans quickly became self-supporting, acquired well-paying jobs, and moved into suburban neighborhoods. The Cubans of Cleveland organized the Circulo Cuban Assn. of Cleveland, a cultural club for the purpose of preserving Cuban traditions, strengthening Cuban brotherhood, and preserving the dream of a free Cuba.

In 1980 roughly 5,000 Clevelanders hailed from various countries in Latin America other than Cuba, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. Most were fairly well-educated men who came after World War II. Some sought to continue their education in the Cleveland area; others sought jobs in the export and import business. Eventually many decided to stay in Cleveland permanently and married Cleveanders or sent for their families to join them. The new arrivals initially settled near each other and near the Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, with whom they shared bonds of culture and language. However, the immigrants never formed permanent settlements, because there were few people from any one nationality group. They are now (1995) scattered throughout the suburbs of Greater Cleveland. Many of the Latin American immigrants have become members of various professions. The only club that serves all Latin Americans is the Cleveland Pan American Cultural Society, an affiliate of the Pan American Union in Washington, DC. The club was organized in 1960 by night students at Western Reserve Univ. who felt a need for formal expression of Latin American culture and for programs to familiarize Greater Clevelanders with the distinctive culture and history of the various Latin American republics. Part of this effort is an annual folk festival in conjunction with the interhemispheric celebration of Pan American Day.

Relatively small numbers of Greater Cleveland's, Spanish-speaking people trace their heritage to Spain. In 1983 there were approx. 900 Greater Clevelanders of Spanish descent. Most Spaniards came to Cleveland by way of Cuba; others migrated from the U.S. Southwest. They began arriving in Cleveland ca. 1910. Most came with the intention of staying here permanently. The immigrants tended to settle together. Initially, the English language posed a major obstacle, but once they learned the language they integrated quickly and are now scattered throughout the area. Many new arrivals labored in the city's steel mills, factories, and foundries. Although the Spaniards readily adopted American customs, they preserved many of their social and cultural traditions. A society for Spaniards, Club Galicia, was established in 1926. It was active for many years until it disbanded as other associations took its place in the local Spanish community. Several media services are designed for the Spanish-speaking peoples of Cleveland. Spanish-language broadcasts for several hours a week are heard on local radio stations. Various newspapers and periodicals, including LATINO magazine, in Spanish are available, and the Cleveland PLAIN PRESS, a neighborhood newspaper, writes a few news articles in Spanish for the Hispanic community.

Nicholas J. Zentos

Lorain County Community College

Wendy Marley

Cuyahoga Community College


Last Modified: 17 Jul 1997 04:57:16 PM

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