Ruth Rubio-Pino interview, 11 August 2017

Ruth Rubio-Pino is a Mexican-American and long-time activist. She has worked closely with Club Azteca and provides a detailed history of the formation and evolution of this Cleveland Mexican-American landmark. She discusses the plight of Mexican migrant workers and urban dwelling Mexican immigrants. She remarks on how the heightened consciousness and enforcement of immigration has affected the Mexican-American community as a whole and in Cleveland. Throughout the oral history, she comments on the struggle of identity formation ("I'm not from here, nor either from there").

Participants: Rubio-Pino, Ruth (interviewee) / Pino, Gazan (participant) / Nemeth, Sarah (interviewer)
Collection: Detroit Shoreway
Institutional Repository: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Interview Transcript

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:03] Hi, my name is Sarah Nemeth. I'm here today with Ruth Rubio-Pino. Today is August 10, 2017. We're at the Detroit Shoreway Community Development offices. This is for the Cleveland Regional Oral History Project. Could you please state your name for the record?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:00:17] Hi, my name is Ruth Rubio-Pino.

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:20] And where and when were you born?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:00:24] I was born in Edinburg, Texas, in 1958.

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:27] And where are you from? Your ethnic background?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:00:32] My ethnic background is Mexican. On my mother's side were Mexican from when Texas was territory of Mexico, so we are diehard Mexicans. And on my father's side is, he is straight right from Mexico on the Mexico side.

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:53] So was your mother's family already in Texas? Did they just remain in Texas when it was taken?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:01:02] When it was overtaken? Yes. Yes. When they took over, they remained in Texas.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:07] And your father's family, when did they migrate over?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:01:17] My father's family never came here. When my mother married, he took her back to Mexico to the other side as we used to refer to it. But he passed away and so she came back to Texas to live with my grandmother, her mom.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:40] What did your father's family do in Mexico?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:01:45] Me being the youngest of three, I never got to meet him, unfortunately. So I have no idea what, I've never met my family on my father's side.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:56] Your mother's side, on the other hand, what did they do in Texas?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:02:00] We come from a long line of migrant workers. We've worked the crops, we would travel, migrate within the states, from state to state according to the crops.

Sarah Nemeth [00:02:13] Is it a large family?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:02:15] Very, very large. On my mother's side, I mean, I was raised by my grandmother, my mother's mom and there were twelve of us. So, I mean, in comparison to now, of course that's a lot. Of course, back then it was 18.

Sarah Nemeth [00:02:38] I couldn't even imagine having twelve brothers and sisters. And you're the youngest?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:02:46] Well, I was the youngest granddaughter, but I was raised as a child as part of the family.

Sarah Nemeth [00:02:53] And when was the decision made to move to—

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:02:57] Up north? Well, as I said, I was raised by my grandmother, so I remained down south and I was raised there until I was eight, you know migrating back and forth. But we never came up north. We always remained in the southern states: Nebraska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama. But my mother by then had already come up north, she was already in Cleveland. She had remarried to my stepfather, who was working in the railroads up here in Cleveland, Ohio. So when they realized that my grandmother still hadn't put me in school, which is not uncommon for the migrant families, you know. We traveled so many places that they could never keep track of us anyway, so they didn't know which children were or were not registered for school. And so she never registered me for school and so my mother, when they found out that I wasn't back in school and I was already eight and still not in school, they said, "Yeah, you need to bring her up here." So I came up in 1964 to start school here.

Sarah Nemeth [00:04:00] And in Cleveland?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:04:01] In Cleveland, yes.

Sarah Nemeth [00:04:04] What side of town were you on?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:04:05] Near west side. We lived right exactly where the St. Ignatius High School is. Right there in that area.

Sarah Nemeth [00:04:12] Was there already a strong Mexican-American community here?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:04:17] Well, yeah, absolutely. Because when I got here, my parents were already in office with the Azteca Club and they were already, I think they'd been members for ten years already by that time, and the Azteca Club was in full force at that time. So, yes.

Sarah Nemeth [00:04:39] Did everyone live nearby? Did you move in the same area, the same streets?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:04:48] Well, yeah. What is now known as Ohio City was very prominently many Hispanics, you know. I was rather young then, so I couldn't really tell you how diverse it was within the Latin community but there was a lot. I remember just in the Bridge Avenue area, there was a lot of Mexicans that we knew right here in this area here by Detroit. What is now known as Detroit Shoreway area is a lot of Mexicans right across the street from the club. There were a couple of streets that were always, you know, we had a lot of Mexican families there. Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:05:24] Right. Could you maybe just describe what your community where you lived was like? Maybe some of what it looked like.

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:05:34] Pretty much what it looks like now. [laughs] Pretty much, it hasn't really changed much. It hasn't deteriorated as much as one would think. You know, through the eyes of a child as young as I was, everything looked huge and big. So the only thing I would say is it's not as big as I thought it was. Back then, I thought everything was enormous. Because I don't know how long the Detroit Shoreway had the Italian community here, but I guess we just seem to blend so well because our culture as well as— it was always the yards. You could always tell who lived in them because she had these big, beautiful rose bushes and all these beautiful, well-maintained gardens. And, you know, that was a passion for most Mexican families, you know. Their wives didn't work and they took care of the garden. And it would happen here. You could see that here with the Italians as well.

Sarah Nemeth [00:06:34] Did anyone ever tell you why they relocated to Cleveland? Some of the first Mexican-American families that moved to the area?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:06:44] Well, yes. I mean, my dad usually used to talk about it a lot. And it was mainly because of the work, the steel mills and the railroad. Many of them came first, initially, because of the steel mills in Lorain, Ohio, and Cleveland. And I do not know if they were contracted through, you know, back then. All I know is that I was raised as Mexican, so I thought I was Mexican. I mean, I am Mexican but, you know, I didn't realize that I was born in the United States. I didn't know any of that. So having lived in a migrant agricultural family, we were treated just like any undocumented person. I mean, we were discriminated against in low wages and put in very, very poor housing while we traveled from fields to crop to crop. But when I came to live up here, it was a total different lifestyle because by then my mother, my parents, and my brother and sister were living here. It's like taking the kid out of the country and bringing it to the city. Well, that's exactly what I felt. [laughs] I always related to that story because I mean wow. You know, my eyes, they were wide in a house with wooden walls. It was different for me. Very, very different.

Sarah Nemeth [00:08:10] Do you think that you could describe maybe some of the places that you lived when you were traveling around?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:08:16] Going from? [crosstalk] Oh, yeah. Well, you know as migrant families, we usually had the housing provided to us by the farmers, the owners of the crop– the land that we were going to. But we migrated in what Mom used to call herds, you know. [laughs] We used to [inaudible]– we would migrate five, six, even ten families. It was just a big, big caravan traveling to wherever we went to. But there was always a leader of the group who was in charge of the contracting, you know, getting the contracts for the fields, you know, and says, "Okay, we have a crew of so much. We can get this crop clean for you within so much time." And if we did it within that allotted time, we would go to the next crops. And so, of course, as a child, I was taken but I didn't work obviously. You know, I remember Mom, you know, especially in the cotton fields, my grandmother—I've always called her mom but anyways—she would put me at the end of the sack of the cotton. I don't know if you've ever seen the sacks that they used to carry to pick the cotton? So I'd be over at the end with my little rag dolls and stuff that she would make for me. But as it was getting full and full and full, I'd get on top of it like I'm riding a horse, you know [laughs], and that's how she would carry me along, you know, to work for her day because she was, you know, she was a widow and she had, you know, eleven, twelve children to feed. Well, eleven because my mom wasn't there anymore. But the homes, they varied, okay? But most of them were your one-room, maybe, oh maybe, gosh, I don't know, I think– Well, I think this room would be kind of big for just one room. But it was, I mean it would be one-room little shacks, but it would be in a property where there would be like maybe ten, twelve different little shacks where each family would be able to go in, but it was for one family. So it's all one room, big open room, no insulation, no nothing. It was just boarded, well, almost like a barn, but they're just tiny little things. And we would create rooms with string from wall to wall and throw the bedsheets over it to create, you know the rooms and privacy. But basically the kitchen was in the same room. You know, everything was all in one room. It just depended on where we went and what, you know, how big the rancher was. But most of them were like, I would probably say maybe ten by fifteen spaces. Very, very, very small.

Sarah Nemeth [00:11:01] And thirteen of you shared that?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:11:05] Well, okay, well in our case, because, I mean, the bigger the family was then of course, we would request two. But of course, and that would be double rent because that wasn't free. We would have to pay, so of course we'd have to pay double to make sure everybody slept. You know, I mean everybody had a space because we didn't have the luxury of our own rooms, but in a family of twelve children we'd have the boys' room, the girls' room, okay? But then the youngest of both sex would sleep with Mom and Dad in the room in the house with them, little shack with them, okay? So then you know, okay, one for the boys, one for the girls, but with twelve you're talking about almost six, five kids in one little space there. And sometimes we couldn't even afford that because you had to pay and it added up.

