Maria Agosto explains how the Hispanic community on the Near West Side, specifically in the Metro West neighborhood, is affected by various social and economic issues, including impending gentrification, the lack of a strong Hispanic professional culture, and the inadequate awareness of helpful community programs and services. Much of Agosto's professional career has focused on the empowerment of young professionals. She suggests that the neighborhood will be strengthened through an investment in the community's youth.


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Agosto, Maria (interviewee)


Nemeth, Sarah (interviewer)


Metro West



Document Type

Oral History


56 minutes


Sarah Nemeth [00:00:01] Hi, my name is Sarah Nemeth. I’m here with Maria Agosto. Today is July 31, 2017. We’re at Metro West Development Organization offices. This is for the Cleveland Regional Oral History Project. And could you please state your name for the record?

Maria Agosto [00:00:16] My name is Maria Agosto.

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:18] And where were you born and when?

Maria Agosto [00:00:23] I was born at Metro Hospital, and I lived on West 90th and Denison for, like, the first 15 years of my life.

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:34] What was your neighborhood like?

Maria Agosto [00:00:39] I remember being a kid, and, like, it sounds terrible. Like, I remember, like, everybody was happy. Like, you know, I got to walk down the street and hang out with my friend who lived really far down the street, and then, like, a lot of our neighbors started moving away because they said the neighborhood was bad. And I remember, like, local things where we thought one lady was a witch in her house, so we avoided that house. And I went to Almira Elementary and things like that until, like I said, a lot of my friends moved away. But my dad, he’s a police officer for the water department, so he had to live in the city of Cleveland, so there wasn’t really an option to move out. And there was, like, you know, five kids, so he didn’t really have a lot to move around.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:28] Do you have an ethnic background?

Maria Agosto [00:01:31] Yeah, I’m Puerto Rican.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:33] Was there a large Puerto Rican enclave in the neighborhood you lived in?

Maria Agosto [00:01:37] No, there wasn’t. It was, mostly White people.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:41] Okay, did- Was there one somewhere else, not moving in your neighborhood, but were you aware of?

Maria Agosto [00:01:51] So my grandpa, my grandma came here in, like, the late 1960s, and they moved to Clark Avenue. So then they had all their kids here. So there’s about- I have five aunts that live in this area and a couple uncles. So, like, that’s typically where everybody thought of, like, the Puerto Rican area. They thought of Lincoln West as being, like, that’s where all the kids speak Spanish, and everyone kind of knew it. So we visited my grandpa a lot. So. And then, as an adult, I moved over here. So I would still say that it’s pretty, pretty Hispanic.

Sarah Nemeth [00:02:26] It still is?

Maria Agosto [00:02:28] Yeah. I work at Lincoln West now, so I don’t, I see, like, a lot of the kids that do live in the neighborhood, although from what I understand and kind of what people have told me is that there’s a growing population of Puerto Ricans. Like, they go to Rhodes, so they’re moving a little closer to the Brooklyn area.

Sarah Nemeth [00:02:45] Okay. So there is some sort of natural migration happening of the enclave, the network of people?

Maria Agosto [00:02:52] Yeah, I would still say, like, it’s not everybody. You got some people that want to stay here because here’s where the services are offered in two different languages. Here’s where, you know, you can get food, you can get clothes, get copias, all those strange little things that you need for things.

Sarah Nemeth [00:03:13] What’s a copia?

Maria Agosto [00:03:14] So if you ever go like, like a baby shower or a wedding, they have, like, those little pins they pin to you. You see that they’re like lace usually, and they got like, a ribbon through them with the date on it. So you get those in the neighborhood.

Sarah Nemeth [00:03:28] Just because, I mean, why?

Maria Agosto [00:03:30] I don’t know. Like, I needed to get it for my sister’s baby shower recently, and I asked where you get them. And, like, it’s this store that you would never go in otherwise. And it’s the only place they knew how to get them.

Sarah Nemeth [00:03:42] Interesting. And they just hand them out?

Maria Agosto [00:03:44] No, you gotta buy them. Like, you place an order and you tell them how many you want, and they get one for, like, the mom or the birthday person, you know, the wedding people.

Sarah Nemeth [00:03:53] Right. Okay. Are there any, like, important restaurants in the area that you can think of?

