Antonio Barrios


Antonio Barrios






Jane Rissover-Plotke


Antonio Barrios

OHMS Object Text

5.4 Unknown Date Antonio Barrios Latino Lorain Fall 2020 Oberlin College Library Lorain Ohio Puerto Rican Puerto Ricans Politics Model Art Photography Interview Oral history Antonio Barrios Jane Rissover-Plotke 0 Other audio 0 Introduction to interview with Antonio Barrios JRP: Hello, my name is Jane Rissover-Plotke and I am here with Mr. Antonio Barrios and I am going to interview him for our Latino Lorain Oral History Project. Thank you Mr. Antonio Barrios for agreeing to do this interview with me. Could you please state your name and age? Rissover-Plotke introduces Antonio Barrios who is being interviewed for the Latino Lorain History Project which is a collaboration between the Lorain Historical Society, El Centro de Servicios Sociales, and Oberlin College. The interview is taking place over Zoom due to the Coronavirus global pandemic. Barrios is 74 years old and currently situated in Lorain, Ohio. Antonio Barrios ; El Centro de Servicios Sociales ; Latino Lorain Oral History Project ; Lorain ; Lorain Historical Society ; Lorain, Ohio ; Ohio 37 Early life, recollections from living in Puerto Rico as a young child JRP: Could you tell me a little bit about your family and where you grew up? AB: Yes, definitely! Well, the family unit started out in Puerto Rico, it was just my older brother and myself and my mom. And my father left for the United States to work here at the Steel Mill. Barrios was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico and spent the first 4-5 years of his life in PR. His father was one of the &quot ; First 500&quot ; men who left Puerto Rico for the United States to work in the Steel Mill. This left himself along with his older brother and mother in Puerto Rico for about 2 years while his dad settled into Lorain and worked to save up money for plane tickets for the rest of his family to join him there. In order to qualify for the program with the Johnson Steel Company, the men chosen had to provide a copy of their police record if they had one, a recommendation from the Chief of Police, a recommendation from the mayor of their city, as well as a recommendation from their local priest or a moral character witness. His father along with the rest of the men sent to Lorain with him lived in the barracks on company property until about a year or two later they petitioned to be able to go out into the community and find their own lodging. He recalls living in a makeshift shelter with a tin roof, wooden sides, and cement floor in Barrio Obrero where he lived for the first 5 years of his life. They had very few things but his father would send money back to help support them in addition to her mother doing a variety of work to support their family. At this time--the early '40s and '50s--things were very hard for a lot of people in Puerto Rico and work was very hard to find. Barrio Obrero ; Johnson Steel Company ; Puerto Rico ; Santurce ; Santurce, Puerto Rico ; Steel Mill ; United States ; US Steel Corporation 274 The journey from Puerto Rico to Lorain, Ohio JRP: So, when you got to Lorain, how did things change for you and your family? It was a traumatic experience for Barrios to board and ride on the plane from Puerto Rico to Lorain, Ohio. He had never been anywhere besides his mother's house, and the huge, loud TWA Constellation Aircraft (the biggest 4-propellor airplane in existence) was terrifying for him as a 5 year old. He likens the experience of boarding the plane to Jonas going into the belly of the whale. He describes it as somewhat of a traumatic introduction to the United States, being uprooted from the only place he knew and boarding a monstrous contraption, only to arrive in a totally different place that did not feel familiar to him at all. He was mute and spellbound by it all, trying to do what his parents wanted him to do, without really understanding what was going on or why he was in a new location. Lorain ; Lorain, Ohio ; Plane ; Puerto Rico ; TWA Constellation Aircraft 398 Friends growing up JRP: Who were your friends, mentors, or teachers growing up? Growing up in Lorain, his friends were all kids from the other families that moved from Puerto Rico to Lorain. It was a very close-knit community. Him and his friends weren't born in Lorain so they were the &quot ; first kids on the block&quot ; . None of them could speak English so they navigated their new world together, protecting and looking after each other. Friends ; Learning English ; Second Language ; Self Preservation 459 Early memories and the reception of Puerto Ricans in Lorain by the previous residents JRP: Do you have an earliest memory that you remember? When his family arrived in Lorain, he can remember waking up in bed and looking up at the ceiling of the place where they were living. They lived in a basement and the ceiling was the floor of the people living above them, so there weren't any coverings and you could see the pipes and wires coming out from the ceiling. When the young Puerto Rican men were allowed to look for housing, there was a lot of resistance to the Puerto Rican people being