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'100-years of Latinos in Lorain' now on display in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month

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Posted at 6:32 PM, Sep 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-16 16:03:29-04

LORAIN, Ohio — Hispanic Heritage Month is now underway.

Over the next 30 days, communities will celebrate the contributions and influence of Hispanic Americans to the history, culture, and achievement of the United States.

A little more than a century after it was founded, Lorain welcomed its first Latino residents.

"Mexicans specifically in 1921 as part of contract labor," said Gina Perez, a Professor in the Department of Comparative American Studies at Oberlin College.

Many of them came from Texas as agricultural workers.

"And then, later on, Puerto Ricans were recruited to work in the steel mills and other kinds of industries in Northeast Ohio," said Perez.

As for where they put down roots: Vine Avenue.

"It was a place that really felt like where they belonged," said Perez.

The neighborhood would become an important Hispanic hub.

"You often heard music playing in the air, the smells of Puerto Rico and of Mexico coming out of small stores and bodegas, but also in people's homes," said Perez.

All that culture is woven into this city's rich history.

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, "100-years of Latinos in Lorain" is now on display at the Lorain Historical Society.

"It is a picture and a feeling of just Vida – of life," said Perez.

Personal photographs, newspaper articles, and oral histories bring the story of Vine Avenue to life.

So, you might be wondering what happened to the vibrancy along Vine Avenue.

In the 1960s, a federal program promoting urban renewal started dismantling the beloved corridor piece by piece.

"They moved people out of the area with the promise of bringing them back and making it nicer. But that didn't happen,” said Bethany Tober, Lorain Historical Society.

For 90-year-old Anita Garcia who worked at a drug store in the neighborhood, the trip down memory lane stirs up emotions.

"It makes me kind of proud. In those days, there were so many Mexican families," said Garcia.

Pride - it's what those behind this project hope to instill in the next generation with a kid-friendly component.

Children can match up photos with significant moments from each decade.

"It's imperative that they know our past as a way to expand and make better their future," said Jenn McGee-McManamon, Lorain Historical Society.

The stories of life for Latinos in Lorain, a century in the making, are now a legacy worth celebrating and remembering.

"It's an important reminder that this is not new and that we can draw on that history to sustain us, but also to remind us of how important it is to work together across differences for a common goal of a better future,” said Perez.

Editor’s note: While Gina Perez is a board member of El Centro, after the story aired, she clarified with News 5 that she was speaking to us in her capacity as a Professor in the Department of Comparative American Studies at Oberlin College. This story on our website has been updated to reflect this.