Maria Agosto [00:04:04] This one’s tougher because I’m a vegetarian, which goes against the will of my people, because if it’s not in pork, they’re not happy. But. So I eat different things than maybe everybody else eats. But if you wanted to get Puerto Rican food, there’s always the bakery, which is the yellow building. It used to be the yellow building that you had to kind of know how to order in Spanish if you really wanted great service. But now they have the newer building, which is, like, where it used, like, behind where it used to be. Um, so you can get rice, pernil, salad, empanadillas. You can get, like, little grocery things, like the seasonings there. I think they sell sofrito. So there’s them, and they’re kind of like a buffet, not a buffet. It’s like takeout style where, like, the food’s already ready and you walk up and you kind of point to what you want, and then you get a serving of it. So I don’t know what that’s called.

Sarah Nemeth [00:05:00] I think. I don’t know if you’re not getting it yourself, that would be a buffet, but I don’t know what it’s called if they do it, but you get to see it.

Maria Agosto [00:05:07] Yeah. Okay. So I’ll get snacks there and food there. There’s also a place called Sabor Miami, but they’re definitely on the cusp. They’re over on Broadview, okay, so she’s got- It’s really awesome food. It’s like I think she takes inspiration from a lot of places, but it’s like turmeric lattes and turmeric ice lattes which- I’m a big turmeric fan right now. But she knows, like, all her customers and she’s super friendly. So because she knows I’m vegetarian, she’ll, like, make me different things. But she does, like, wraps. She has cubanos, frijoles, rancheros. She’s got those frijole rancheros. And then she has like, kind of cool stuff like kiwi lime pancakes. So, you eat a lot with her. And so then there’s Moncho’s. So Moncho’s is still a little bit more like a bar, but they have really great food. So they’re over off Denison by like some chicken place. So usually where I go, other than that, because of the vegetarianism, I eat a lot of Middle Eastern food.

Sarah Nemeth [00:06:21] Right.

Maria Agosto [00:06:22] So, those are my favorite Spanish places, though.

Sarah Nemeth [00:06:25] Okay, well, I’ve been to one, so.

Maria Agosto [00:06:29] Which one? The bakery?

Sarah Nemeth [00:06:30] Momocho’s.

Maria Agosto [00:06:31] Ah, not the one by, there’s like one that sounds like it by Johnny Mango. Not them.

Sarah Nemeth [00:06:40] No. It’s like, it’s really, really small in there and really tight. And it’s, you can hardly, anyone can hardly sit in there. I forget what it’s by.

Maria Agosto [00:06:50] This one’s big though.

Sarah Nemeth [00:06:51] Oh, maybe that was one that sounded like it, I don’t know. It was on the side street. Well, it’s on the main street, but you have to park basically on a side street.

Maria Agosto [00:06:59] Yeah, there’s a lot of parking on side street, but they have a lot.

Sarah Nemeth [00:07:03] Maybe I went to the one that sounds like it that’s not actually it.

Maria Agosto [00:07:06] That one’s like over in Ohio City. It’s like across the street from a fancy like beer and wine place. [SN: Yes, that’s the one.] I think that one’s, um. Maybe that one’s Momocho. I’m thinking of Moncho. No, Little Moncho’s. I think it’s on Denison where Denison and Fulton - is it Denison and Fulton? - Yeah. So Denison Fulton. And there’s like a gas station across street. It’s like Happy’s Chicken or something. And, and then like two doors down. It’s got a black sign and white lettering, but they have mofonguitos and they’re ten bucks, and they got like crab guacamole. It’s like crabmeat guacamole.

Sarah Nemeth [00:07:50] Yeah. You can get all the different types of guacamole. Like there is- Was there a tuna one there too?

Maria Agosto [00:07:56] I’ve only seen this one. It’s like you walk in and they got like, big paintings that are, like, the size of this mat. And, like, someone paints in them, you can tell they’re, like, LeBron’s face. It’s like, I think Cesar Chavez’s face. It’s, like, really, like, big faces. I think there’s a soccer player. They’re always watching soccer in there too.

Sarah Nemeth [00:08:16] So there’s two, but there’s not, they’re not the same thing, but they sound alike.

Maria Agosto [00:08:19] But one is owned by White people, by the guy that owns El Barrio, I think, or El Carnicero. Like, those three are all owned by someone else. It’s not Hispanic.

