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People


As the national glare fades, Cleveland's Latino community tries to find light
Devasted by the housing crisis and poverty, the west-side area suffered even more when three women were discovered held captive
Story by DAVID C. BARNETT


 
Cesi Castro and his wife, Norma, run a story on Cleveland's near west side.
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In The Region:

The dramatic discovery and rescue of three women held captive for years in a west side Cleveland house, brought the eyes of the world to the heart of Cleveland’s Hispanic community. For Ohio Public Radio, WCPN’s David C. Barnett reports that the glare of that international spotlight has stirred discussion about the needs of a neighborhood that some say has been long ignored.

Seventy-seven-year-old Julio Cesar Castro -- call him “Cesi” --  has a long reputation in Cleveland’s Hispanic community.  After arriving here in 1954, he worked in factories, grew tomatoes, and even ran a restaurant before opening “Cesi’s Caribe Grocery,” which he has operated here on West 25th street since 1969. 

The store offers basic food items, plus special import products.
"These are all the popular brands of coffees -- like Bustello. And this one over here, I sell a lot of this coffee. I guess because the price is right, and it’s got the name of Puerto Rico."

Lost so many people
Castro's customers are mostly working class and working poor. Cleveland’s Ward 14 is the heart of Northeast Ohio’s Hispanic community --- representing about 10 percent of the city’s population. The last Census pegged the average household income here as under $15,000. Castro has seen a marked decline in the neighborhood and his business over the past 44 years.

"We lost so many people. If you start on Detroit and drive up to Denison on West 25th, you can count how many empty lots that you see, and that’s only on the main street. If there is no people, there is no way that you can make business."

Magda Gomez grew up here in the 1970s, and she’s also watched the streets slowly deteriorate. Today, Gomez is a member of the civic activist group, the Hispanic Roundtable, and she feels the city has largely ignored her community’s plight.

"Our neighborhoods have been in such deplorable condition. These areas are so blighted and dilapidated, and we have so many abandoned homes. I think the people would take more pride if the city would in fact take the time to realize that this area needs revitalization."

Not just a Cleveland issue
Juan Molina Crespo is executive director of the Hispanic Alliance, an umbrella group of social service organizations. He says there is a general sense of abandonment in the local Latino community, and he suggests that feeling is part of a larger disconnect.

"This is not  a Cleveland issue; it’s a national issue. It's about how this growing Latino community interfaces with government and with the major institutions in most urban areas."

Ward 14 councilman Brian Cummins has been feeling the disconnect ever since taking over leadership of the district in 2010.

"We spent the first three years of my service in this community doing triage. We’ve spent the first three years identifying and inventorying vacant properties, which is huge. We’ve probably demolished about 160."

Hispanic disconnect
But, despite such accomplishments, Cummins says it’s been difficult building relationships with his community members.

"The challenge that we have collectively is that I’m not Hispanic. I can speak the language, I’ve lived in Hispanic countries, but I’m not Hispanic."

There has been Hispanic representation on Council in the past. Nelson Cintron was in office for two terms, and Jose Santiago only lasted one. Now, several Latino residents have indicated an interest in challenging Cummins for his seat when he’s up for re-election this November.

The national spotlight accentuated the negatives
Hispanic Roundtable Chairman Jose Feliciano says a strong Latino voice representing the community is even more important now, after the discovery of the three young women held captive here for years.  He says the global spotlight was not kind to his community.

"We’ve probably gotten more attention on this subject than we have on anything else. And it’s all negative."

And for Cesi Castro, it was personal: The man accused of kidnapping the women was his nephew Ariel.

"You can’t blame a neighborhood, or a family, or a race for something that one guy did. My nephew, I thought he was a beautiful person. Everybody loved him. Nobody knew that he had that second image inside."

Images can be very powerful. Local Latino leaders hope to create a new one for their community with the upcoming announcement of plans for “La Villa Hispana” – an Hispanic village, similar to destination neighborhoods in Miami, Chicago and Houston. It’s a proposal that’s been in the works for years.

But now, maybe recent events will give a new momentum to the idea of celebrating Latino culture and giving some pride back to a community looking to tell its own story.

Listener Comments:

Bill, why ask a question and then form an opinion without foreknowledge? Would you do the same with a person or worse, groups of people? Cities are even more complex than people. Why not get the answer to your question and THEN form an opinion? I live and work here. The city is not empty. There are empty parts and there are vibrant parts and there are parts in transition. I work downtown and it is not empty. If you cannot visit Cleveland soon, visit the web site UrbanOhio and learn more about the city before forming opinions about it. Thank you. K


Posted by: Ken (Cleveland) on November 22, 2013 10:11AM
isn't Cleveland basically a museum city the downtown is empty, start tearing down the empty buildings and encourage people to leave to new areas outside of Cleveland even into other states to find jobs, because unless the world changes which I don't foresee happening in the near future no jobs will be coming back to cleveland


Posted by: Bill (Jackson) on July 12, 2013 6:07AM
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