Sarah Nemeth [00:12:00] Did they just automatically take it out?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:12:03] Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:12:04] Did they offer– I mean, not offer, but did they charge you for your food too?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:12:12] Well, it would be just like you would do here. You rent the space and you provide your own food, you provide everything, you know. And there, of course, was no electricity. We would run lines. We had the kerosene lamps, things like that. We'd have kerosene stoves to cook with, you know, boil our water to get our hot water. We'd boil our water outside with the little campfire, that type of thing. The bathrooms were a common area, okay, we would have the outhouses. So maybe sometimes for that big of a property, we may still only have one outhouse, you know. [laughs] It just depends. And I remember some were a little bit more accommodating because they would actually have the shower house, and you'd go in there. You'd have three or four showers on each side for the guys and for the girls, you know, and a little bit that was luxurious to us. But it just depends, you know, it just really depends.

Sarah Nemeth [00:13:11] So, what kind of food were you making when you were– You didn't have electricity? And was it run by gas? Did you have, like–

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:13:18] Yeah. We had kerosene, we had the, yeah, yeah. We had those little kerosene stoves. And you know, we'd– And I remember every morning we had our huevos con chorizo, papitas, frijoles, and tortillas. [laughs] So, it was just your basic breakfast as you would see here, you know, your eggs, your home fries. Of course, we always had beans. We couldn't have our breakfast without our beans and our tortillas, you know, and yeah. You would have Mom– Depending on where we're at, because eventually it got to where the family started growing and outgrowing the group, and the immediate family stayed. So it was always my dad, our family, and then his brother. Okay, now his brother had eighteen children, okay? So they had eighteen children and by then there were grandchildren. There was that group, that family was growing a lot. And he was basically the leader of everybody, making the contracts. So it eventually got to where it was just us and them. And when I say, oh, it was my step– When I came up here, eventually when my grandparents and my grandmother brought us up here, when I came up here, my dad, the one that was already my stepfather was already here. He was very persistent in saying, "No, we're not gonna forget where we come from." And every week on weekends during crop season and on summer vacations, my dad would travel back like to Lima, Ohio, Toledo, Sandusky and that area there where, Fremont, where the crops were and where his brother's family, he would bring his family up here and, you know, we would meet and get to know them. But we worked on those during the summertime. So Dad always took us over there and get, earn our school clothes for the next year. And that was his way of making sure that we did not forget where– Of course, my kids, my brothers and sisters said, "We? I never picked my life. It's her life." You know? [laughs] They didn't like me very much.

Sarah Nemeth [00:15:21] How old– So when you were really little, you obviously didn't engage in the, like you said–.

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:15:27] The actual labor. I was eight when I started working labor. The fields.

Sarah Nemeth [00:15:33] And how much did you get paid?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:15:35] Oh, well, I know my dad, I remember him saying 20 cents a bushel is like, you got, you know, now, I don't know why he always looked at me—I must've been about twelve—and he used to say, "Go tell him, go tell him, you tell him that they're ripping us off." You know? He was always upset about how unfair we were being paid because, just to give an example, the cucumbers. We would pick the cucumbers, but we needed to clean the vines completely, which meant that you get the little tiny little pickles.

Sarah Nemeth [00:16:11] Mm-hm.

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:16:10] Okay? Well, we all know what happens to the little tiny little pickles. You know, they don't go to waste. They get bottled, they get cured and bottled, right? But we didn't get paid for those. We were only getting paid for the cucumbers. But we had to clean the vines, and so when we would take all our bushes, I mean, you know. [phone rings] When we– At the end of the day, when we'd load the trailers to take it to the warehouse for distribution, they had their conveyor belts separating everything. And so, of course, only the cucumbers were we're gonna get paid. So we dump twenty bushels here, but by the time they separate the cucumbers, we probably only had like maybe eight baskets, okay, because the other were little cucumbers, little pickles. We were not getting paid for the pickles. And so, of course, my father was very furious about it because, as you know, pickles have a long shelf time, whereas the cucumbers, well, you know, they gotta be, they're fresh and you have to use them right away, within a certain amount of time. But the pickles, you know, they had a long, long shelf time and that's where they're making the bulk of the money. But we were not getting paid, of course and my father started saying, you know, he started explaining all these to us. And that's probably where a lot of our– [phone rings] –where a lot of our activism started, you know, and standing up for our rights and fighting and I didn't realize that– I didn't realize that the reason the other people weren't speaking and why my dad kept saying, "Come on, you gotta stand up. You've got to say something. We've gotta–" You know. I didn't realize it was because they couldn't because they were actually undocumented. I didn't know that because we'd never seen amongst each other is who was and who wasn't legal. Especially me coming from the border towns in Texas. You know, in the border towns of Texas, everything was in Spanish. Even though it was an American, you know, a U.S. territory—our post office was in Spanish, our police station—everything was in Spanish so I never learned English until I came up here. So when we came up here, I started realizing that, you know, why does he want me to do all the talking? You know, why didn't anybody else speak up? And it was through here at the club, of course, because that was– When we were here, of course, that's what they did, most of them. My mom was a nurse professionally during the day, and my father worked in tool and dye. But come the end of the night, in the evening, you know, 5, 6 o'clock and they were at the club setting up and getting ready to receive the workers because they were, you know, the migrant– The immigrants in Cleveland were different from the migrant workers. The immigrants were here and you know, the steel mill, they're working, you know. But again, they were, I don't know what their status was, but I know that they were being brought in by groups. Organizations were bringing them in to work the fields, I mean, I'm sorry, the steel mills. And by the time you got to work at the railroad, it was because you were either a Mexican-American like we were, who were already U.S. citizens, which I didn't know the difference at the time, which is what my father was doing. He was working the railroads, he never worked the steel mills. But if you were a– Most of your undocumented were working in the steel mills. And that's where I started seeing a lot of– He would talk to people at the club, he would talk about, you know, what's going on in the fields. City folk didn't know what was going on in the fields in the country, you know, and of course, they don't know anything about here. I remember going to Lima one day for the summer and our cousins who were country folk, [laughs] because we thought, suddenly I became a city folk, we were talking about Christopher Columbus because October 12th was having a Christopher Columbus holiday so we got to go down there to work because it was a long weekend. And don't you guys get off on this holiday? They said, "Why? What is it?" Well, I said, "It's Christopher Columbus Day." "What is Christopher Columbus?" They didn't know what Christopher Columbus was [laughs], so we kind of found that kind of strange. But here, we noticed that the members of the club started kind of opening up their eyes and seeing the injustice and unfairness that was happening to the migrant workers out in the fields and the crops. They were dusting. The airplanes were coming by while we were there, dusting right overhead of us. Well, you know, the pesticides into the fields. And, you know, I mean, there would always be a big whistle. We knew who– There was always one there who had the just ability to whistle real loud. That meant, here comes the plane, so we all kind of would crouch down, cover our faces with our shirts, and let it come past us. But by that time, you know, we were white. [laughs]

Sarah Nemeth [00:21:15] Oh my goodness, I had no idea. That's terrible.

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:21:20] Yeah, they would pesticide. They poured pesticides right over us, you know, while we were in the middle of the fields working, we took it. Of course, they never told us we're going to do it but of course, once you hear the planes coming, the warning was there and you crouch down, cover up and protect yourself. But those were things that we, later on, learned that was wrong and we had a lot of, you know, lung diseases that arised from that. I, being one of them, have asthma. I've had chronic asthma for just about all my life. Apparently that was part of the cause or suspected as part of the cause. The city people here started when they first organized the club in 1932, they organized because most of them were families who came with fami;y. I mean, men who came with their families to work and/or maybe Mexican-American. I'm not quite sure on that or very clear on it. But they seemed to be families who are more into the culture, the preservation of the culture, the arts, and things like that. Whereas if you look at a common Mexican migrant worker, they're not too much into the culture. You know, the artistic part of it, they've got the culture, they got their traditions. They're the ones who set the traditions for us, but not so much into the theater, into the arts and things like that. Because, I mean,we always said, "Oh, that's for the rich people." You know, it's not for us.

Sarah Nemeth [00:22:58] Yeah, you don't have time.