Sarah Nemeth [00:08:29] Oh, okay.

Maria Agosto [00:08:30] They’re faux Hispanic.

Sarah Nemeth [00:08:31] So there’s the little one and then there’s the huge one where you walk in, there’s a giant bar, and it wraps. Is that-?

Maria Agosto [00:08:38] It does wrap. Yes. And, like, there’s, like, little bottle caps, and then it’s covered over with, like, glaze or something.

Sarah Nemeth [00:08:45] Okay, so I’ve been to both of those.

Maria Agosto [00:08:47] Okay. I’m thinking the second one. Mm hmm.

Sarah Nemeth [00:08:50] Okay.

Maria Agosto [00:08:51] Yeah. I had a lot of margaritas there.

Maria Agosto [00:08:53] Their margaritas are awesome. I sometimes complain about, like, when I go to, like, Mexican spots, the margaritas suck, like, what is this? But theirs are awesome. Those are awesome.

Sarah Nemeth [00:09:06] What did your mother do?

Maria Agosto [00:09:07] Ooh, I’m not really close to my mom.

Sarah Nemeth [00:09:09] Okay. So your dad was a cop?

Maria Agosto [00:09:14] Mm hmm.

Sarah Nemeth [00:09:14] And you had four siblings, and were you close to the rest of your family that were still here, like, your grandparents-?

Maria Agosto [00:09:25] Yeah, I see my grandma yesterday. So I still, like, we all live within, like, a five mile radius of each other. I got an aunt lives on Denison. Aunt lives in Storer. I got my grandma lives on, like, 46th and Storer. Then I live on Daisy. I got another aunt that lives on Archwood. Another one lives on the Arch- It’s like, that side street where it connects to, like- No, Mapledale. Mapledale, side street, Archwood. So that middle street. So, like, we all kind of live here.

Sarah Nemeth [00:09:54] Okay. I don’t know if your grandparents ever mentioned to you because they came around in the [sixties]. Did they ever talk about when they arrived-?

Maria Agosto [00:10:03] What it was like?

Sarah Nemeth [00:10:04] Yeah.

Maria Agosto [00:10:07] It’s harder to get pieces out of ’em. I know. I pieced together my dad was young. He was in the Guardian Angels. They rode around on the rapid stations and, like, were this volunteer police force kinda. I don’t think they get, like, batons. They don’t get, like, you know, anything dangerous. But he would talk about how there was, like, more racial tensions between, like, the African American community and the Hispanic community. So I’ve heard of that. But it wasn’t something he talked about often. But I know that that was a big reason, like, even though Metro, Tri-C Metro has always been closer, but, like, our family, like, everybody always went to Metro, or to the West one. Tri-C West. It’s in Parma. So even though it’s far, it’s a total pain in the butt to get to. People go there because they didn’t feel safe crossing that bridge downtown. So it is. And, like, it’s a weird thing that I think has trickled down, because even now at Lincoln West, a lot of kids don’t go to Metro. And, like, that’s one thing if, like, you’re graduated, but if we talk to them about, like, college credit plus where you could do college and college or college and high school in a day, they would have to make that commute. And that commute is, it’s a bit of, it’s a lot, you know, especially trying to go to school half the day. It could take, you know, 45 minutes.

Sarah Nemeth [00:11:32] Yeah. Going to school and possibly working, spending time.

Maria Agosto [00:11:36] Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:11:37] When your job’s closer and having to go-

Maria Agosto [00:11:39] It is.

Sarah Nemeth [00:11:40] It’s a lot for-

Maria Agosto [00:11:42] But see, so they talked about how is it even more Hispanic on, like, Clark Avenue? It tends to be Puerto Rican focused, even though there are other communities in the area, too. Like, there is El Salvadorians and Guatemalans. I’ve met some Colombians, but it was always like, Puerto Ricans were the largest sect of people. Didn’t talk too much about it. My grandpa owned the house on Clark, and he would rent- So it was three houses on a property. It’s like, I think it’s like three parcels, but there’s two in the front and there’s one in the back and two in the front were, like, duplexes. And then the back house was a standalone house. My grandpa lived in the standalone house. Well, he would rent to people as they just came to the country or came to the mainland, you know, so they didn’t really speak any English. So he would just, you know, help them get set up, help them find a job, things like that. Yeah. I got to go to Puerto Rico recently, and I got to, like, meet my family that was still back there. So, like, even though my grandpa passed away, I got to meet, like, his sister and my grandma’s brothers and sisters, and so it’s kind of cool.