in Lorain. The locals didn't quite understand that it was the Steel Company that brought them there, and that they hadn't known about Lorain prior and wanted to come there to &quot ; take their jobs&quot ; . At first things were mostly calm with the residents of Lorain, although they were being ostracized as the &quot ; Cesar Romero's&quot ; and the &quot ; Latinos in town&quot ; , but then things got ugly. They were painted as a &quot ; Brown wave of invasion&quot ; and people began to be very angry that they were there. Now that he has grown up and understands the full situation more, he resents this hatred that him and his family and friends faced. He is thankful that his father and the other forefathers that brought Puerto Ricans over to Lorain had the strength to prevail and provide himself and others with a better life. Antonio Barrios ; Brown wave ; Brown wave of invasion ; Lorain ; Lorain, Ohio ; Ohio ; Ostracization 628 Schooling in Lorain JRP: What was your schooling like in Lorain? Barrios started out going to public school in his neighborhood. He was terrified of school at first because he didn't speak the language, but luckily he was able to stick with some of the other Puerto Rican kids so they all tried to pick up the language and understand what other people were saying. He would get into difficult situations because he was having a hard time assimilating, so his father took him out of public school and put him in private school. He went to a Catholic school that was right down the corner by where they lived. This was also a traumatic experience for him because &quot ; nuns don't play and they will definitely use the ruler&quot ; , but in the end he had a better education than his peers. He's thankful for his father that he took this chance in moving to Lorain so that he could grow up in a better situation than they had in Puerto Rico and get a great education. But he does feel torn about this because he didn't get a chance to really sink into his roots in Puerto Rico. He is very thankful that they were able to bring their community with them. Assimilation ; Catholic school ; Community ; Education ; Nuns ; Private school ; Public school ; School 860 Making a home for themselves in Lorain on the &quot ; wrong side of the tracks&quot ; AB: Well in fact--another anecdotal story--when our forefathers were trying to get out of company property and out of the barracks, they had difficulty finding lodging because many of the residents refused to sell them homes or rent them properties. When the US Steel Corporation allowed the Puerto Rican men to get out of the barracks on company property, they had difficulty finding lodging because many of the residents refused to sell them homes or rent them properties. Instead they began to buy land at the &quot ; bad place across the tracks&quot ; . They got together and built homes for themselves. This is the true beginning to this area of Lorain called Campito, or the countryside. They were very entrepreneurial and determined to build a better future for their kids, and that's what they did. He describes them as hard-working people and very determined once they make their mind up to do something. He is very proud of them and of his father for having brought them to Lorain. Building homes ; Campito ; Homes ; Lorain ; Ohio ; US Steel Corporation ; Wrong side of the tracks 965 Working in Lorain and the beginning of Vine Ave. and South Lorain JRP: Yeah, that's a great story and he's a very strong man for being able to do everything that he did and so are all of the people that came with him. AB: Yeah! I mean that was incredible I think if I get my years right he retired with about 32 years of service to the US Steel Corporation. His father retired with about 32 years of service to the US Steel Corporation, and then Barrios went to work there after high school. Here is where he first saw that his father's courage and determination were something to admire because it was extremely challenging, laborious work. He learned that he had to go out of his comfort zone and do work that felt very scary and dangerous to him in order to succeed at this job. His and the other kids in the neighborhood's parents had built a community that was known as South Lorain. There always was a South Lorain, but when they tended to migrate closely with each other so when they moved into the area there was a street called Vine Ave., that had only Hispanic owners that owned the buildings and the businesses, so it helped him meld into the American society by having all of their parents, friends, and family be a part of those growing businesses. It was a very thriving community back then in their little apartment in Lorain. Ever since he was little, they had a work ethic that everyone in the family had to do something to help the family get along. Back then there was a lot of agriculture in Lorain. So when he was 8, him and a bunch of the other kids in the neighborhood would try to help out with farm work by going to the Office of the Farm Bureau. The kids would all head over at about 4 or 5 in the morning and line up for the farmers to pick who they wanted to work with them. For