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:22:59] Yeah. No, no. And there was no time. They worked from sunup to sundown. Whereas here, I noticed a different lifestyle for the Mexican community, even if you were undocumented. The only difference, the one big difference was at the club, the men would come out of work, but they came here without their families. And so five o'clock, Mom and Dad were already at the club awaiting them. They'd come in, have their couple of beers, put on the jukebox, listen to their music and, you know, Mom and Dad because, you know, we're there. And they were– The membership was a very, very large group that ran– But the manager and treasurer usually were the ones who opened up the place for business on a daily basis. The members just got together once a month to see what, you know, how are things transpiring, organize outside activities, or extra special events. But that's why it was always my mom and dad who were pretty much up front, and I always thought that they were owners, which they were not but because they were always there as managers, so they were like [psychiatrists]. My mom was, you know we call it Pañuelo de lagrimas, which means, you know, she was a little handkerchief for you to– her shoulder to cry on, you know. And I remember that on weekends being the youngest and not being, you know, they didn't, the eldest weren't old enough to take care of me so she would bring me with her to the club, and she'd throw a blanket in the back of the bar so I'd sleep on the floor because they'd close at 1:30 in the morning. I always wondered why all these men are crying at the bar, you know. [laughs] They're sitting there and having their beer and crying, and I'd go, "Well, that beer must taste terrible, or whatever they're drinking must taste terrible because look at them. Their eyes are full of tears." But, you know, it's the depression, the loneliness, and the fact that many of them hadn't seen their families for years, and things like that.

Sarah Nemeth [00:24:57] So the club kind of acted as a network, a place that the community revolved around?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:25:05] Exactly, yes.

Sarah Nemeth [00:25:06] So a place for like if you're coming from Mexico or you're coming from one of the border towns or you're a migrant worker, you can come here and find resources to possibly get out of the migrant work?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:25:24] At least that's how it seemed to me, okay, that, you know, seeing how my parents and the members worked. But I always called it, you know, in my eyes it looked like a welcoming committee. What you used to have, the welcome wagon, you know, the Anglo version of the welcome wagon with the little baskets and taking them to your new neighbor that comes in and stuff like that. Well, they came to us and you know, "Oh, we don't know where to find food, how to speak, how to order, how did this and that," and, you know, "Oh, go to the Club Azteca, they'll help you," and stuff. So they would come there and they would facilitate to them. You know, it was a welcoming committee and they didn't have nowhere to stay. The word got around that chain phone calling, "Hey, you know, call, you know. Oh, no. Well, well okay make sure you call so-and-so. Okay." So everybody else would go on and saying, "We've got a family of five here that don't have nowhere to stay. Can anybody spare room, spare beds or a sofa?" Always found a place for them when they would come and somehow they knew to come to the club. They'd say– And when it was closed, they knew the number to call, and you know, our phone line was ringing all the time at the house. And mainly, why us? Well, because mom was also the secretary, so she would get all the calls. But then, of course, she would initiate the chain calling and looking for a place for them to stay. So it was a common support group here, everybody helped one way or another. We never knew about grants, we never knew that there was money out there to be. I remember my mom says, she goes, we grew where we are by our own sweat and tears here. She says, we never relied on any what they call now city funding, probably because I don't know if it was in place at that time or not, but we never heard of that. It was always selling tacos and making tortillas, making burritos. So get out there and sell them so we can make ends meet and get some money for those. Had a little kitty for the visitors, that's what we used to call them, anybody who came and needed help and stuff.

Sarah Nemeth [00:27:37] So were there maybe classes to teach English too or—.

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:27:44] There we were, they were not– At that time, they were not that organized yet, yes, they did but it was always like, let's just say if somebody there spoke English, she would offer the classes at her home, okay, not necessarily on the location. One thing I noticed and I used to say as I was growing up, I'd go, "Oh, such a waste of space," you know, because we could be doing so many things. When I got much older and became an activist myself, I used to, you know, like– But then, of course, I understand they would say, well, electricity, you know, you gotta, you can't be open anymore [24-7] because eventually the support dwindles. Everything's been run by volunteers as long as I can remember, and donations. And so it didn't prosper after a while. It became the same after the founders and through 1932, obviously my parents weren't part weren't the founders or anything like that. But after the founders became elderly and this new group came, it was a very tight knit group. You know, we had Danny Cardenas, who was always the I always thought he was more of the cultural leader in the group because he knew so much about Mexico in the artistic area and things like that. My mom was more into the social issues. And Dad was the number guy. He knew how to run, he was always treasurer. He wasn't treasurer. I'm sorry, my mistake. He was the proxy, but he was always making sure everything stayed in order because he was a sergeant in the army. He had served in the army and so he always made sure everything was placed in order. And then Rudy Guzman, who was our treasurer, for as long as I can remember, he's always been around. He was always our treasurer. And then there was Sarah Cardenas, which is Danny's sister, was part of that group but she was still part of she fell into the elderly, the elders, this new group, or pretty much from the same age group, which was Mom, Danny [Cardenas], Rudy [Guzman], Estella, and Amalia Corona. And Amalia was, know, we always said the club was run by two strong-willed women, but they always clashed because Amalia was very cultural and very into her heritage and her culture. Mom was into social issues, okay? So, they just kind of like didn't see eye-to-eye in a lot of things because each one, you know, one looked at and says "Okay, that's all the fun and I'm doing all the work over here. You're doing all the fun things over here. But at the end, they realized they were a very, very strong foundation of the organization because they really, really lifted up the help, were able to reach out to help. The cultural and artistic part of it served as a downtime for all the hard work and all these, you know, you work all day, you work six days a week. You know, this was Sunday, get together at the club and it was kind of sort of like a smorgasbord. Bring a dish and we all got together there. And we, as kids, I remember running around rugged all over the place, you know, causing chaos. And they had their music and their dancing, but it was a very big family community event. Whereas during the weeks, like I said, that would become when the social issues. It was always the problems and trouble. You know, somebody got picked up, somebody got arrested, somebody was kicked out of the home or whatever. Or oh, this person's being giving very poor housing. He's being mistreated, he's being exploited. So that's where all the drama was during the week. Not so much on the weekends, it was more in the week. And then come Friday and Saturdays, it was the dancing and partying and just pretty much relaxing and forgetting about all those hardships. And that's pretty much what they did.

Sarah Nemeth [00:32:21] Kind of the hardships, I wanted to touch on. Was there a particular group that maybe was more discriminatory than another?. Did you feel discrimination or maybe alienation at all in Cleveland?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:32:41] Well, again, back. I mean, I'm still back. You know, when I first arrived. I mean, between 1964 to the better part of my senior years, I still hadn't realized that I wasn't Mexican, okay. I was still stuck on the fact I was Mexican. I remember asking the kids around me and say, "So where are you from?" They said "What do you mean from where? Cleveland?" I go, "No, no, no." But I didn't know how to say what heritage or what country. I just like, well, you know, I'm Mexican, so what are you? And it still didn't quite fit in my head. Mind you, I didn't know how to read, write either languages [English and Spanish] when I came here at eight years of age. So I didn't know anything about geography. I knew nothing about anything, no boundaries, so, borders. So when I would ask, I would see a blond-haired, blue-eyed little girl. Now, mind you, I didn't notice. I didn't realize and I was blond myself. My brother and I were very, very light complected. My sister was very, you know, little dark more tan. She took after my dad's side of the family. But I guess, we just never looked or saw ourselves that way. So here we see a little blond-haired girl and blue eyes, and you're just really pale, pale white. And it's like, where are you from? They would look at us like, what are you talking about? I can honestly say I don't recall, especially in my school years, of ever having being discriminated or mistreated. I just remember it mainly when we were out in the fields, that I remember. We were children and we're just so happy go lucky and things happen around us and we don't really notice because we're in our own world. But I would remember the adults, my aunts, my uncles, the elder kids of how they would come in very upset and don't want to go back to school because they were being discriminated and bullied, couldn't partake in any of the activities of extracurricular activities at school, which like I said, knowing now, I understand what it was all about. I never could understand why they always somebody coming home crying from school. So in the fields and I guess maybe I just got lucky to come here and I think the club and being so organized with the supportive of the culture and community embraced them. The community I mean, that's, you know, here this whole area that, like I said, we've been there where we're at now. We've been there since I think they bought it in the early 1950s and they've been there ever since. Or they bought the property. I think they've been there since 1945, but they bought the property in the '50s and they've been at that location now and always I remember the community just being very supportive of us. I remember our Christmas parties. Mom would throw the Christmas parties or the members would throw the Christmas parties, but they opened the doors to everybody. But we did our piñata thing. We did our Mexican kind of Christmasy things and people were like, so "Oh wow, cool! Nice!" It was just something different for them and they really liked it. And of course, we never discriminated like, oh we're gonna get together. No, you're not Mexican, you can't have a chair. Don't sit on Santa's lap because you don't belong here. It was the more the merrier and so I always thought that being poor, the migrant workers were the ones that means that that was a bad thing because that's why we were mistreated. Where when I came here to Cleveland, my parents were a little bit better off. Of course, working for the steel mills and him getting paid his just wages because he was a US citizen and a veteran. But I just never realized why there was such a difference in treatment.

Sarah Nemeth [00:36:50] When did you start? So you started to realize the difference through the club and becoming more aware of your— I mean, as you grow up, you kind of become more conscious of the differences, different perceptions and opinions.