Sarah Nemeth [00:12:52] Did they tell you why they, why your grandparents left and they stayed?

Maria Agosto [00:12:57] Oh! Unfortunately, my Spanish is not what it should be, so they only really speak Spanish in Puerto Rico. They use more English in Rome than there is in Puerto Rico, which is crazy.

Sarah Nemeth [00:13:10] Yeah. I’ve been to Rome. It’s interesting.

Maria Agosto [00:13:14] Like, you can get around, you know? [crosstalk] Like. Yeah, but, like, not in Puerto Rico. And the roads are, like, crazy. But, let’s see, I know that they came over on the promise of a job, and then I know that’s why they came. My grandpa retired from Sherwin-Williams, so that’s where he stayed.

Sarah Nemeth [00:13:33] Okay.

Maria Agosto [00:13:37] Let’s see. That’s all I really know.

Sarah Nemeth [00:13:41] All right. What was kind of, I guess the landmark that kept the community together? Was it a church? Was it a, maybe an organization that people could still talk- I know you lived- Everyone lived close, but, like, what’s something-

Maria Agosto [00:14:02] That kind of drawn us to the spot? Kind of. It was my grandpa, but, like, organization wise, he went to St. Michael, but I had never been to St. Michael, and even, like, my aunts and stuff go to churches in Lakewood, Seventh Day Adventists. So. Hmm. Something central for everybody. That’s tough. I mean, I think what really helped them out was that, especially when they were on Clark, was that rent was low, the bilingualism was everywhere, and you could walk to a lot of places because, like, there’s a ton of pedestrians in this area. People walk everywhere. So because there was a grocery store close, there was, you know, restaurants close. I think that’s all I’ve got. I don’t think there was any single thing that uni- got them all here. I do know that, like, living very close to each other was always very paramount, though, because, like, my dad moved to Chagrin Falls after they changed that law, the constitution, the state constitution, to allow police to move out of the city, and he moved to Chagrin Falls, and it’s like he died. Like, nobody knew what happened to this man. [laughs] So it’s tough. See if I can think of something else. And there’s always, like, this heavy reliance on each other where, like, when you needed sitters or, like, people needed help with things, people even trade, like, smaller things. Like, if you have groceries and I don’t have groceries, I’ll let you borrow something. Like, if you’re making something, you know, like, so there’s that. And then, like, my grandparents, my grandpa drove but my grandma never drove. So, like, there was always this need to be close to her, too, because she needed to get places. And then, I don’t know if it’s true, but my dad told me we were little, that the Taino Indians would like that, like, when explorers would come through like that by the islands, they would see these, like, lone people in, like, long canoes. It’s one person in canoes. And he told me that they would do that so they could visit their family in other places, but that it was, like, very important to them as well because they had, you know, even though it was big pain in the butt and you were all by yourself, you’d still make this trek and still make this journey. So I still think that this, like, idea of visiting each other and, like, that’s what you do on your days. That’s what you’re supposed to do. And, like, if you don’t do it, like, you get- You get stuff from all the family about, like, why haven’t you seen grandma in, like, a week? So I think it was just each other being here.

Sarah Nemeth [00:16:40] Okay.

Maria Agosto [00:16:40] And particularly our grandparents.

Sarah Nemeth [00:16:45] All right. There was a- Just from what I know, I know there’s this strong presence of Puerto Ricans and other Hispanic families in the 1960s and the 1970s in the Hough area. Do you know anything about that?

Maria Agosto [00:17:01] No.

Sarah Nemeth [00:17:01] Okay.

Maria Agosto [00:17:02] If they did, I’m sure it was because there was some kind of factory that was hiring. People I know in Lorain they got a lot, too. [crosstalk] A lot of Puerto Ricans. I’ve never been, but I know that, like, it’s got, they got to really strong community.

Sarah Nemeth [00:17:15] Oh, yes. It is very strong. But it makes it interesting, makes it fun when there’s diversity.

Maria Agosto [00:17:22] It does.

