Democrat and Chronicle from Rochester, New York on August 8, 1982 · Page 10
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Democrat and Chronicle from Rochester, New York · Page 10

Rochester, New York
Issue Date:
Sunday, August 8, 1982
Page 10
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Three decades from its beginnings, the Puerto Rican community in Rochester is still seeking to preserve a Spanish culture, yet demanding the rewards of American life. Caught between their homeland's ways and the ways of America, .Puerto Ricans have to make the same choices as other immigrants. v FROM PAGE 1A named Domingo E. Deleado. Delgado came to Rochester in 1897, recruited by George Eastman to work for Eastman Kodak Co. At his death in 1937, he was Kodak's export sales manager and president of 12 foreign subsidiaries. Delgado's obituary in the Democrat and Chronicle only notes the fact he was Puerto Rican in passing. It says he was born in San Juan and educated at Jesuits College there. But several Puerto Ricans, who came to Rochester in the 30s, still remember him as an inspiring figure. Octavio Lopez, 70, came in 1930, worked at Kodak, went to school and eventually opened his own export business. He said the few Puerto Ricans who came to the city in those days sought to adopt American ways, as quickly as they could. "We were different from those who came later," he said. "We had to cut the umbilical cord." But they made a contribution to the community that followed, he said, by showing what Puerto Ricans could do here. A SMALL COMMUNITY of Puerto Ricans suddenly appeared around 1950. There is no specific date. Most of the early members were migrant workers who left seasonal farm work on farms in upstate New York for permanent factory jobs in the city. They were were part of a mass exodus from the island that brought more than 850,000 people to the United States in the 50s. Ramon Padilla, who runs a grocery store on Brown Street, says the community was actually born in a Chinese restaurant. Padilla and his wife, Francesca, came to the city in August 1947, for a visit. One of Mrs. Padilla 's sisters had married an Army sergeant from Rochester and moved here in 1946. Another sister also came and the two sisters brought their mother here for cancer treatments at Rochester General Hospital "We came for a visit," Padilla said. "But we decided to stay for a year of two so my wife would be near her mother." Padilla got a job at the old American Home Food Co. As far as the Padillas knew, they were the only Puerto Rican family in the city. "The boss he liked the kind of work I did," Padilla said. "One day, he said, 'I'd sure like to have more like you people who like to work.' " Within days, Padilla recalls, he discovered three Puerto Rican migrant workers eating in a downtown Chinese restaurant. He told them about the possibility of permanent jobs at American Home Foods, and as Padilla recalls, they immediately decided to stay here. Candelario Reyes remembers the exact day he came here with a three-month contract to work at a canning factory in Fair-port: June 22, 1950. "I didn't even know where I was whether I was in the East or the North or where," he said. "I didn't know anything." But after three months at the factory, Reye9 discovered most of his earnings had gone for room and board. With $40 in his pocket, he came into the city. He recalls there were five or six Puerto Rican families here then, and he quickly heard about jobs at American Home Food. "I came here on a Sunday and I started work on Monday," he said. By 1952, about 200 Puerto Ricans were living in the city. Those who came in the early 50s now call themselves la vieja guardia, the old guard. They share memories of discrimination in housing, of being refused service in restaurants and bars. "All we could say was 'OK, thank you,' " Reyes said. "There was nothing else you could do." Reyes, 62, is now a retired city school district janitor. He lives with his wife, Engra-cia, in Los Flamboyanes, a housing project on North Clinton Avenue. The project is almost exclusively Puerto Rican, a world where people speak "the language of Cervantes," as Reyes calls it. (His reference is to Miguel de Cervantes, author of the Spanish classic, Don Quixote.). It is a good life, he says. After 32 years here, most of the hard times have passed for his generation. SAMUEL TORRES, another migrant, came in 1950, the same year as Reyes. Now, on summer nights, teen-age Puerto Rican boys and young men play Softball in Don Samuel Torres Memorial Park on North Clinton Avenue. Torres, who died in 1980, was a writer and poet and a leader in the early Puerto Rican community. But the language of the young men's soft-boll games is not the classic Spanish of which is Reyes was so proud. Instead it is a patchwork quilt of two languages, switching back and forth between Spanish to English in mid-sentence. "Lo que necessitamos son hits," shouts one player. "What we need are hits." Sometimes, this language is called Span-glish, sometimes Newyorrican (although the latter is more often used to describe English words adopted into the family of Puerto Rican Spanish, as in la yarda, the yard, el basement, the basement or el rufo, the roof.) It is a creation of 30 years of Puerto Rican life in the United States. Many young Puerto Ricans conduct their lives in Spanglish. Some say it has become a wall to exclude the world of people called Anglos (for Anglo-Saxons), blanquitos (whites, but literally "little white ones") or Yanquis (Yankees). They can't understand it. But Spanglish reflects a dilemma, even a confusion that young Puerto Ricans face in America. On which side of the wall will young Puerto Ricans live? MEMBERS OF THE OLD GUARD now