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:37:05] Absolutely. Yes, absolutely. Because in the club, you had the leaders, and then you also had the members, okay? And our members were mostly your blue-collar workers, you know. They come in for their beers and all suited up with all the smog and everything all over them. But they came in to relax, to sit down. I remember, too, because a lot of them are single men or married men, but with no families here. So they didn't cook because they lived, basically where these people mostly lived was they'd rent a room. Some places were kind and give them one room. Others would throw 10 people in one room and charge their branch, you know– anything for the money. But they would accept it because they couldn't afford anything else because they're sending all their money back home to their families back there. So cooking wasn't something that was available to them because they only had a room. So I remember my grandmother and my mom cooking at the club and they would sell their dinners there. some of them sat there for them and give five dollars for you to learn. And there are two dollars. I think it was only two dollars. You know, shoot, that would just be better for shoot. Whatever you want. Just put it in there, you know, come on and eat. You know, what's what's today? What's for food today? Oh, we're making chicken and rice. We're making whatever. And they would come there and eat and then they go home or some other place where they just scattered around the near west side where they were going to boarding house type style, you know, just particular homes, people who would rent out rooms that weren't available to them and stuff like that. Like I said, give us somebody you know, some people were abusive of it, that you took advantage of them in that sense. And but most of them, you know, majority of as long as we could place them amongst the members. And because the community that we knew it was, it was fine. But sometimes, you know, they didn't quite readily come to the club. And by time they came there, it was because they'd been kicked out of place because of whatever it is and usually turned out to be some kind of an exploitation type of thing.

Sarah Nemeth [00:39:24] Well, yeah, there's slumlords and–.

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:39:26] No, and it's still happening.

Sarah Nemeth [00:39:27] Yeah. Everywhere. Always has been. Was there ever a– So, the Mexican-American community kind of settled on the West Side. Do you know of anyone that settled on the East Side?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:39:37] Well, actually, from what my parents used to tell me—and I was doing a little, you know, I was doing a little research the other day because I know this whole story, it just doesn't stick with me at my age anymore—but I remember, I go, okay, let me look at this, because I remember they literally started when they– The group that started the club, the founders, they lived over in Collinwood on the east side. Okay? They went in and they lived over in that area at that time because that's where they were closer to the students, okay, and that's where most of them were living. And I don't know, I remember my dad saying, oh, you know, that's because, you know, those those you know, the east side, the west side always separated. And it was like, you know, they got the money, the money people were there and– But yeah, there were St. Clair and East 55th, and Collinwood in the 50s, 55th, that area, it was very, they had a lot– There was a lot of Mexicans in that community.

Sarah Nemeth [00:40:38] So like after World War–

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:40:42] That was after World War One.

Sarah Nemeth [00:40:43] After World War One? Okay. And that's what they settled first?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:40:47] My understanding is yes.

Sarah Nemeth [00:40:49] Okay. And then they just naturally made a move west?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:40:52] They moved their way, up this way, yeah, because like I said, I believe she said it was like in 1945 when they– Because up until that they were kind of meeting in homes, in their own homes out there on the east side where they lived, Collinwood and everything. There are still some families from there whose parents were the founders. That's still the east side. And, you know, they still live in that area and stuff like that. But yeah, when they came to the west side, then it to boost came pretty much like I said, pretty much where Ohio City is and Franklin Circle of Franklin Circle. And in that area there, that's where a lot of the Mexicans and the– I didn't know there were anything other than Mexicans, you know. And so I pretty much probably do. They probably were mostly Mexicans. It was mostly Mexican and Puerto Ricans that were here. And but I don't remember that when I was younger, about too much about the Puerto Ricans. The Puerto Ricans pretty much stuck to their area over in Clark Avenue and West 25th. And there was a great separation amongst the both both groups. And the Mexicans couldn't understand the Puerto Ricans. They said they don't speak very good Spanish. And the Mexicans, and the Puerto Ricans, of course, you know, they knew that there were U.S. citizens. So, you know, they did not like being, you know, I can I understand that now because, you know, if you were Mexican right away, he's undocumented. You don't you're not a U.S. citizen to them. They were very proud of their, you know, their citizenship here. And so to be confused as a Mexican would pretty much mean that he's not even a citizen. So they were pretty adamant about maintaining their identity as Puerto Rican. No, we're not Mexican. And we were too proud to even want to no matter what. Even if you call me a Puerto Rican, you think I'm a citizen, not I don't care. I'm a Mexican, you know, even if I have to be told you're undocumented. So, but yeah, and now I was– After living in the Ohio City area, we moved over to the Clark and 44th area, and there was, and now of course now we went into the Puerto Rican community at that point, and that's when I started realizing the difference in who I was, because now I was a U.S. citizen. I was born here. And whenever I'd run into a Mexican Mexican that they would say, "Oh, you know, where are you from?" And I says, "From Texas." And they'd look at me and say, "That's not Mexican!" You know? [laughs] And yet the gringos, as we would call them, you know, "You're not American. You're, you're Mexican." And so there's a song that's called "No soy de aqui ni soy de alla"—I'm not from here, nor am I from there. And that's pretty much, I always adopted that song and [inaudible] my song. I says, "That must be me," I says, "because I don't belong here and I don't belong there." And, you know, you talk about the discrimination between the whites and the blacks. And I says, "Well, I'm brown," I says, "and the whites don't want me because I'm not white, the blacks don't want it because I'm not black, and the Mexicans don't want me because I'm not Mexican, you know? [laughs] So, it's like, gosh, I have nowhere to go. That's when it, you know, it– I became, around 13, 14, I seem to have lost my identity. All this time I thought I was Mexican and suddenly I get to junior high and it's like, oh, wow, you know, what a rude awakening of your identity. And I was so confused of who I was for the longest time. I'd forgotten my Spanish by then, at 14, 15, and spoke nothing but English. And it took me a hard time to get my Spanish back. But I was very persistent about it because I says, you know, I can't, I don't fit in. I don't fit in. I'm going back to what I was. I had to learn English because I had to but unfortunately, I, thereby losing my forgetting a lot of my Spanish. But it's, you know, and then I think I saw another side of the discrimination or the different person who I was, you know.

Sarah Nemeth [00:45:31] That must have been very isolating. I don't know. I've never been in that situation but I can't even imagine not being able to– Oh, some people that I talked to have commented that maybe it has, like turned in– The community kind of turned in, like, eventually because they didn't– They became more isolated in themselves and maybe not as open. Did you sense that at all? I'm sure there's other people in your situation as well that, you weren't black enough to be black or white enough to be white, and you were brown and you weren't, but you weren't a Mexican Mexican, you weren't from Mexico, you were here. I'm sure there's people that also felt that way and the community turned in on itself and kind of blocked–

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:46:24] Well, you know, one thing and it's funny that you said that because I did run into those situations, but I don't necessarily say it was related to me because it's– I think that there was another thing. All the families that came here when they came prior to me, like, you know, before '64 when I came, when I came here, all the kids that were my age that were already here? They didn't speak Spanish. They weren't allowed. Okay? They literally were supposed to, you know, don't tell people you're Mexican. You know, of course how can we hide it? But okay. [laughs] But just don't tell them, okay? Don't admit it, you know, you don't, you know, and speak English and you need to blend in as much as you can. And they were not allowed to speak Spanish, so they lost their char– their heritage, whereas my dad wouldn't, refused and, you know, of course, by being who they were and being involved with the club, they always spoke Spanish at home. They did not make us speak Spanish because my brother and my sister didn't speak Spanish. So when I came here, we didn't communicate because they spoke English and I didn't speak English. They didn't understand me either. But my dad did say, you need to learn English. You know, you don't, you know. He never said I shouldn't speak Spanish, but he was very, you know, English, English. And I had to learn English. And. But as I was growing up and, you know, alongside of the other children who were Mexican, they didn't speak any– They didn't understand any Spanish at all. Yet in the home, they were very traditional there. You know, their rice and beans and tortillas and very, very traditional in the home, with the exception of the language. And, and it was because, you know, we don't want, you know, we want to blend in. We want to belong. We don't want you to be discriminated against and, you know, mistreated. And they– The only culture we knew is our food or what was within our four walls. We didn't know– If it weren't for the club, we would not have known the Cinco de Mayo, what it was and what this September 16th, you know, Our Lady of Guadalupe in December 12th. We wouldn't– The pinatas and, you know, any of these little things that a real Mexican comes and says, God, that gets you all worked up? You know? Geez, this is nothing, you know. Oh, you should see las tamaladas, you know, los enchiladas, and all these other things. We didn't know that kind of cuisine, you know, that Mexican, that in depth. We were just tacos and burritos and, you know, that type of thing. But that was Mexican to us. That was Mexican eating. And we were different. And I always liked being different. You know, I always went the other way. I always went against the current. So when people did mistreat me for being, you know, for not being white or not being or not having an accent or anything like that, I just totally went the other way around all the time. You know, I says, you know, you don't like my language? I'm going to speak it even more. [laughs] You know, so I was getting into trouble all the time for that. But most of the children my, and now my age, at this day and age, day and times, I tease them because all of a sudden, they're so involved. You know, maybe in the last, let's see, I'm 58. So, you know, I would say maybe in my 40s, the kids I was raised with still don't know English. But all of a sudden, they were so passionate about the Mexican culture, and they were so into it. And I mean, I remember one time I met a friend who we could not, she didn't like me when I was little. But as we got older and, you know, started working together and things, and she goes, you know what, I am so sorry. She says, I didn't like you. She says, but I didn't. I like you. I like you now, she says. She goes, You're so different. I thought you– I go, Well, why didn't you like me? I says, I never did anything to you. And she says, Well, you're Mexicany, she says, and we weren't. I go, Well, what do you mean? Her father was, goodness gracious, he was very Mexicany, okay, because he was in his charro outfit and singing his mariachi music at the club all the time. And she goes, Well that's the point. Dad was so Mexicany, and he was all into his Mexican culture. But Mom wouldn't allow us to speak Spanish. And I always felt that Dad was disappointed in me that I wasn't more Mexican. And since I– He always said we were his nieces. And she goes, I always envied you because my dad liked you more because you were more Mexicany. And I was– I thought it was, you know, kind of, it was– I thought it was cute, you know, and I wouldn't even say that I thought was cute. I go, really? I said, you know and I thought you were more Mexican! You know? So you– Yeah. You know, and all of a sudden that generation, our generation but from here, started getting really involved with the culture, started getting involved with the club. And I used to tease them. I says, ah, you guys are born-again Mexicans, because once upon a time your name was Ralph. And now you want to be Rafael, you know? [laughs] And since I was raised calling him Ralph, he goes, Will you stop calling me that? I am Rafael Guadelupe-dadadada [laughs]. I go, oh, okay. So I thought it was cute. And but they, you know, they kind of like sometimes he goes, I only let you tell me this because, you know, I've always been Mexican. I go, I know, I go, but I remember you would never speak the language and you never– And he goes, well, we weren't allowed. You know, we weren't allowed. If you want to be fit in, and you want to be not singled out, you know, you had to blend in.

