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Lorain’s Puerto Rican community to be spotlighted in 2009 Lorain International Festival

 

By Alan Abrams, La Prensa Senior Correspondent

 

It has been more than a year since the Lorain International Association selected the city’s vibrant Puerto Rican community to be the Spotlight community for the 2009 annual Lorain International Festival & Bazaar to be held June 22-28, 2009.
 


Antonio Barrios

This week, a committee of activists will be giving the Puerto Rican community a wake up-call. “The clock is ticking and we’ve got a lot to do in the short time that’s left,” says Antonio Barrios, chairman and co-founder of the Puerto Rican Culture Committee (PRCC).

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The group’s first community meeting was held on Oct. 14, 2008, at Sacred Heart Chapel. “We hope to engage the Latino and non-Latino community in this cultural celebration,” adds Barrios.

 

.Each year the Lorain International Festival & Bazaar focuses upon the cultural heritage of one of the city’s ethnic communities.  2009 will mark the 40th anniversary of the annual week-long event, much of which is held on the city’s Black River Landing.

 

While numerous ethnic groups make an annual appearance at each annual festival, it has been ten years since the Puerto Rican community was the primary focus.

 

The schedule of the 2009 Festival will provide Lorain’s Puerto Rican community with a unique opportunity to showcase its accomplishments through an array of entertainment and speakers, explains Barrios.

 

Barrios said the non-profit group has already reached out beyond Lorain County to make contact with the Puerto Rican communities of Cleveland and New York.

 

He hopes to make connections with transplanted members of the Northeast Ohio Puerto Rican community who are now living and working in Toledo.

 

“We’ve also made contact with the president of the senate of Puerto Rico and other officials from Puerto Rico.

 

The Puerto Rican community comprises approximately 20 percent of Lorain’s population of 70,124 making it the largest ethnic groups in the city.  Surprisingly, it has been at least a decade since the community was spotlighted by the International Association, says Barrios. During that decade, the community has made many significant strides.
 

The community can trace its origins to the 1940s when the steel companies that once dominated Lorain’s economy began to recruit workers in Puerto Rico for their mills. Unlike Toledo, where the majority of the Latino community is of Mexican heritage, the Latino communities of Lorain, and to a lesser degree Cleveland, are comprised primarily of those of Puerto Rican descent.

 

In recent years, the Puerto Rican community in Lorain has begun to flex its political muscles. Dennis Flores represents the city’s Second Ward in City Council. Recently retired, Fred Lozano served on city council for 20 years. La Prensa’s Rubén Torres, likewise, served on city council. 

 

Ray Carrion serves as the city’s Development Director; Richard Romero as deputy safety director in the current administration of Mayor Tony Krasienko

 

This Latino representation supplements Latino officeholders Joel Arredondo, who is the current council president, and David Flores, who has served on city council. Both are of Mexican descent.

 

According to Richard Romero, Chair of the Ohio Latino Affairs Commission (formally, OCHLA), “I think it’s great that the International Festival is spotlighting the Puerto Rican community in 2009.

“I am also proud of the fact that Lorain have tremendous leaders such as Cel Rivera, Mary Santiago, Fred Lozano, Mike Ferrer, Juan Silva, Rosie Reyes, Nellie Caraballo, Daisy Maldonado, and Victor Leandry (just to name a few) who have talent,  have built strong relationships, and have a true commitment to the Puerto Rican community.

“We are one of the few communities that still have an ethnic club, The Puerto Rican Home Club. President Juan Silva is truly a leader who wants to continue to promote the Puerto Rican culture in a positive light. The Puerto Rican Home also has board members that work very hard, and it is important that we support them. The success of the Puerto Rican cultural committee will be determined on how we all work together to put our best foot forward.

“We also appreciate all of the support that the Mexican Mutual Society has given to the Puerto Rican community.”

 

Catch 22

According to Barrios, the Catch 22 of being honored by the Lorain International Festival & Bazaar committee lies in the fact that the community being honored has to organize and produce the program as well as foot the bill – and that even includes the floats in the international parade.  That’s what gives the work of the PRCC a sense of urgency.

 

The PRCC has approximately eight months to recruit new members from the community as well as organize the volunteers needed to work the Festival—and also seek corporate and private funding.

 

“One source will certainly be fundraisers,” says Barrios. But he is realistic enough to recognize the challenge he and the other members of the PRCC face.

 

“It’s a huge opportunity for us, but we are the ones who have to make it happen. It has to be a community effort for the entire community.  We have to let bygones be bygones and put our differences in the past. This is a good vehicle for us and we have to make it a showcase for our culture. We are the owners of it, and we have to show our pride of ownership,” adds Barrios.

 

Presently, the core group of the PRCC consists of Barrios, José “Pepe” Rivera, Lou Acosta, Councilman Dennis Flores, Victor Leandry, Ray Carrion, and Tito Rivera, all of whom are unpaid volunteers.

 

Barrios is working on several exciting possibilities for the Festival week including bringing a prestigious museum-quality exhibition of pre-Columbian art into the Lorain public schools. “The art represents the history of the original native population of Puerto Rico and is an important part of our heritage. However, various issues such as security and insurance will have to be resolved before it can become a reality,” he explains.

 

Barrios is also hoping to bring the current Miss Puerto Rico Universe—Ingrid Marie Rivera Santos—to Lorain, to crown the community’s Festival Princess. And he would like to have the President of Puerto Rico’s Senate deliver the Festival’s keynote address.

 

“It is a matter of community pride. The majority of Puerto Ricans in the community are excited about playing some role in the Festival and seeing their community spotlighted for the week,” says Barrios.

 

 “We will put on a great show,” he promises.

 

Editor’s Note: Antonio Barrios is a well known freelance photographer and is the owner of FrameWorks. Terri Soto has been in charge of the Festival’s annual Puerto Rican princess pageant and was last year’s Festival’s president. Last year’s festival can be visited at:  www.loraininternational.com

If you would like to join the PRCC and are unable to attend the community meeting, you can contact Barrios at:  [email protected]

 

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