recall the first "misunderstandings" when Puerto Rican and American cultures first clashed here. :: r: v r ' jF3& 'Sill W$M$x ' - Ortilio Rivera playing guitar, while Sister "People thought we were coming from another planet," said Julio Diaz, who arrived in Rochester in 1954 and now owns a liquor store. Mainland Americans didn't understand that Puerto Ricans were already American citizens. They asked insulting questions: Do Puerto Ricans live in houses on their island? Do people wear clothes in Puerto Rico? Mainland Americans also misunderstood the Puerto Rican love of their own language. A city school teacher who attempted to run English classes for Puerto Ricans told the Democrat and Chronicle in 1955 that Puerto Ricans didn't want to learn. "I would term them a shiftless people," she said. Diaz, a police officer in Puerto Rico, said the police regularly harassed the new immi grants. "I saw policemen searching Puerto Ricans for no reason just because they were walking along the street, speaking Spanish," he said. But by 1955, the quickly growing Puerto Rican population was estimated at 3.500. Most were working at plants like American Home Foods. But large Puerto Rican families often lived in single rooms. Sometimes, six or seven families were crammed into single apartments, and landlords admitted they regularly turned Puerto Ricans away from better housing. Members of the old guard remember how the early Puerto Ricans formed social clubs here and held dances on Friday nights. But to some, it is also a bitter memory. "We had to hold our own dances," said Ramon Ortiz, 47, now a city employee. "Puerto Ricans couldn't go to public places. Every time we went into a place, they'd kick us out." In 1956, a Puerto Rican Affairs Committee was formed to deal with these problems. The group met every Friday to hear complaints and take them down to City Hall. "We saw our people were suffering and something had to be done," Diaz said. Torres, one of the committee leaders, was also keenly interested in politics. He organized a Puerto Rican Democratic Committee, while Padilla and others created one on the Republican side. Bruca Chambers Democrat and Chronicle Juventina leads audience in song at evangelical meeting at the Santa Mission. "We tried to play the game the way they (the Americans) did," Padilla said. "We decided, 'Let's register. Let's vote.' " They eventually had success. In 196T, Edwin S. Rivera, the first Hispanic elected to public office here, became supervisor in the old 5th Ward. ON NORTH CLINTON, Puerto Rican men now gather in front of stores or on the corners in the evening, often with bottles of beer in brown paper bags. They say it is the custom. The also say this public side of Puerto Rican life is widely misunderstood in America. In Latin countries, men always gather, usually in the town square. A man is known by where he hangs out, they say. It is an expression of his identity. In Rochester, there is no square; there is North Clinton Avenue. "You always see a lot of Puerto Ricans hanging out there," said Domingo Martinez. "We are outdoor people. If I'm looking for Fernando, I know where to find him and when." Martinez works for Puerto Rican Youth Development, Inc. He was one the founders of the Ibero-American Action League and is coordinator of the Puerto Rican Festival. He is an energetic man of constant comings and goings. But be also hangs around on North Clinton. He talks to the businessmen of the avenue; he talks to people with . problems. He talks to people who talk for the love of talking. But attitudes about this most basic of Latin customs seem to be changing among young Puerto Ricans who have grown up in America. Puerto Rican teen-agers often say all the hanging around, particularly when it involves the young, shows there is nothing to do in Rochester. "That's just it," said Violeta Velazquez, 17, a senior at Franklin High School.' "Kids hang out and get into trouble and they hang out because they don't have anything else to Ho." BACK IN THE late 50s and early 60s, young Puerto Rican men actually fought for the simple right to stand where they wanted. It became an era of street gangs. These days, one hears mention of la ganga de la escina, the gang on the corner. Ganga is another Newyorican word. It now refers to young men, most without work, who have nothing better to do than stand on the corner. On North Clinton, young and old alike insist there are no such things as the old-style street gangs now. There are gangs of men but they don't have the sense of purpose the old gangs had. Domingo Martinez came to Rochester in 1957. Then 17, he found work as presser for Bond Clothes and went to night school, finishing high school within a year. He recalls a battle with baseball bats between Puerto Rican and Italian youths for the right to gather at the small park around the monument to Henry Lomb, co-founder of Bausch & Lomb Inc. The monument now stands in the middle of Upper Falls Boulevard. "To me, that fight was important," he said. "We were fighting our way into the city." In the early 1960s, parts of North. Clinton became the turf of the Chicos, a Puerto Rican gang whose main adversaries were an Italian gang, the Skinny's, named after a restaurant at Goodman and Norton streets. Former Chicos now describe the exploits of the gang as a battle against the many indignities they and their parents had faced. They say it was a battle to break out from the confines of the small ghettos where Puerto Rican families were forced to live. "At that time, we were after our very identity, our self-respect," said Angelo DeJe-sus, 37, the former gang's war lord. Skirmishes with the Skinny's escalated into a major battle in 1964, when the Chicos, other supporters