Sarah Nemeth [00:52:10] Were there any other networks in the community other than the club where, like a church or–

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:52:16] Oh, yeah. Well, we– When I first came here, St. Patrick, even though it's an Irish church, was very, embraced the Mex– the Latino community. Okay? And then I remember that the more the community grew, we actually rented one of, right here in the, right on the same street where we were at here in Ohio City, there was a church, a Presbyterian church that I– I never knew churches closed down. But anyway, you know, we rented the church, you know, and I guess that was something new to me. But yeah, we– The church was vacant and so we, you know, the group– There was a group that decided, and it was mainly the– It was mainly done by the Mexican community, but of course, always embracing any Latino only because the whole thing here was to speak and do in Spanish because you go to the church– We would go to St. Patrick's, but Mass was always in English. Okay? But we did have a very, very big Mexican community going to St. Patrick's and St. Stephen's as well. But they were more, you know, very European communities and everything was in English. But what was awesome in my eyes is that, I don't know, for some reason, I always looked at the Americans, Americans here, you know, like your typical Americans and they ask you, what was that? I don't know. [laughs] You know? Because if, I mean, if you were German, at least you were German. If you were Slavic, you said you were Slavic, you know, and you said you had a different language. But then you had the Americans who were born here that, even though they might have German heritage or wherever they come from, they didn't speak another language. They did not have a culture. You know, they had no roots, you know, for their heritage and stuff like that that they followed. So I could– That was the weird thing about it because that's why I says, Well where are you from, because I know you're white and I know you're blue eyed, you know, I eventually got to realize you've got to be German. You've got to be Slavic. But they had no clue. They had no clue. I mean, I kept saying, What are you talking about? I'm from here? I'm here, you know. And I don't know, it was kind of just new to me, you know, because they didn't, they didn't have a culture. They didn't have traditions, you know. They didn't have roots, you know, so it's kind of– I think I actually even remember kind of feeling bad for them because they just didn't have anything.

Sarah Nemeth [00:54:54] I don't know what it would be like not to know and just be, I don't know, I guess American. Would be kind of boring, to be completely honest. So, when did churches start to adopt kind of a Spanish-speaking Mass or sermon?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:55:15] Well, because eventually, you know it's just like with everything, it started, you know, the community evolved to the point where they started speaking up more. And they says, you know, we want more Spanish Masses, you know, they– The– Since we're mainly Catholics, there was no standing up to the Catholic Church per se on that end. But the, I would probably be fair and say at this point it was mainly the Puerto Ricans who decided to go into Pentecostal, evangelical, their own other denominations and started making, having, you know, their prayers in homes and, you know, and just not going to churches anymore because it wasn't in their language. And we were like, that was taboo, you know, just don't go, don't hang with those people because, you know, they're, they're not good people, you know? That's another form of discrimination, because I remember we were not allowed to hang around with these kids. And it just coincidentally turned out that there was Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans and whatever. And they were darker, darker even than we were. And so it's like, oh, you must be one of those people from that other, you know, I mean, when I was a kid, I used to think that they're satanic, [laughs] you know, because they weren't Catholic. And we were not allowed to talk to them and play with them. And we went to school with them, but we weren't allowed. And so, you know, after a while, as we, you know, as we grow up, of course, you realize the ignorance, you know, of such ideas and thoughts and– But that's pretty much what it was. You know, there was– The reason they separated from the Catholic churches because of language. They're mad that the church was not welcoming and willing to offer the Masses in Spanish. And if there were at that time, I mean, I was very involved with a lot of things. And I believe I must have been like maybe 16 when I remember going to my first Spanish church where they finally, finally, we got the San Juan Bautista Church, you know, I was 14. San Juan Bautista, that's the church that we were able to go into and the masses were all in– It was strictly Spanish because it was our church. And from there, Saint Stephen's finally started doing the Spanish masses. Saint Patrick started doing, saying Spanish Masses, and then years later Sagrada Familia was built.

Gazan Pino [00:57:43] [inaudible]

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:57:43] No, I'm talking about the church being built, Sagrada Familia.

Gazan Pino [00:57:45] Oh, yeah, Sagrada Familia.

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:57:47] So yeah. So, yeah, that was another form of discrimination too, you know, very really different.

Sarah Nemeth [00:57:57] So when you grad– Where did you graduate from high school?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:58:01] Lincoln West.

Sarah Nemeth [00:58:02] Lincoln West? And what did you do after high school?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:58:05] Pretty much what I was doing during high school, advocating. [laughs].

Sarah Nemeth [00:58:08] What's something that you advocating for? Could you describe that?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [00:58:13] The– In Lincoln West, when I got into senior high, Lincoln West was, just, it was a combination of West High School that was over here on this end of town. And Lincoln, I mean West Junior High, I'm sorry, West High and Lincoln High over on the West 14th area, they built Lincoln West, okay, and—High School—thereby making West High, West Junior High, [and] Lincoln High, Lincoln Junior High, okay? And Lincoln West was one of– was the first [of the] Cleveland public schools that offered ESL classes. So the basement that the first– The subfloor was where you had all the foreigners there. A lot of Vietnamese, Korean, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Spanish, non-English speaking students. And because I was bilingual by that time, I was full bilingual again, they would say, "Hey, hey, hey, mira, mira, mira," you know, "Mexicana, Mexicana, mira mira, mira" he says, you know, "tell her this and this and that," you know, because they couldn't speak English. So I found myself interpreting and doing pretty much the role that my mom and my dad and everybody at the club was doing for the other community, for the immigrant community. And so I was doing a lot of interpreting at that point. And I was getting into trouble because, you know, I was always standing up for, you know, no, no, you can't yell at him for that. You know, he didn't, you know, he didn't understand, you know, that type of thing. And but I remember my last year in high school, one of the things that I noticed was that we always had the summer job program that we're always open to, you know, 14 years, once you were 14, you were able to participate in it. And of course, it was given mainly to the most needy households, but never to the Hispanics, never to the Spanish, Hispanics, because we didn't speak English. So I used to, like, "That's not fair." And I remember that me and Juanita Peña, who is another Puerto Rican and a very strong leaders in the community, the family is, I remember her and I coming to the Spanish American Committee and telling them, you know, "Why can we not get jobs?" You know, why can't, why are we never allowed to get a job, you know? You know, we didn't qualify because Dad and Mom made too much money. But Juanita was from a family, a very large family, who could really benefit from them, but they wouldn't give them the jobs. And only the white kids were getting the summer school and the summer jobs. And, you know, and I went, wait a minute, and I remember, of course, learning from the club that migrant workers picking the crops, mowing the lawns, and housekeepers and babysitters and that type of thing. And I says, "Well, why can't we do that?" And I remember that Juanita and I came in and talked to the Spanish American committee, asked them if they would help us. I don't know how it– I remember Sister Alicia [Alvarado] at that time was just– She hadn't even received her doctorate yet, you know, to become a sister yet, but she was in process, and she was our mentor, and she helped us literally form a Hispanic youth job program while I was still in my high school year. That was my twelfth grade. So we did that through sponsorship of the Spanish American Committee. We're actually getting people, getting a lot of the students in the summertime to get some summer jobs, cutting the grass, planting, we had the community gardens, and things like that, cleaning the– You know, and of course, you know, always your traditional work for Hispanics, you know, the gardening, the taking the trash out, cleaning the streets, sweeping the streets. You know, that type of thing. But it was the jobs that nobody wanted, you know, so, you know, it seems to be the fact even to this day. There's so many jobs that we never realized that nobody wants to do those. And that's why, why we are where we are with immigrants. So that's– That was one of my–