the first year or so, all of the farmers would tell him that he was too little and too young, and then finally he was allowed to go and help. He would pick tomatoes, strawberries, cherries as well so doing weeding. He's grown up ever since he was 8 years old, working and bringing something to help with the family's needs, so he thinks that without realizing it that was a very pivotal moment for him. At 8 years old he was bringing money and food to the family, which gave him a profound sense for making it on his own--going out there and helping yourself--and he's been doing that ever since. Community ; Farm ; Farm work ; Hispanic business owners ; Office of the Farm Bureau ; South Lorain ; US Steel Corporation ; Work ethic ; Working 1474 How Lorain has changed since Barrios first arrived AB: Now we have what we call &quot ; El Barrio&quot ; . El barrio was South Lorain, and that's where most of us--and I'm sure you're going to interview them--grew up in this neighborhood where everybody owned their own home--which is different and I have to say kind of tragic because they had an urban renewal program that kind of disintegrated our community, and although they said it was for the best, I have my feelings about that--because before, everybody owned their own home. Then there was &quot ; El Barrio&quot ; . El barrio was South Lorain, the neighborhood where most of the Puerto Rican migrants grew up. Here, everybody owned their own home, dissimilar to how things are now, ever since they implemented an urban renewal program that kind of disintegrated their community, something that he notes is tragic. Although the city said it was for the best, he feels a bit differently. Before, it was a true community where everyone wanted to do their best to keep the streets and public areas clean. They were poor but they still had clean clothes and food on the table. The change in the city has been traumatic and dramatic. When they first arrived, the city was bustling. The holidays were like a Christmas card. There were cars and people everywhere, the economy was going and there was So Much work. There was a common saying that you could quit a job in the morning and have another, well-paying job by afternoon. And all of the work was based on manufacturing. Originally in Lorain they were ship makers. Then they worked on Ford Automobile cars. There were so many different manufacturing jobs available throughout the years. He didn't live through the time when things in the city were really falling apart because he spent some time in Europe, but over time he would see less and less activity and more closed stores. Everything became a bit gloomy. Life became hard for the folks in Lorain. Unfortunately, manufacturing was dying out in the whole country, not just in Lorain. Economic downturn ; Ford ; Manufacturing ; Manufacturing work ; Urban renewal 1936 Proudest moments growing up in Lorain JRP: Do you think that you could share with me your proudest moment growing up in Lorain? One of Barrios' most proudest and fundamental aspects of growing up in Lorain was being 8 years old and a breadwinner for his family. He was also very proud of being an honor roll student in high school--he took to books and studying. The first in his family to enroll in college, he didn't end up completing his schooling. He studied Electrical Engineering at Lorain County Community College but didn't particularly enjoy the subject. Community college ; Electrical engineering ; Honor roll ; Lorain County ; Lorain County Community College ; Student 2048 Greatest challenges growing up and living in Lorain JRP: Yeah, I have another question I think we might have touched on it a little bit, but would you mind sharing with me some of the greatest challenges that you faced growing up and living in Lorain? One of the greatest challenges he faced living in Lorain was how poorly received the Puerto Rican community as a whole was in the area. On top of that, they were at a disadvantage because they didn't speak the language. Many times they were in public speaking their language, people would come by and intervene saying &quot ; You're living in America now, you should be speaking English&quot ; , and they would not even know what they had just said, just that they seemed to be angry. Life was tough for young Puerto Ricans--they had to be a part of some traumatic confrontations with the other youth in the area because they were the new guys on the block. But as determined and resilient people, they would sometimes get into physical altercations to prove a point with mean-spirited youth in order to protect each other. It was traumatic for them because they did not feel a part of this country yet. He did not know who he was or what he was doing. He was trying to--not knowingly--maintain his culture as a Puerto Rican. But here in America everybody is telling him not to speak Spanish and to instead speak English. He thinks that this is probably why him and a lot of his friends don't speak the language very well or at all, because they felt this force to amalgamate and make them only speak English. He has always thought that this viewpoint of the &quot ; melting