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A bump in Cleveland's Hispanic population is a sign 'we are growing,' but work remains

Iglesia Oasis de Bendicion in Linndale draws hundreds of worshippers to its Spanish-language services. [Iglesia Oasis de Bendicion]
Iglesia Oasis de Bendicion in Linndale has a membership of more than 300 worshippers of Hispanic background.

For years, the tiny suburb of Linndale on Cleveland’s southwest side was known to most people for one thing: speeding tickets.

The village's 400 yards of Interstate 71 were a notorious speed trap — and remained so for decades, despite numerous efforts by the state legislature to prevent Linndale from profiting off freeway speeders. (Those efforts finally succeeded a few years ago, though at least one red light camera still operates on a busy street as it passes through village limits.)

Nowadays, Linndale has a different claim to fame. It's home Cuyahoga County's largest concentration, by percentage, of Hispanic and Latinx people. About 19% of the population of just over 100 reported Hispanic or Latinx heritage in the 2020 Census.

Nowhere is Linndale's status as the county's most Hispanic place more apparent than at Iglesia Oasis de Bendicion. Sunday services at the Pentecostal church draw hundreds of worshippers — almost all of whom speak Spanish.

"Our church is composed of mainly Puerto Ricans, but we also have Guatemalans, Mexicans, Dominicans," said Pastor Roberto Rodriguez. "It’s definitely very special because people look out for each other."

But the growing visibility of Northeast Ohio’s Hispanic population isn’t limited to this small suburb. According to the 2020 Census, the city of Cleveland gained more than 9,000 Hispanics. It and the suburb of Brooklyn, which borders both Linndale and Cleveland, now have populations that are 13% Hispanic — their highest proportions ever. Outside Cuyahoga County, the cities of Lorain and Painesville are more than a quarter Hispanic and Latinx.

Those numbers run counter to an overall downward trend in the overall populations of both Cleveland, which lost 6% of its population between 2010 and 2020, and Cuyahoga County, which lost 1.2%. (Most of the people who left were non-Hispanic whites and Blacks, with small increases in the Asian and multiracial populations.)

Linndale, infamous for aggressive policing of speeders, is home to Cuyahoga County's largest concentration, by percentage, of Hispanic and Latinx people. [Justin Glanville / Ideastream Public Media]

Many draws, but 'work to be done'

Affordability and family ties are among the main reasons for the region's growth in Hispanic and Latinx residents, said Victor Ruiz of Esperanza, a local nonprofit that works with Hispanic families to boost kids’ academic achievement.

It’s also possible, he said, that more Hispanic people either filled out their Census forms or identified their ethnicity as Hispanic or Latinx in 2020 compared with past years.

Still, in Cuyahoga County only Linndale’s share of the Hispanic population matches or exceeds the national average of 19%. The County is less than 7% Hispanic. For Ruiz, that means even though the region is doing a pretty good job welcoming one of the nation’s fastest growing ethnic groups, "there's still a lot of work to be done."

He'd like to see more bilingual signs across the city and county, for example, and "a targeted and intentional recruitment campaign that highlights the Hispanic community."

Ruiz said one telling sign that Hispanic and Latinx people may still feel on the margins in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County is that not very many hold elected office. In Cleveland, Councilwoman Jasmin Santana has been a champion for economic development and affordable housing in the West Side neighborhoods she represents. But Linndale and Brooklyn have no Hispanic members of their town councils.

"It's part of the disengagement," Ruiz said. "If you don't see yourself, for a lot of people, it's hard to aspire to those things because they're like, ‘Well, it's not for me.’"

787 Market anchors a small but growing concentration of Hispanic-owned businesses in Cleveland's Old Brooklyn neighborhood. [Justin Glanville / Ideastream Public Media]

'Come on' to Cleveland

For now, businesses and institutions — including churches like Iglesia Oasis de Bendicion — provide some of the most visible reflections of the census numbers.

The intersection of Memphis Avenue and Ridge Road in Cleveland has become a hot spot for Hispanic-owned businesses. There’s a bakery, a couple of restaurants, a certified public accountant and 787 Market, opened a few years ago by a recent Cleveland State graduatewho traces his heritage to Puerto Rico.

For 787 customer Iva Bennett, areas like this are a big part of what makes Cleveland feel like home — and could draw others, too.

"I called a friend that lives in Michigan, and they don't have nothing," Bennett said. "‘Come on,' [I said], 'I show you, we are growing. We are OK.’"

Justin Glanville is the senior producer of community storytelling at Ideastream Public Media.