Sarah Nemeth [01:02:36] Your debut–

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:02:37] Advocate, yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [01:02:39] Into advocacy. After high school, what are some of the– Do you remain an activist?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:02:46] Always. Still am. Yes, absolutely. I remained with the club. I started, you know, eventually, of course, you had to be 18 to be a member, so when I turned 18 and became an official member, not that I was, I basically slept there. [laughs] So I had been a member since I was 12. But and I mean, I was also the– I learned Mexican folklore. And so I became the choreographer for the folklore group that we had there. You know, nothing professional, nothing fancy shmancy, but just something for tradition. Eventually they did send me to Mexico to study dancing, folk culture, and arts, and thereby came back and passed it on. But by that time, I was already 19 and stuff and so it was like– I didn't– I was phasing out of that stage. And fortunately, I don't know if you know Lily Cardona. She was one of the students– Well, she's now one of the very, very well-renowned Mexican folklore in the area, and she formed her own company and very well, doing very well, I would say. So, when I graduated, I did go to Mexico to school for two years, intermittently. And then I pretty much always, I was always involved with the club. I was always involved with– I always found myself working in restaurants where the Mexicans needed help. You know, I was always there talking and translating for them and interpreting and things like that. Interpreters was not a profession at that time, so it was just whatever. But when– When I started having my children, I stopped the dancing and I started doing a lot of interpreting and more in legal and the legal realm, and so little by little it became– I remember having, well, the club had a– Somebody brought the case that, brought it to our attention that an immigrant, a Mexican immigrant in Painesville, had been arrested and accused of murder and– But it wasn't the charges that were that were shocking. It was the abuse of his rights, the denial of his rights for justice, that transpired through all of this, you know, that got everybody's attention. And it was– It turned out that he was not being provided his interpreter. You know, he was not being– He didn't get his due process. You know, they were trying him in English. He didn't understand English. They tried to put an interpreter and that's when this thing became such a– It really blew out to this big, huge thing, because the interpreter was literally an American English-speaking person who married a Puerto Rican and she just knew a little bit of Spanish, so she tried, you know, to do what she could, but she was also employed by the police department. So there was a conflict of interest, but we didn't know about those things back then. You know, we were thinking, you know, they're just, you know, "Hey, come over here, interpret for us." You know, we didn't, until the civil rights group started saying, no, you can't do this. You know, I mean, you can't, you know, you were leading questions, you know, and, "Right? You did this, right?" And the Mexican goes, "Uh-huh." You know, and that type of thing. So when it turns out that one of our group, one of our members, the Coronas, happened to be in Painesville for something and they sat through that crime, they sat through that trial and they heard the interpreter interpret in court under oath, and it was a very poor translation. And they go, "No, that's not what he said," so they got kicked out of the courtroom. And it didn't help. It's a small– Painesville's a very small little town, so everybody knew each other. The judge knew the jury's wife and you know. Hey, you know, and you know, right there on an open mike, you know, and says, "Hey," you know, he says, "is anybody in a hurry to get out of here," because you know they got the series, the, what is the– Baseball team was in the middle of their series, championship series.

Sarah Nemeth [01:07:11] Oh, it's the World Series.

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:07:12] World Series. And he wanted to go home. And he's, you know, he says, you know, "Is anybody else here," you know, "want to get out of here?" He says, you know, "Come on, speed this up." And just very informal hearing. And and then, you know, you hear, you overhear that he says to him, says, you know, "Tell your wife to keep the warm. We'll be home pretty soon. We'll be over there," to the juror, you know, that type of thing. So a lot of these things that, you know, very, very unprofessionally. But because he was just a little town or whatever, you know, I guess they didn't follow things. They did not do a– They didn't get forensics involved because it seemed that apparently that when they finally did the trajectory of the entry of the gunshot, the guy was huge. This kid was small. So if he would have shot him, you know, he should have gone this way. If he were at the same level. But he said he was upstairs in his bedroom asleep because apparently that's what he was doing and that would again– But nobody did the forensics on it, okay? Because he said, you know, the judge says, "We're a small town. We never have murders here. We don't have that equipment." Right? So through all those little things, you know, the activist groups just said, "No, no, no. This can't be. This is wrong." This is whatever. And when we got involved, the club got involved, and we were able to get the case retried, you know, but it was never about whether what he was or wasn't innocent. It was mainly about how his rights were violated and not being given a fair trial so he could understand what the line of questioning was. And that's where I got really involved as an interpreter. I started taking classes. I started participating in community workshops for– They were always free. Now you gotta pay for them because it's now a profession and now you have to be certified. Something I'm never, I won't do. I won't get certified, but I've got plenty of hours of experience in my back pocket. But that's fine because it's neither here nor there because I don't care to work in the court of law anymore anyways. But, so yeah, so that's pretty much where I took it. All along, of course, I've been a federal employee for the Post Office and Navy Finance, so we have a long career as government employees. But on the side always doing the social outreach through the club.

Sarah Nemeth [01:09:46] That's really great. Important. How has the club changed over– So, it started out with the founders and it was helping the migrant workers and finding people jobs here that worked more in the steel mills and the steel mills have now really gone. I'm from Lorain, so, I mean, it's deteriorated.

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:10:13] Yeah, even in Lorain, right.

Sarah Nemeth [01:10:17] So what does the club do now? What is their purpose now?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:10:20] Well, the purpose– I mean, it's still– [phone rings] It still had its purpose there but– [aside] Turn it down for me, please. I'm sorry. It still had its purpose, but obviously a lot of the Mexican community, once the undocumented thing really came– Like everybody knew, I mean, you're here, you're undocumented. But during one time, there was a time where you could just get a Social Security card and you didn't– I mean, I remember there was a time we had three Social Security cards, you know, because it was just like they were giving them away as hotcakes. You can send [phone rings] for 'em over the mail, and where– Once the immigration issue became such a big, big thing, they started, you know, of course, you know, blocking more and being more observant and things like that and more restrictive, then the community started– You know, now they started going– Now they were really migrant workers. They weren't coming in here and they weren't being city people. They were sticking to their working the fields and/or in construction. But most of the construction was always transitional. You know, they're transient. They were always going from company to company, I mean, city to city for the work because nobody, of course, would hire you here permanently as an employee because you would have to have a Social Security number. The club eventually started failing financially because we didn't have the support anymore from the membership. So the leaders were keeping it alive by funding in their own way, themselves, working it and funding it pretty much like, okay, you know, here's five hundred dollars at the end of the week. I want my five hundred, you know, pretty much putting the money and taking it out, putting it in and getting to get it through.

Sarah Nemeth [01:12:21] Right.

