YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Youngstown State University has been doing oral histories since 1974, having interviewed 2,400 people with ties to the area. Many of those interviews can be found on a website called Steel Valley Voices, which recently added a new link on Latinos called Latino Voices of the Valley.
In one of those interviews, YSU student Brea Tinsley talks with Armando Labra, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico when he was 17. He learned English by watching TV and listening to people talk. Armando has five sons, three of whom formed the Labra Brothers Band.
Tinsley also interviewed Frank Nolasco, who was brought to Youngstown from Mexico when he was 6 months old on a troop train at the end of World War II.
“We came here undocumented, and back in those days you could cross the border liberally,” Nolasco said.
Theirs, among others, are the types of stories you’ll hear on the Latino Voices of the Valley website. Five nationalities are represented: Mexicans, Peruvians, Puerto Ricans, an Argentine and a Dominican.
All the interviews were done in Spanish, and as Dr. Marcelle Wilson — manager of the Youngstown Steel Museum — says, that was done for a reason.
“By conducting these interviews in Spanish and then translating them, it allows them to utilize the skills which they’ve learned in their Spanish classes and also provide a little bit of a story to share with the community,” Dr. Wilson said.
Dr. Wilson helped direct the project.
“I believe it probably came from Dr. Diane Palardy who’s in the world cultures and languages department,” she said.
Tinsley — a Champion High School graduate — is one of the YSU students who conducted the interviews. She’s majoring in biochemistry, with a minor in Spanish. After studying in Costa Rica, she returned speaking Spanish fluently.
“I’ve been learning Spanish since I was 15 years old. I actually had taught myself. So I was taking Spanish classes. I was genuinely interested in the language,” Tinsley said.
Maria Teresa Gonzalez de Torres came to the United States in 2000 from Peru because her daughter and grandchildren were here. Her daughter, Ana Torres, arrived after graduating high school in Peru. Both mother and daughter were interviewed.
Ana says there is a group of 40 to 50 Peruvians who gather every year to celebrate the independence of Peru with traditional food.
Justino Morales was one of six Puerto Ricans interviewed. He came to Youngstown in 1952, saying it was an advantage for the Puerto Ricans who moved here. When asked if he’d lost his Puerto Rican identity he said no, he feels as American as he does Puerto Rican.
“But it’s important, this history, this oral history thing gives me an opportunity to say a few things that maybe years from now somebody will see, somebody will wonder, ‘Well, that’s what they were talking about,'” Morales said.
First News is also producing a half-hour program on the Hispanic heritage that will air on Saturday, Oct. 10 at 10:30 p.m.
Hispanic Heritage Month takes place from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15.
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