and several black gangs marched on the Italians' territory. Participants recall several shots were fired in the battle but no one was hit. The next day, a truce was signed. It was seen as a major victory. "The Puerto Ricans had made their point that we were here to stay," said Dexter Martinez, who was raised on Avenue D. But Martinez, who now works for the Lewis Street Center, also remembers other important formative experiences. One was the the Roman Catholic Cursillo movement. Cursillos, literally "little courses, were three-day retreats run by church leaders from Puerto Rico and spent in intense discussion of Puerto Rican religious and cultural heritage. For some young participants, it became the first time in their youth in America that they could take their Puerto Rican heritage seriously. "That became the beginning of my awareness of what it meant to be Puerto Rican," Martinez said. THE 19G4 RIOTS in the city's black neighborhoods brought new anti-poverty agencies and federal job and urban renewal programs to Rochester. But a more militant generation of young Puerto Ricans, many veterans of the earlier street battles, now took the stage to demand Puerto Rican programs and agencies and Puerto Rioan participation in urban renewal, which was also leveling parts of the city where Puerto Rican families also lived. In 1968, the Ibero-American Action League was founded. Young Puerto Ricans were also influenced by the general radicalism of the era of Vietnam war protests. In the late 1960s, the Puerto Rican Student Union and the Young Lords Party were the vanguard movements. Henry Padron, born in Brooklyn and raised in the South Bronx, came to Rochester in 1968 when he was 16. "Rochester seemed like a farm," he recalled. In New York, the Young Lords Party, a former street gang, had evolved into a militant political organization calling for a socialist revolution and Puerto Rican independence. Members dressed in purple berets and shirts and promoted a militant sense of Puerto Rican pride. Padron helped organize a Young Lords chapter here, He was minister of information and education. He still sees the group as having inspired a generation, most of which grew up in American, to a sense of who they were. A larger group, with members in area high schools, was the Puerto Rican Student Union. Jose Cruz came to Rochester in 1966, at age 11. He and other members were prominent in a 1972 march on the offices of the city Board of Education over the dismissal of the then-supervisor of bilingual education. "A major explosion in Puerto Rican political awareness was caused by kids 16 and 17 years old," Cruz said. Cruz says the union had a major influence on the generation now reaching their 30s. Union members later formed Puerto Rican Youth Development, a jobs and recreation program that now has a budget of nearly $500,000 a year. But in the 60s and early 70s, other Puerto Rican groups of varying shades of radicalism and militancy also marched, picketed and even disrupted public meetings with demands for recognition of issues like job discrimination, police harassment and voting rights. This radicalism among the young also challenged Puerto Rican traditions, such as those which previously cloistered young Puerto Rican women at home. Members of the Young Lords and other groups saw themselves as "brothers" and "sisters," politically united as equals in the Puerto Rican cause. A NEW GENERATION of Puerto Rican women, such as City School Board member Nancy Padilla, one of Ramon and Francesca Padilla's 10 children raised in Rochester, became leaders in the community, a role formerly assumed by men. Puerto Rican women began pursue careers, even though many still admit their husbands might prefer they stay home and raise children. Men from the generation of the old guard often still insist they are the boss at home. "I rule in my house," said Julio Diaz. "I believe in strong leadership." But some of the seeds of change for women were sown, even as Puerto Rican families arrived in the 1950s. In these years, wives with sewing skills sometimes made higher salaries in local clothing factories than their husbands could earn at unskilled jobs. But other traditions of family life, always at the heart of Puerto Rican values, remain. Lillian Rivera, 25, tells how she ran away from home at 18 to escape the strict rules of a traditional home. "We lived as if we were still in Puerto Rico," she said. "I was 18 and I still couldn't date. I thought life was passing me by." Mrs. Rivera, now married and director for youth development for Puerto Rican Youth Development, said one fule in her house was that girls did not wear pants. She would sneak jeans to Franklin High School and chang into them there. In her senior year, her father refused to let her go to the class play, in which she had a part, because it would mean being out alone at night A teacher pursuaded her father to let her go. Violeta Velazquez, who has eight brothers and two older sisters, said the rules in her house have been changed for her. She is allowed out with her friends, who like go shopping or to movies in the suburbs. "My older brothers and sisters'say I have it easy," she said. But it is still common to see three Puerto Rican generations working together in family businesses. Raul and Norma Alvarado run the Borin-quen Restaurant on North Clinton. Mrs Al-varado's parents work in the kitchen; their two children also help. The Alvarados say they insist on traditional Puerto Rican values in their home Mrs. Alvarado insists their 15-year-old daughter, also named Norma, will not be allowed to date until she is 18. But Mrs. Alvarado also senses a decline of TURN TO PAGE 11A A

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