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:12:24] And that's pretty much how it functioned. Now, my mother being one of the, like I mentioned, this group of five that no matter what, they never let it go. They never let it go. There were times where there were nobody to show up and nothing. But there was always what we called social members. You know, they were always there for the social night. So that's where the money was being generated to keep the club alive, to fund the activities, because we never stopped doing our September 16th dances, our May 5th dances, our Christmas parties, and our taco nights and things like that. But it just– It became– It never stopped being a social civics support group, but now it was only– The support, it was only given by a handful of members that were still here. And so in the eyes of the community, it became a nightclub. Okay? Because it was always open every Friday and Saturday night, and Monday through Friday it was no longer open. But as I used to tell them, I said, you know, it wasn't open because, you know, and I still felt it was a waste of space, but I remember my parents never really being home anyway because they're out there at City Hall. They're out, you know, they're over there with the chief of police. They're over here at the detention centers. Always, always, you know, doing something for the community one way or another. So if the club structure, the building itself, wasn't serving our, other than for our meetings and our social needs, but the group, you know, were continuing to help and it was still the place where cells came in, cell phones came in, so we didn't need to be at the location to get a call if somebody wanted to, you know, that three-way call and call forwarding. So Mom would forward all her calls from the club to her cell phone. And so we just became mobile. It became mobile, and a lot of the work, you know, the work still goes on. I mean, we still do it, you know, indirectly, even after all these [years]. It's been closed– It's been inactive, not closed. It's been inactive for six years now. Okay? And, you know, we've seen our hard times just like anybody else. We were, you know, we were affected by the change in the influx of the migrant community, you know, steering away from metropolitan areas, you know, going more out to the country, to rural areas. And but people were– We've always been here. Always been here. I mean, I can name a handful of people who are still that, you know, now, if you have a problem, we still know who to call. These people never stopped. It was just, it was just never under the name of the Club Azteca anymore. Although we always say our work from the club, the club was inactive. You know, ,the new directors that, you know, that were elected, unfortunately, were not well-versed in how to run– I mean, how can you run a place that has been run by the same group for forty-something years? You know, and now you've got to do and take over– That was a long– That's– Those are big shoes to fill. [crosstalk] So. So it did see its hard times. And like I said, it's been inactive for six, seven years now. And through towards the end of that time, my mom became very ill so she was no longer able to help even as a member. And so thereby in my mind, you know, and then you run the family, you know, the leaders started passing on. I mean, we, you know, most of our leaders now of that five group there, clique, geez, I don't think there's anyone alive anymore. So, yeah, there isn't, so there's, you know, just a few of them. There's still, you know, we have honorary members, but most of our honorary members who would have become honorary members through the seven-year period that it was closed down were never acknowledged as honorary members because it was closed, it was inactive, but thereby leaving a lot of honorary members who are very, very, like, 70s, 80s right now, mainly very, very old.

Sarah Nemeth [01:17:03] Mm-hm. So the work continues, although there's not [an actual spot].

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:17:04] Absolutely. Absolutely. Always is. Always is.

Sarah Nemeth [01:17:08] It just still goes on.

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:17:09] It does.

Sarah Nemeth [01:17:12] Just a quick question about what you said when people started returning to migrant work in the field, like, they're going back out into a rural setting. What was tthe reason for that? Was it because the steel mills were laying–.

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:17:29] No.

Sarah Nemeth [01:17:30] What's the correlation of–

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:17:32] Immigration enforcement. Immigration enforcement, you know. I don't recall Border Patrol– And of course, we are a border state, so the lake, even though the lake is there, you know, we don't usually see it but we are conscious of it, but we've see more ICE in the last fifteen years and, you know, in the area, and the Border Patrol, than in any year that I can remember, even back then when the steel mills– It just, you know, I guess it just wasn't a priority to– Oh, he's undocumented, you know, let's get him out. Mainly because of for economical reasons. And now, I guess a change of times now, I don't know, the politics, whatever, you know, it's just you know, they still, you know, it's like with anything, you know. Okay, the police are being really strict here. They're enforcing this. Let's go somewhere else. You know, and that's basically what they would do. They would just move on to other places where they felt safer, not having to be looking over their shoulders. And rural areas seem to have been the safe spot for them. And like I said, most of the work was– Once the steel mills closed down, of course, they had to come out here and start looking more. And, you know, because you're talking about a culture that's, they're self– You know. No household in Mexico, no matter how poor you are, I mean, they live off of their own, their fruits of their work. And so you either learn how to build, you learn how to sow, you know, sow your crops. You know, you learn to do whatever you do to sell it to survive, you know. And so thereby that's how they survive here, too. You know, it's amazing because it's like, you know, they're very resilient. The immigrants are very resilient, whether they're Hispanics or whatever nationality. They're very resilient because they are resourceful. You know, they adapt to just about anything.

Sarah Nemeth [01:19:48] Yeah, I wish more people had that drive. It's always those who are self-sufficient, forceful, always getting it done no matter what it takes. And surviving. And that's all that matters. I mean, it's the survival and having a good time in the end, trying to, at least, trying to get to that point. So, the community is smaller now.

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:20:14] Yes–

Gazan Pino [01:20:15] It's smaller.

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:20:18] They're smaller in the sense that they're not congregated there, not to congregate in the same space anymore like they used to be, because before they used to be very knit, you know, very close their thing. They congregate pretty much in the same spot. Now they're everywhere. We do have a large community. We just don't see it because they're not so noticeable because they're dispersed everywhere. We're all spread out.

Sarah Nemeth [01:20:36] I hear a lot of Puerto Rican community, but are they– would you say that they're more still together?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:20:43] Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Because, I mean, they're you know, they have no fear of deportation because they are automatically U.S. citizens.

Sarah Nemeth [01:20:50] Okay. So what is your hope for the Mexican-American community in Cleveland on the West Side?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:20:58] To revive the Azteca Club, which is what we're doing, what we're doing right now with some of the old members, kind of pretty much got together to do that. And our hope is an idea to restructure, revive and restructure it and bring it back to its original, to its main purpose, original purpose, which, a mission to share our culture, to bring to our community and as well, you know, provide service and be out there to help and support our culture, our families by preserving our culture, our heritage, and be the voice for those who can't be the voice, who can't speak up yet.

Gazan Pino [01:21:43] Somehow, you got to understand, people– It doesn't matter from where, Mexico, Peru or anywhere. They don't have a chance to get together because they're working different shifts, different locations, everybody drives. And these parties or we may get together for [Mexican] Independence, this is the time they show up and they can see each other and they can feel they're not alone in the city. And right now, to your question about how is the community. Well, we do have a lot of Mexicans, but pretty much now we've seen a growing population of Mexicans and Central Americans in Painesville, Lorain, what part– What is the– [crosstalk]?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:22:28] Well, the bigger concentration of the Mexican community was always in Painesville because that's where most of the agricultural work is, and in Lorain.

Gazan Pino [01:22:36] Lorain too.

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:22:36] Okay? But what the one thing that we didn't, and he's right about the, you know, the change here, because now it used to be the Puerto Rican [and] Mexican communities. Now it's a lot of South Central Americans here, too, as well. The only thing is, is that the South Central, you know, Guatemalans, Salvadorians are– They still kind of have a little bit more in common with Mexico, you know, with a little bit of Mexican, you know, their music, per se, not entirely the culture as far as, you know, the traditions, but there's a lot of similarities. And even as far as the Independence Day, because it was also Central America ones, but like he said too, you know, the club, the main reason it was formed by its founders is because these families that came, they were not– Maybe they were undocumented, but they weren't coming in as undocumented. It wasn't that– Like I said, it wasn't that big of a thing. But they were coming as a family. They weren't being separated from each other so that dad can come over here and work. They were actually coming. So these founders were actually families. You know, they're the lead, the heads of the home, household, which were usually mostly men, but they had their families here. They weren't uprooted from their family and taken away. So they worked as a unit, and they what they wanted is, well back then, their Spanish, you know, being Spanish, you know, just was taboo. They couldn't speak it in public, so they decided, you know, we want to do something, have fun, let's get together. So they started having just meetings and getting to– That's how this whole thing started. As you know, just, you know, let's have dinner at your house or let's have, you know, listen to music, have a couple of drinks at your house and socializing, as, you know and, all that involved eventually, little by little, because more people started going into the group, more of them, and, you know, little by little some of them came in seeking help. And from one seeking help to the next seeking help, then it just became evolved. The immigration issue and the discrimination issue wasn't the real reason why they formed. They were formed for the culture and arts part of it.

Gazan Pino [01:24:54] That was the goal, yeah.

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:24:56] And that's how they, you know, that was their main purpose. And, of course, not to share it, of course, we would love that somebody would embrace it but because we knew we were outsiders, we always kept it, you know, in our four walls. As the years went by and it became more embraced, you know, Mexican food became a big deal, you know, very popular. And we started feeling more– People [were] more receptive. Now of all the Latin American countries, I can probably honestly say, and I don't think I would be wrong to say, that after the Puerto Ricans, the Mexicans amongst the Anglo community, the Mexicans became a little bit more, more accepted. Okay? Probably because, like I said, Mexican food became popular. You know, we were there, it was there, and everybody wanted Mexican food and, you know, that type of thing. But–

Sarah Nemeth [01:25:53] To celebrate your holidays and things like that.

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:25:54] [laughs] It's when this is when the South Central American started coming in and it was all of a sudden kind of probably a confusion of what what's the difference, which is why everybody says, oh, the Mexicans, Mexicans, Mexicans, and we get blamed for everything. But, you know, and that's what it was. And I remember with the club we used to say, we want to remain a Mexican club. Why do we want to remain in Mexican club? I mean, I work with this advocacy group and this, you know, with the youth group that I was involved with. I would get frustrated because every time we wanted to name it when we got the group, because we finally became a big enough group, but they were, I was outnumbered by Puerto Ricans. And so it was like they would always say, Oh let's name it this and this and that. It always had reference to the island, to the Puerto Ricans, you know, Boricua and this and this. And I felt terrible feeling upset about it because it's like, well, wait a minute, I'm not Puerto Rican, but I shouldn't be, not, well, it didn't mean that I don't want you guys. You know, I don't want you guys, but I mean, I want to– What about me? You know, I'm not Puerto Rican.