pot&quot ; of America was misconceived and instead it should be more like a stew, with everyone retaining their individuality and culture, adding all sorts of flavors to the soup creating one amazing taste while each flavor remains identifiable. Despite all of the hostilities that were pointed towards them, they created a community. Now he thinks that Lorain has changed and come to realize that they didn't come to take anything--they came to give what they knew how to do and help the community move along. The US Steel Corporation had a need for good, strong workers, and they saw that in Puerto Ricans. So they went to Puerto Rico and recruited many men from there, and the men were happy to go to get out of the situation of abject poverty that they were experiencing in Puerto Rico at the time. The Puerto Rican youth then grew up and became who they are, and that is thanks also to the United States of America that they are here and able to continue and do things which would probably be a lot different had they stayed in Puerto Rico, but they don't know for certain. Even though they had these obstacles in their way, they stuck with it--they stayed and showed they were good, hard-working people and after some time he thinks the community just accepted them and now the Historical Society is one of the first institutions to now be interested in what they've done and what are their contributions to the community, and for that he is grateful to the Lorain Historical Society for helping to kick this off. Challenges ; Community ; Creating community ; Lorain Historical Society ; Melting pot ; Resilient ; Traumatic ; US Steel Corporation 2593 Impacting other people and his community in Lorain JRP: Another question that we kind of touched on before a little bit: I'm wondering what some of the most important institutions that you've been involved with in Lorain are? Barrios' finishing high school was really important to his family. Both of his parents were uneducated. His mother never went to school and his father was pulled out of school in 5th grade to take care of his mom so he did a lot of manual labor growing up--one of the reasons why he admires his dad so much. Even when he and his siblings were teenagers his father was still sending money to Puerto Rico to help his mom stay alive and be well--he even went so far as to buy her a house. His father accomplished a lot of things that people like him were not expected to be able to do. One of the accomplishments that Barrios is most proud of is getting an arts program started in the city of Lorain--the Lorain Arts Council. He spoke up at City Council and tried to convince the leaders of that time that the arts could transform the city. He notes that the arts weren't seen as something that people who didn't have money could be interested in, so he tried to explain to them that if you bring the arts in then you will bring people with money into the city of Lorain. He spoke up at City Council another time and petitioned for an ordinance to be put in place that would allow folks to live and work in the same place. It was approved and this further helped artists by allowing them to be able to work on their art in the same place where they live. The biggest honor of his life was to be on the committee that successfully petitioned for the 65th battalion to receive the Congressional Gold Medal for their valiant work as soldiers. Then, upon further investigation he found that there were 4 local men who were also in this unit that did not receive the medal because they couldn't make the trip. So him and his friends came up with the idea to make bronze copies (painted gold) of the gold medals and award them to the 4 men in town. They got Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur to come down and award the medals to the men in person--they made a big thing of it and it was a really special event at the Lorain Historical Society. They also got a video from Senator Sherrod Brown talking about how he was happy to sign the petition and was proud of these men. Arts ; City Council ; Congressional Gold Medal ; Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur ; Lorain Arts Council ; Lorain Historical Society ; Manual labor ; Marcy Kaptur ; Petition ; Senator Sherrod Brown ; Sherrod Brown 3592 Time in Europe AB: One of the things that I think is outstanding is that I managed to survive on my own in Europe for 15, 20 years almost, really not knowing anything, and just being out there to see what the rest of the world was like. After leaving the military where he served in the Vietnam War, he decided to change his life and moved to New York. Suffering from PTSD, he had a breakdown after arriving in New York. He sought help at Bellevue Hospital, a place that he ended up leaving shortly after checking in, since, at the time, the hospital wasn't capable of giving him any tools to deal with his disorder--instead they just drugged up all of the patients. He then stayed at his aunt's house in New York until he was faced with the opportunity of moving to Europe. Barrios says that his adaptability is his biggest survival tool that has always helped him keep going wherever he