Where are you from?

My family is from Puerto Rico. Like many Puertoricans my family would migrate between Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland. I was born in New York, however shortly after my birth my family relocated back to Puerto Rico. We came to the US when I entered elementary school.

What was it like growing up?

I have fond memories of growing up in Cleveland. Our family bought a house on E.32nd off Payne Ave. It was a very diverse neighborhood. I had Asian, Hispanic, African American, and Caucasian neighbors and schoolmates. Our families shared similar values and we in pursuit of better opportunities for themselves and their families. I attended Case elementary which offered dual education classes where newly arrived Hispanic students and the Asian students would switch classrooms and get to learn Mandarin and Spanish. I remember my teacher Mr. Lugo making home visits to help assimilate our parents to the US school system.

What brought you to Cleveland?

My mother remarried and decided to join her sister here. It was a very brave step. I don’t think that immigrants are recognized for the level of bravery it takes to leave everything you know and sometimes everything you own to begin a new life in an area that is completely unknown to you. I admire my mother’s bravery. She had less than basic English fluency and I know that it was difficult for her.

What were your first thoughts about coming to America? Did those change?

When we moved to Cleveland it was my first experience of not living in a Hispanic enclave. We spent some time in Chicago, however the Latino community here was not as established in other places. Although we lived in a diverse neighborhood here every time we stepped out of that neighborhood, I felt out of place.

There were places we knew were not welcoming. A great deal of other parts of the city where highly segregated. Cleveland has changed considerably and I love the energy that this city has and the strides that have been made to make Cleveland more inclusive. However there is still a great deal that needs to be done.

What challenges did you face as an immigrant transitioning here?

I was placed in Speech classes in elementary school here. Even though I spoke English well (at least I thought so). The speech classes was an instrument to reduce my accent. It still bothers me when I think of that, since I had no real speech impediment ever recognized by a physician.

Like many other immigrant children, I had to grow up very quickly and serve as the interpreter and navigator for my family from everything from getting bank accounts set up , scheduling and attending medical appointments to arranging services with the utility company.

It was like living in two worlds. The one where you have to be the family advocate and voice in the English speaking world and take on a very adult role and then having to transition to the role of a child within my culture. It was not easy for me, since the lines were often blurred.

What is your occupation?

I am one of the Directors in the Cleveland Clinic Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

How have other Clevelanders made you feel welcomed?

We were fortunate to have wonderful neighbors. Neighbors who had similar experiences and assisted in connecting us with an existing network of resources that made adapting to Cleveland much easier. These neighbors and friends became extended family members. There are people with great hearts in Cleveland.

What traditions or customs do you continue to practice?

The meals we prepare are still very traditional . Puertorican food and music are very central to our family. Respect to your elders is a stronghold in our community. I still ask for my parents blessing every time we speak or see each other. In many Latin American countries , whenever you enter a room or begin a conversation with an elder, you ask for bendicion (there blessing) as a sign of respect. I love that about our culture.

What do you love about Cleveland?

I love our Midwest values. It is a great city, full of rich history and amenities. It is a great place to raise a family. The number of organizations we have that are committed to improving the lives of our community are impressive. It is also a great place to make a name for yourself. I think we don’t capitalize on this enough when selling Cleveland , there are so many opportunities to get involved and really affect change. There is also a warmth and energy here that I have not experienced anywhere else.

Why is it so important to welcome immigrants and refugees?

The communities who are growing the most across this nation are those of color. Diversity is the reality of the world we live in locally, nationally, and globally. Immigrants and migrants bring energy, passion, new ways of thinking, and more than anything a desire to create something new and better. We need that and we will always need that if we are to be relevant.

What suggestions do you have to make Cleveland a more welcoming Community?

There are many I can think of. I think we need to have some intentional strategies on how we connect and support our existing communities of color. It is inauthentic to say that we “welcome you”, when we have existing communities that we have failed to be inclusive and connected with. We need to be an example of what the definition really means.