YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Youngstown is a city full of diversity.
Back when the steel mills were running, many families from all different cultures moved to Youngstown to find work.
“We got here in October of 1952. I remember I was seven and a half. And I remember the first snow,” said Vionilda Cruz.
Cruz moved here from Puerto Rico after her father got a job in a steel mill in Youngstown.
“Hispanics have been coming here since the 1940s… My father sent for us in 1952… He came, I think it was in 48’ or 49, and then he sent for us as soon as he had money, that he had saved enough money for my mother and five of us,” she said.
Many men from Puerto Rico had made the decision to leave the island and come to Youngstown. Once here, they worked and saved, later sending for their families to come and join them.
Although the entire city is made up of different cultures and backgrounds, the east side became home to a large number if Hispanics.
“The east side, that’s all I’ve known, I’ve never lived anywhere else,” she said.
A neighborhood known as La La Land is particularly an area many Hispanics have lived in over the past few decades.
As you drive up streets such as Jackson or Shehy, Ayers or Himrod, you see Puerto Rican flags hanging in windows and in cars. You see Spanish children playing and families on their front porches.
“Very proud, very proud of who we are,” Cruz said.
The Hispanic community in Youngstown has always been proud of its background and culture. Celebrations like Hispanic festivals and block parties were a way to not only socialize, but to keep the culture alive.
“They were such hard workers… that the steel mills started sending to Puerto Rico, recruiting more Puerto Ricans to come to work in the steel mill, and that’s how come a lot more came,” she said.
Cruz was a bilingual teacher for Youngstown City Schools until she retired in 2006. She also ran the Hispanic Awareness program in the schools.
She said she learned a lot about the city’s Hispanic history from working in the school system.
“It wasn’t just Puerto Ricans. There was a lot of Cubans coming in, a lot of Dominicans, from the Dominican Republic and Mexicans, a lot of Mexicans,” she said.
As of 2018 there are roughly 6,500 Hispanics living in Youngstown. As more and more are leaving the island of Puerto Rico, that number will continue to grow.