finds himself. In New York he ended up being considered for a modeling job. When things started to not work out as much for him in the city, his agent Zoli--an icon in the fashion industry--suggested that he try modeling in Europe because back then Puerto Ricans did not have buying power in the states, and he might have a better chance of making a more livable wage in Europe. Barrios did not think he would actually go to Europe to pursue this modeling career, but he ended up getting a job as a flight attendant where he would fly back and forth to Europe. After that job ended, he took his clothes, a one-way ticket, and a hundred dollars and went to Europe. He managed to live there with great success for almost 20 years. He learned French and Italian during his time abroad. Barrios can speak Italian better than Spanish because he made a conscious effort to learn the language. With Spanish, the reason he can speak it is because his mother refused to learn any other language, but he never made a conscious effort to learn it--he would just speak with his mom. Bellevue Hospital ; Europe ; Flight attendant ; French ; Italian ; Language ; Languages ; Learning languages ; Military ; Model ; Modeling ; Modeling career ; New York ; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ; PTSD ; Puerto Ricans ; Spanish ; Vietnam War ; Zoli 4119 Coming back to Lorain and thoughts on how the city can flourish JRP: Yeah. So, you spent a lot of time abroad, and then... AB: Yeah! That's why a lot of things that happened in town I wasn't really privy to because they were happening while I was gone. Before Barrios left Lorain for his stint in New York and Europe, Lorain was still flourishing and manufacturing was king, but there were no steps being taken to be able to do something different. Although manufacturing is not currently a happening business in Lorain nor in the rest of the country, Barrios thinks there are many other things about Lorain that aren't being given enough attention. He lists the lakefront and the natural river as a couple aspects of Lorain that could be really amazing resources for helping Lorain to thrive. According to Barrios, Lorain is a total goldmine. A few things need to be changed but he says that if the city keeps pursuing tourism and the arts, Lorain will flourish. After 12 years he is still working at his art gallery and pushing that idea. Europe ; Lakefront ; Lorain ; Lorain Arts Council ; Manufacturing ; Natural River ; New York 4327 The transformation of South Lorain following the &quot ; urban renewal program&quot ; AB: When they decimated South Lorain--and that's the term I use...they call it urban renewal, I call it decimated--it all became housing! Low-income housing. Whereas before, everybody owned their own property. When the &quot ; urban renewal program&quot ; decimated South Lorain, what used to be individual houses became low-income housing. Vine Ave. used to be clean and tidy, completely full with Hispanic businesses and people ; they were becoming a strong political base. President John F. Kennedy even came to South Lorain to speak to the Puerto Rican community of South Lorain. South Lorain went from being a tight-knit community of Hispanic people to housing for low-income people--something that isn't necessarily bad but effectively drove the community all over the area instead of maintaining that singular, large group of Hispanic folks. Barrios also emphasizes that before the Puerto Ricans came to Lorain, the Mexican community was already established there years before that. They also have the first ethnic, Hispanic Social Club in the city of Lorain and the state of Ohio. Barrios' father told him that they owed a debt of gratitude to the Mexican people because they helped them out in the beginning when they were settling in. Hispanic ; Hispanic businesses ; Hispanic Social Club ; Mexican community ; Ohio ; President John F. Kennedy ; South Lorain ; Urban Renewal Program ; Vine Ave. ; Vine Avenue 4591 Important historical moments: notable industries and the impact of their losses. Thoughts on how to move forward JRP: I'm wondering what have been some of the most important historical moments in the city, according to you. Although a large chunk of Barrios' life was spent outside of Lorain, he still has quite a few notable historical moments that exist for him in the city. One of these is the creation of the shipyards. It helped to create the identity of the city of Lorain and also helped the different industries in Lorain. Another is the US Steel Mill. A third is the Ford Plant. The loss of these industries has impacted the mentality of the people in Lorain as well as the inability of anybody taking leadership and moving the city of Lorain in a different direction. Lorain also lost a lot of people at this time: there was a mass exodus. Barrios hopes that the city of Lorain sees the true value of the land that they own and the sea that they control, and that they build that waterfront and the river up to what other places have done. He says that they don't need a major invention but instead need the collective will to come together and decide that that is where they should