Sabrina and Luis Carlos Diaz, natives of Venezuela live in Mason with their daughters (left to right) Claudia, 11, and twins Isabella and Sofia, 9. (Photo by R. Swift)
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Hispanic or Latino: By either name, the diverse population is putting down roots in the Tri-State

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CINCINNATI - Luis Carlos Diaz lives in a Mason with his wife, Sabrina, and their daughters, Claudia, 11, and twins Isabella and Sofia, 9. He works for the U.S. Hispanic market research company De La Riva Group. His wife works for a large consumer goods company. Their daughters attend Mason schools.

While Diaz and his family live typical North American lives in many ways, one thing sets them apart. They are members of a small but growing population of individuals in the Tri-State who identify as Hispanic of Latino.

Hispanic or Latino?

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, the term Hispanic refers to individuals from Spanish-speaking countries, while Latino describes individuals of Latin American origin or ancestry. Despite differences in the definitions, both words are commonly used to describe individuals from Latin America.

“We use the words interchangeably,” said Neil Comber, co-founder and president of Hispanics Avanzando Hispanics (Hispanics Advancing Hispanics).

Hispanics Avanzando Hispanics was formed in 2005 in response to “excessive” Cinco De Mayo celebrating and rioting near The University of Cincinnati, Comber said. Members of the organization coordinated the Cincy-Cinco festival in an effort to educate the community about Latino culture and inform Latinos about the region.

In addition to organizing Cincy-Cinco, members help raise money for Hispanic scholarship funds, the volunteer program H-100 Cincinnati and other initiatives.

Hispanics Avanzando Hispanics members also work with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce USA, universities, colleges and other organizations to coordinate and promote Greater Cincinnati’s Hispanic Heritage Month.

The celebration, which is Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, is a time to recognize Hispanics for their contributions to the Tri-State and the country.

“We need to provide this awareness to the community,” said Alfonso Cornejo, Hispanic Chamber Cincinnati USA President.

The celebration also encourages people to get to know Hispanics in their communities and neighborhoods,

“They’re part of the fabric of everyday life,” Comber said.

Roots of Hispanic Heritage Month

The observance began as National Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968, during Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency. In 1988, under Ronald Reagan’s administration, the celebration was extended to one month.

The beginning of the month-long celebration marks the independence of five Latin American countries:

  • Costa Rica
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Nicaragua celebrate the anniversary of their independence Sept. 15.

Mexico’s independence day is Sept. 16, and Chile’s is Sept. 18.

A growing population

Hispanics and Latinos make up about 16 percent of the population in the U.S., according to 2010 U.S. Census data. About 55,000, or 2.6 percent, of Tri-State individuals, identified as Hispanic or Latino in 2010, more than double the 25,000 recorded in the 2000 census, Cornejo said.

The Tri-State, also known as Greater Cincinnati, is comprised of 15 counties. Individuals of Mexican origin or ancestry make up about 55 to 65 percent of the Tri-State’s Hispanic and Latino population, Diaz said. The rest come from countries including Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.

Culture shock

The Diaz family moved from Venezuela to Ohio six years ago when Luis was working for a market research company as regional manager for its Procter & Gamble account, and his position required him to transfer to Cincinnati. Diaz and his wife worked for North American companies before moving to the U.S. and were familiar with the culture and work habits. Still, they encountered some surprises upon moving to area.

“We’re not used to living in places where there are seasons,” Diaz said. “We come from the Caribbean, where it’s basically the same all year round.”

He was not prepared for seasonal yard work and maintenance that came along with the changes in the weather.

The Diaz family also had to adjust to new work and school environments. Schools are more interactive in Cincinnati, requiring more parent involvement and planning. Work is more fun in Venezuela, but in the U.S. it is more organized and productive, Diaz said.

Despite some culture shock, the experience of moving to and living in Cincinnati has been mostly positive, he said.

“You find your place, and you accommodate,” he said.

Where the jobs are

For many Hispanics and Latinos, finding one’s place is as much a matter of seeking housing as accommodating to the regional culture. Comber said that rather than living in clusters, the Hispanic and Latino population is spread throughout the Tri-State, in communities like:

  • Erlanger
  • Florence
  • Covington
  • Price Hill
  • Carthage
  • West Chester

“They tend to stay close to where the jobs are,” Comber said. “A lot of them don’t have transportation.

Poverty is a driving force for many Latin American immigrants, who come to the U.S. hoping to find jobs, Diaz said.

In an analysis of 2011 American Community Survey data, University of Cincinnati assistant anthropology professor Dr. Leila Rodriguez found the type of work varies. The top occupations for Tri-State Hispanics and Latinos include cooks, janitors, college professors and sales representatives.

While there are “a fair amount” of corporate executives in the area, many Hispanics and Latinos are not at the top of the pay scale.

“A lot of the immigrants are lower income, coming here--like all immigrants have--to make a difference for their families,” he said.

A young demographic

Population growth from immigration has slowed in the past 10 to 15 years, Diaz said. He expects to see the number of Hispanics and Latinos continue increasing in the next 10 years, though, especially through births.

Hispanics and Latinos have one of the highest fertility rates in the country, Rodriguez explained.

“Hispanics are younger, and they have more babies than non-Hispanics,” Comber added. “And they’re growing very quickly, partly through immigration and partly through birth.”

About 65 percent of the Hispanic and Latino population in the Tri-State is 30 or younger, according to Rodriguez’s data analysis.

The data on education levels varies. About 10 percent of the region’s Hispanic and Latino population 18 and older hold college degrees, according to Rodriguez's analysis of the 2011 American Community Survey. However, 2010 U.S. Census data indicates Hispanics and Latinos make up only 1.5 percent of Tri-State adults 25 and older with four-year college degrees.

About 22 percent of Greater Cincinnati Hispanics and Latinos 18 and older have attended some college, 31 percent completed high school, and 28 percent did not complete high school, according to Rodriguez’s analysis.

A welcoming place

Since moving to Cincinnati, the Diaz family has learned to live a "mixed" lifestyle, Diaz said. He and his family speak English at work and school, but at home they often speak Spanish and eat traditional Venezuelan food.

They miss Venezuela but enjoy living in Cincinnati and hope to make it their permanent home. While Diaz has occasionally dealt with impatience that made him feel unwelcome, he and his family have had not major negative experiences in the area.

“We love it here,” he said. “Cincinnati has been very welcoming.”

Highlights of Hispanic Heritage Month:

  • Sept. 13, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. - Kickoff Hispanic Heritage Month, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
  • Sept. 27, 7 p.m. - Reds Hispanic Heritage Day, Great American Ballpark
  • Oct. 4, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. - LULAC Cincinnati Community Awards Gala, The Marriott at RiverCenter
  • Oct. 12, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. - Hispanic Give Back Day with United Way, Roberts Academy at Price Hill
  • Oct. 12, 6 p.m. - Hispanic Scholarship Fund Gala, P&G Towers
  • Find a complete list of events online  or contact LaVERDAD Marketing: (513) 891-1430
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