Sarah Nemeth [00:17:23] And not just bland.

Maria Agosto [00:17:24] I know, I know.

Sarah Nemeth [00:17:26] Which could be an issue in some places when there’s impending gentrification, which is a question that I have.

Maria Agosto [00:17:33] Oh, totally pending. Like, and like, even so, I’ve kept my ear to the ground in part because I work at Lincoln West, because my family lives here, and they’re not active in the community way because, I don’t know, they aren’t. But I went to school for, like, my public admin, so I know, like, neighborhood building in the process and, like, gentrification and what it does. So I’ve been very active in paying attention to what’s happening in the neighborhood. And I know there’s a strong, like, la via push, but there’s also. So my brother has this shop, like a car shop, on Storer. Is that St. Michael, that street?

Sarah Nemeth [00:18:12] The bigger one is Storer. That runs parallel to- [inaudible]

Maria Agosto [00:18:22] Because I know that if you take that street that all the terrible things happened on, and at the end of that street, there’s a white shop, that may be Storer. Well, anyway, he lives- He’s very close to, like, the Tremonty area, and he’s in between Tremont and here. But so he gets, he gets, like, pretty messed with pretty regularly about, like, you know, keeping the place up, make sure so many cars, there’s not any noise past a certain time. So even in the time he’s been there, which is like a year and a half maybe, you can see that that street is very becoming different considering they’re opening, like, clothing shops. And, I don’t know, things like that. And, like- Mm hmm. And they’re like, I have nothing against retail. Like, I love retail clothing specifically, but, like, I can also see when it’s, like, very high end. Like, when it’s like, I mean, I’ll occasionally buy, like, a $25 t-shirt, but, like, they’re rare and they better, like, be a CLE t-shirt to be that expensive. So, like, it’s a very high end, expensive commodities that are popping up over there. And that’s not really reflective on what that community can afford. But I think of it is it’s a land grab. They’re trying to see where they can start to move this buffer. And even I think that that area is now called, like, Tremont West. It’s not Tremont and it’s not Metro West. It’s this fun little area. And now that, like, Metro’s got their own, like, CDC kicking off pretty much, it’s interesting to see what they’re gonna try to grab for. ’Cause why else would they have a CDC?

Sarah Nemeth [00:20:04] Yeah, I mean, just this seems like the next place to kind of pop [MA: Mm hmm, it does.], and it does, Detroit Shoreway just- It’s happening.

Maria Agosto [00:20:13] But they’ve been, like, really good. I do respect Detroit Shoreway because they’ve tried to include the people. They’ve tried to not price people out. Whereas I think Ohio City has been very, like, they don’t care. Like, as long as they can get the money they want for the property and they’re gonna make it look as fancy as possible, they don’t care. And they’re also, like, they’re right before that bridge on West 25th or, you know, on the other side of it’s Nestle and that. And, like, they’re full. Like, it’s already surprising to me how dense that population, like, those cities and the houses are becoming there. There’s, like, almost no green- There’s green space in the sense that there’s trees and there’s parks, but there’s not, like, open fields. Like, remember, because that’s where I lived prior to this. Like, there was, like, where they had destroyed a house, but, like, there’s just a field now and, like, kids played over there and things like that happen. But even now, like, all that’s sold up and people are trying to flip their houses fast.

Sarah Nemeth [00:21:08] So all the vacant lots that were green spaces, that were community spots?

Maria Agosto [00:21:13] Even on 47th, like, we had a community garden. But, you know, an investor came and was like, hey, I want to buy this property. And, like, we didn’t own that land. Like, there was nothing to stop someone from buying it. So I, because I did move out I don’t know entirely what happened or if he bought it, but I do know, like, like, it kind of came down to this moment. We’re like, oh, we don’t. We don’t own this, even though we fixed it. And, you know, there’s 20 gardens in here with a whole sprinkler system. Like, this isn’t ours. We can’t, we can’t stop anybody from buying it. So my point there is that they’re running out of space and they have to expand somewhere. So the question in my mind is going to be, is there going to be an intentional community here, or are they going to start to push it apart and peel it apart for different other communities?

Sarah Nemeth [00:22:05] I never thought about it that way. I mean, I always knew that the people usually have to leave that were the essence of the space. When gentrification comes in and the buyers come in and they’re moving, they keep pushing it back. [MA: Right.] But how- What happens when it runs out? I mean, this is kind of like in a little bubble right now.