be going. Barrios wants to encourage people to believe in and love their city enough to stay and create new and exciting things for the continued growth and benefit of their city. Ford Plant ; Industries ; Industry ; Leadership ; Lorain ; Mass exodus ; Ohio ; River ; Shipyards ; US Steel Mill ; Waterfront 5040 Challenges facing the people of Lorain today JRP: That brings me to my next question which is what do you see as the greatest challenge facing people in the city of Lorain today? Barrios thinks that identity is the biggest challenge facing the people of Lorain today. There are of course other problems such as financial and political issues, but he thinks that the deepest problem for the city of Lorain is an identity problem because they lost that manufacturing base and people are still clinging on to that manufacturing base instead of moving forward. Barrios thinks that the city of Lorain needs to find people with good ideas to help the city and then aid them in executing these ideas. Barrios says that the city of Lorain has to shed the shackles of the past and embrace the vision of tomorrow. Having traveled the world, he believes that the city of Lorain has a huge chance of becoming a destination point. Identity ; Identity crisis ; Lorain ; Lorain, Ohio ; Manufacturing ; Ohio 5599 Lorain's greatest strengths JRP: What do you see as Lorain's greatest strengths? One of Lorain's greatest strengths is that they've tried only to maintain the identity of the international city. This identity was, however, stronger in years past, but Barrios states that Lorain is still a beautiful melting pot of nationalities. He says that you do not have to lose your cultural background to become American. You can be many things at the same time. He says that he has no problem being both Puerto Rican and American, it is other people that have a problem with it. American ; Culture ; International City ; Lorain ; Lorain, Ohio ; Melting pot ; Ohio ; Puerto Rican 5884 How the city of Lorain fits into his future JRP: Do you see Lorain as continuing to be home to you and your family? Barrios thinks that for his family Lorain will likely continue to be home for them. He is not so sure about himself, however. He is trying to establish something and set some goals for himself, but once he does that he thinks there's a lot more out there in the rest of the world for him to explore. He's not saying that he will move away from Lorain, but he definitely wants to enjoy the rest of the world if that is possible. He is struggling, however, to make a base that will keep him in Lorain. Goals ; Homebase ; Lorain ; Lorain, Ohio ; Ohio ; Travel 5952 Showcasing some of the fun items in Barrios' room JRP: Well I have to ask about the vest on your chair and also the jersey you're wearing. Barrios' jersey is for a Puerto Rican baseball team. It serves as a symbol of Puerto Rico and their baseball history. The vest symbolizes a recent change in his life. It is from an organization that he belongs to--a motorcycle organization. It is a worldwide organization called LAMA (Latin American Motorcycle Organization). It says &quot ; Latin American&quot ; on the back, and has a USA and Puerto Rican flag on the front. He only bought his motorcycle 6 months prior to this interview, so he is the newest full member of the LAMA organization. There is an accompanying hat that goes with the vest. Barrios also has a Puerto Rican flag hanging behind him. Baseball ; Flag ; Hat ; Jersey ; LAMA ; Latin America ; Latin American ; Latin American Motorcycle Organization ; Lorain ; Lorain, Ohio ; Motorcycle ; Motorcyclist ; Ohio ; Puerto Rican baseball ; Puerto Rican Flag ; Vest 6278 Barrios' involvement in politics and his hopes for the future of politics AB: Actually I got involved in politics during, was a freshman Congresswoman by the name of Betty Sutton who came to Lorain trying to become a Congresswoman and I had just finished a project that was brought in by Father Bill at Sacred Heart Church it was called &quot ; Reclaim Lorain&quot ; . Barrios describes how he has been involved politically in the past and got his ward of South Lorain's voting average by 50% percent, much more than the majority of neighboring wards. He also describes how he ran for office and didn't win, but he will probably do it again. He hopes that the younger generation will get even more involved in politics. Barrios thinks that Lorain is going to be OK, and that it is just a matter of some of the older voices dying down and some of the newer voices rising up, which hasn't happened yet. &quot ; You don't grow with status quo&quot ; . Barrios doesn't want to lose himself and who he is in what somebody else wants him to be or for another idle or title. He wants to remain who he is and grow. Look at him! At 74 years old he just started riding motorcycles! And there's more out there for him as well as for the city of Lorain. Generations ; Lorain ; Motorcycles ; Ohio ; Politics ; South Lorain ; Status quo ; Ward ; Wards Oral history interview with Antonio Barrios for Latino Lorain Oral History Project. audio 0 LL_Barrios_Antonio.xml

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