Sarah Nemeth [01:26:57] You want to be represented as well.

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:26:58] And I remember used to saying, you know, I go, It's okay to want to be separate. I used to tell this too because, I don't know, it was just talking to my dad and I used to talk about it like that. And I'd go, you know, I go, the problem was it became, we literally became separate. The Puerto Ricans pulled away, the Mexicans pulled away, and we were over here. And I says, Why can't we all just get along? You know, it's just like, what's the difference? You know, oh, we got this. I go, you know, I always look like, I look at it as you get a paintbrush and you speckle it against the wall, you have all these little specks. So you're never, you're gonna have all these gaps. I says, And that's it, that's Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Mexico, you know, on and on. But you know, what if we just paint it all, though, and we all mix, then we're gonna have one big black dot there, I says, and people are gonna notice it better, you know, and we support each other, right? So that was always the analogy that I always used about that. I said, you know, we don't have to be– We don't have to lose our identity. You know, we can still be who we are. You're Mexican, you're Mexican or Puerto Rican or whatever. But we need to stick together as Hispanics, you know, as a Latino community, Hispanic community, we need to fight and work for each other. And because the Puerto Ricans are citizens and they speak our language, they can be the voice or should be the voice for them. But if you switch it around and say you, well, wait a minute, you know, I don't have, I don't need it. I'm not an immigrant. I'm not undocumented. I'm here, you know what I'm saying, so I don't need the headache type of thing. Yeah, it's a Catch-22 on that one.

Sarah Nemeth [01:28:37] Yeah, definitely, to embrace it or not. You don't want to lose yourself in the process. I don't know. [inuaudible]

Gazan Pino [01:28:44] It is interesting about how each culture got a different ideas. You know? We don't– We are not the same label of thinking, you know, like a Puerto Rican think different than Mexican. And this club really was a godsent idea to make– You know, remember, in the 1930s, discrimination, all the way to the 1960s, you're talking about almost more than 25 years or 30 years that Mexicans couldn't go to a place and feel safe. They couldn't go anywhere, you know, to feel, you know. And that would go for the Puerto Ricans too at the beginning. The Puerto Ricans were discriminated, you know? The first Puerto Ricans [who] came went to the Lorain to work in the foundry. They came to pretty much a place they never knew it. Cold. And we just talked to the chief of Lorain, Chief Ribera? He was at the ACLU–.

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:29:38] He was a speaker at the ACLU workshop yesterday.

Sarah Nemeth [01:29:42] Oh, okay.

Gazan Pino [01:29:43] And he's major. He's Puerto Rican, and his parents, okay, they were from, you know, from that generation. And he said Lorain is going into decline because the foundry closed and now pretty is not in good shape. But since he's a chief in there and he saw the injustice, sometimes the Border Patrol or the ICE, he talked to the policeman in that area and said, listen, you don't have to enforce the rule, pretty much, you don't have to, unless it's a serious crime. You take the car and, you know, but you don't have to go to major right away. They could give you a chance and they're already threatening him, you know. We want to cut you this, and I said they're not going to cut the food program. We can't survive without those things. He wanted, they wanted– We got to do we think is right, you know?

Sarah Nemeth [01:30:37] Right.

Gazan Pino [01:30:38] And pretty much they consider Lorain a sanctuary city, you know. It's just a small city. And there were personnel there from the Mexican organization over there who was a voice over there. And he talked, he worked, you know, with Che Guevera, and I guess right now the clubs are a necessity for the communities like Mexican or Peruvian. Me, I'm a Peruvian, and we don't have a club but we tend to get together at least for Independence Day, you know, which is 28th of July, and that's where we see each other, you know, because somehow that kind of different [inaudible] and now the Azteca Club that is coming back together again, we want to do the same thing what the founders did, you know? A gathering where the Mexicans can get help, orientation, you know, because a lot of Mexicans, they didn't know where to go, you know. They're not going to the Puerto Rican places. They're not going to be– Maybe they would get that, okay, but that's all, you know. Come back, but where else can they get a time for their bodies, you know, traveling. And she is pretty much an advocate. She never said, I don't know why they know nothing. She just came and said, "What can I do for you?" You know. "You need a lawyer? I can recommend this one." Because she knows a lot of immigration lawyers in Ohio, and she says, you go with this or you go with that, you know, and see how it goes by you. But at least they don't feel unloyal or lost. And remember there's a lot of Mexicans [who] came over here, they just came to work and then they're traveling all over the states. They go to Michigan. Some of them, they will stay, but not all of them, you know. That's just– It was always the story of those so. Like her family came to can work in different states, and then suddenly they decided to stay here. They don't want to do no more work. That was their decision. Nobody forcing them, you know.

Sarah Nemeth [01:32:49] So when the club reopens, will it be not just Mexican, right?

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:32:55] Oh, no, [crosstalk] and it's never been just Mexicans. It's never been just Mexicans, by no means.

Sarah Nemeth [01:32:59] So it's always open to any of the–

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:33:01] The purpose of, you know, the purpose of the culture and arts part of it is that we wanted to share it with the non-Mexican community. You know, we wanted them, you know, like, you know, maybe they don't understand us, you know, because we, you know, we, you know, we have, we celebrate Christmas in this way. We have January 6. You know, how come you guys are celebrating at all the, you know, for two weeks, you know, you're still celebrating it. And, you know, and so we wanted to– So that our– Me, as an adult now, I see it because as a child I felt it, that we want, you know, here, come here, let me tell you what the pinata's all about. It's not just about banging it and hitting it, you know. And I was like, they're talking about, I remember reading the paper, talking about they were gonna do, what was it, forbid the pinatas in birthday parties because it was promoting violence because, you know, you've got a picture, you've got an image of a certain person and you're pouncing and you're beating it, you know? So, you know, but things kind of get carried away on certain things. Right? And I go, wow, they take all the fun out of these things, okay? But then I said, you know what? Unfortunately, it's the change of the times. And I said, okay, well, you know, but we just don't do figures, you know, especially if we're going to do a community event. We won't put a figure, we won't put a Barbie, we won't put a, you know, because everything comes up, and a Batman or whatever. You know, our traditional pinata is a caudillo, and it's a star. The ones with the little pointies all over the place? That's what our traditional pinata is, okay? So, hey, let's pounce on the– What are we gonna do, you know, it's a star. You know? [laughs] You're gonna say–.

Gazan Pino [01:34:35] You're not super nice to the pinata. They beat the crap out of– [laughs].

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:34:41] Yeah, but you know, and I can see how what is, it's like right now, I would say, you know, I mean, is it proper to put up a picture of, you know, do a figure of Trump and let's pounce it, you know, I can see where they're coming out, we're promoting violence. You know what I'm saying? Because at that point, we are being, you know, we are being aggressive. We are being facetious, I guess, at that point. So I learned to see things on both ends on things like that. And I've never been the kind of person that says, ah, I know, I just say, well, can't we just kind of meet halfway? [laughs]

Sarah Nemeth [01:35:11] Right. It's–

Ruth Rubio-Pino [01:35:11] And so, yes, but now, you know, now that, you know, it's a slow start. Very, very slow start. But that's exactly what we want to– And we're trying– I'm still, you know, our whole idea is we need to do this now. While there are still surviving members who remember what our mission initially was. Okay? It's never been to be just Mexican. You know, yes, it is, you have to be of Mexican descent to be an officer. And you have to be of this, you know, Mexican, you know, it's the only way to maintain for sure that the club will fulfill its mission. Okay? You know, you want to say, well, you don't have to be Mexican to share, you know, to know about Mexicans. Well, no, but I mean, as a Mexican, we relate more to a Mexican, you know, and it was like, okay, you're Puerto Rican, you're telling me about Mexico. You know, is it like, you know, that, kind of like, okay. So, well, that's one of the things that's very stressed in the bylaws. But yes, at one time, it used to be Mexican-only membership, many, many, many years ago, even before I came. But that kind of, you know, went because we wanted to– Anybody. We have every– The Craciuns are members, they're actually honorary members, you know, very supportive of the club and things like that, and they, because they liked our culture. They enjoyed, you know, coming to the club when we used to have our taco night and things like that. And it's nice when others take an interest in your culture and your heritage, when you have something nice to, you know, to share with them that they like and makes them feel a little bit more comfortable around you. You're so weird to them.

Sarah Nemeth [01:36:50] Well, I thank you guys for both being here today. That was really great story. And I enjoyed learning more, so thank you.

Gazan Pino [01:36:56] Oh, we can talk forever.

Detroit Shoreway

Interviews in this series were conducted by students and researchers in the History Department at Cleveland State University in partnership with Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization (DSCDO). Interviews took place at Gordon Square Arcade and in other venues in the neighborhood. Select oral histories were accessible for several years in listening stations in the Gypsy Beans coffee house at Detroit Avenue and West 65th Street.