Maria Agosto [00:22:25] Yes. And like the urban planner in us, you know, or me. I don’t know. I assume you’re doing urban planning of some sort with this kind of project.

Sarah Nemeth [00:22:34] Well, I mean, it’s a person’s relation to space, but I’m a history graduate student so this is history.

Maria Agosto [00:22:41] Well, so, like, you may be familiar with is that the closer we are to downtown, the more centralized all the transit is. The RTA, the 22, the 21, the 28, the 26. Like the very big bus lines that run like every 10, 15 minutes at times. Those are- The closer to downtown you are, the better it is, the better the service. But as we start getting further and further out, there’s less. There’s less bus routes, essentially, which means less access to work, less access to hospitals and things of that nature. So Stockyards - Clark-Fulton - Brooklyn Metro West has like, really cool- What’s this guy want? What a stalker. [laughs] Just kidding. That’s Tony. He’s a good guy. But this area has good bus coverage. But let’s say that that ripping apart slowly happens and those people have to move. Well, naturally, in my opinion, they’re gonna start moving further to the Brooklyn area because that’s the next closest community. It still has a high school. It still, you know, has the Hispanic population, you know, already kind of there and established, is that the buses aren’t as prevalent there and then for sure past there, like, it’s even worse. Like you’re going from like five lines down to two lines. So it becomes a very big deal about when you talk about services like that. So random side rant tangent.

Sarah Nemeth [00:24:08] No, I, well, just in Detroit Shoreway, like, the people that live on Madison, they’re down to one line and it doesn’t come close enough to that section. That’s the section that needs it the most because they’re the least mobile.

Maria Agosto [00:24:23] Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:24:24] And they don’t have a grocery store anymore but one neighborhood grocery store-

Maria Agosto [00:24:28] Is it the Dave’s one?

Sarah Nemeth [00:24:29] It’s Alexander’s. It’s like a corner grocery store. [crosstalk] It’s super small. And they have to go all the way down to Dave’s, and there’s even further-

Maria Agosto [00:24:39] If you’ve gone to Dave’s too, like, it’s expensive. Like, I love Dave’s because they have a cool variety of stuff. Like, it is not cheap by any means.

Sarah Nemeth [00:24:48] It’s not at all. It’s one of those, they jack it up because it’s a mommy pop.

Maria Agosto [00:24:52] Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:24:52] And yeah, it’s unfortunate. That’s scary for, I mean, it’s all good and stuff to reinvest in these neighborhoods, but displacing the people and the essence of what made it so cool is not cool.

Maria Agosto [00:25:05] No, it’s not. And like, and then also, like, it drives me crazy because you see, like, we were talking about this yesterday, my husband and I, is like, we were on Lorain and Fulton right there. So they kicked, I don’t know if kicked, Unique left and then Fifth Third Bank left. And I think- So the opinion is that because Lorain was redeveloping, they thought they could get people that could pay better for those properties, but now they’re empty. And, like, those were, like, long standing players in the community. Fifth Third Bank had been there for a while. It’s the bank I used. And then Unique Thrift Stores, you know, Unique Thrift Store, which is awesome. And they’ve won like, like ton of cool little thrift store awards. But like, it’s a huge property and they wanted more money for it, so. No, you can see it though. The tiny mom and pop places get pushed out quick because they don’t have the money in. My one speculation theory is that they don’t have the money to upgrade it to be really cool looking. So there used to be a furniture place, used to be two furniture places. One was on, like, I don’t know. They’re big. I think it’s like on 41st across from Spanish American Committee. There was a furniture place there. They weren’t great furniture. I think they took, like, vouchers and stuff. And there was another furniture place over by the plaza right before, what’s the tall thing, farmers’ marketplace?

Sarah Nemeth [00:26:32] The West Side Market.

Maria Agosto [00:26:33] The West Side Market. Yeah. So. But, like, both of them were gone. Like, within a year, they were just gone. And they’d been there for, like, forever, because you could tell when you walked in that place it’s like, that place is old [laughs], but, like, they would never have the money to, like, upgrade. And now things that are there are really cute, and they have nice signage, and, you know, I’m sure they have a happy hour of some sort.

