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Published: Monday, 9/20/2004

Most Hispanics trace their roots to Mexico

BY CLYDE HUGHES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The U.S. Census lumped many Latin American cultures together when it came up with the term Hispanic in 1970, but most Hispanic Americans are Mexican.

The Mexican culture is even more dominant in the Toledo area, a center for the migrant farmworking population.

Such celebrations as Cinco de Mayo and Dia de los Muertos, both Mexican holidays, have been celebrated in the United States mostly under the banner of a Latino or Hispanic holiday.

Issues such as immigration and language are viewed as larger Latino topics, but were raised first in connection with Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.

Mexican-Americans, who made up the bulk of those working the fields in farm-plentiful northwest Ohio, make up some 85 percent of the Latino population here. Nationwide, Mexican-Americans make up nearly 60 percent of the Hispanic population.

The next largest group, Puerto Ricans, comprise almost 10 percent of the country's Latino population. The Mexican dominance, at times, has made other Latino communities feel like a minority within a minority.

"What people don't understand is that [Mexico] is not Latin America," said Arthur Natella, chairman of the modern language department at American International College in Springfield, Mass. "It's like going to one city in the United States and saying, 'I've seen America.' "

Mr. Natella said one of the reasons for Mexican and Mexican-Americans' dominance is because in some areas of the country, its culture was well established before those lands became part of the United States. He said parts of California, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona were long settled by Mexicans before they became part of the United States.

Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Toledo-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee, likes to say his family had foundations in Texas before it was Texas.

"My family never crossed a border," he has said. "The border crossed us."

Mr. Velasquez, whose organization signed a historic labor agreement last week on behalf of migrant workers in North Carolina, said immigration, though, touches all Latinos, at the very least indirectly because of their ties to relatives and friends outside of the United States.

Many companies have tried to seize on the rise of the Latino population by capitalizing on such holidays as Cinco de Mayo. Robert Torres, director of the city's Office of Latino Affairs, said he has become concerned with how some have come to celebrate Cinco de Mayo without comprehending its historical significance.

Cinco de Mayo, which means the Fifth of May in Spanish, celebrates the Mexican Army's defeat of the larger French Army in 1862 in France's first attempt to conquer the country. The battle is highlighted to honor the bravery of the Mexican soldiers who overcame France, then a world power, despite being outnumbered and with little of the modern military equipment of the day.

"I think many Latinos still get Cinco de Mayo mixed up with Mexican Independence Day," Mr. Torres said. "So I think there we even have to educate some Latinos about the holidays. I will say as the commercialization of these holidays continues, it will be important for our educators and parents to foster an understanding of what it means."

Margarita DeLeon, a Puerto Rican who grew up in Lorain, and Sylvester Duran, Jr., a Mexican-American, have what could be called a mixed marriage. The two have taught the two cultures to their children - Sylvester, III, 17; Jose, 14; and Elisa, 13 - and to each other.

"Where I grew up, it was 95 percent Puerto Rican," said Ms. DeLeon, a driving force behind the local Diamante Awards. "I grew up with a very Puerto Rican experience and [Sylvester] grew up with a very Mexican experience and we both had to learn each other's culture."

She said her children have grown up celebrating Mexican and Puerto Rican holidays as well as learning the different dialects from both countries.

Contact Clyde Hughes at:

chughes@theblade.com

or 419-724-6095.



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