Sarah Nemeth [00:26:54] Well, yeah, and I mean, they can’t pay the rent, as they- They were just probably just making it before. And it’s unfortunate.

Maria Agosto [00:27:04] It is, because, like, they have a right to be there. I know they’re not as pretty. I know it’s not. You know? But, like, they have a right. They been in the community when it was terrible or rough, and, you know, they’ve helped people, and they deserve better than this, just like, well, this building’s kind of nice, and you guys should be better, so.

Sarah Nemeth [00:27:27] Sorry.

Maria Agosto [00:27:28] Yeah. So here’s the new rent, and if you can’t make it, you can leave, pretty much.

Sarah Nemeth [00:27:34] Maybe we can change directions. I saw that you’re on the board of the Young Latino Network.

Maria Agosto [00:27:41] Ooh, I’m the president.

Sarah Nemeth [00:27:43] Could you explain what that is?

Maria Agosto [00:27:45] Oh, sure. We’re a young professional organization. We were started in 2002. I heard there was, like, a little bit of time before that, but I know we were officially certified as a 501c3 in 2002. So we, as a young professional organization, we work with young Latino college graduates are usually our target to give them opportunities to become civically engaged and opportunities to develop themselves as leaders. Typically, this means that there’s a lot of fundraising. I have to go. I gotta go, like, to the companies around town and say, hey, you know, we got these awesome leaders, and they want to participate in awesome leadership programs in Cleveland, and we need help to do that. So every year, you know, we go to our sponsors, and they give us money, and then we use that money to reinvest in the people that are members. And we do, like, typical Young Latino Network stuff like networking, speed networking. I feel like I’ve networked in every variety at this point. It’s like, table by table by table. I also, like, I’m a big advocate for volunteering, so things like that. So we work with, like, the Breast Amigas. So they do. They’ll do, like, pop-up health clinics. I know they’re coming this September to La Sagrada church, but they’re from Metro, the hospital. And they do free breast exams, which the Spanish word for that is. Wait, damn it, I forgot. Oh, well, I was supposed to, like, have it, and pelvis is pelvis, and free pelvis exams, and then, like, there’s this whole slew of people. So they’ll do, like, diabetic testing. They’ll do blood pressure testing. I know. Like, they, like, looked at my sinuses and stuff, and, like, it’s free. You walk up, you can try it. There’s snacks. It’s to try to encourage being, like, healthier in life. And we partner with them because we provide kind of, you know, translators. Okay, so that was a big one. And I know that I was talking to Luz, who runs it, and she was saying there’s so many people that come to the west side locations that they have to prep all the tests the night before, because it’s just, like- And they’re there for a while. I think it’s like, nine to twelve, maybe eight to twelve. [crosstalk] Yeah, the whole time. It’s crazy. I know. Like, the east side location, which, you know, typically, you don’t associate Hispanics with the east side, we had 275 people, and it is open to everybody, but, like, 270 people in that little, tiny timeframe to try to do these tests to get a little healthier. That’s always a big one. So we volunteer, volunteered with them. We work with the board of elections to register people. What else we do? Lots of stuff.

Sarah Nemeth [00:30:33] Okay. Do you know how it started?

Maria Agosto [00:30:38] I feel like the idea of it as starting was that it became important to have- So Hispanics don’t- How do you word this? Not everyone goes to college. So when you do go to college and you’re one of the first in your family to go, and then you’ve graduated, which is a wonderful, awesome occasion, now you’re looking for a job, and you’re gonna go from a safer, more collaborative environment into the workforce, which is, in my opinion, a little more- I don’t know, it was surprising. I remember my first staff meeting, and, like, nobody talking. And I was like, oh, this is not like college, where everyone can debate, what are the good things? What are the bad things? Whereas there’s these layers of, like, power. So, like, who’s got it? Who wants it? How do people, like, work together to get it? And, but, like, it was important for us to start to develop young leaders that could handle this transition and also help the next person with this transition. So part of that was the leadership programs. So go out, meet other professionals, make a safe space, people that you can ask questions of, like, you know, I gotta have this tough conversation with my boss. How do I do it? What’s the best way to do it where I don’t burn myself in the foot, you know, and I don’t get too emotional and, like, because I think that’s a thing that’s a hard one for me, is I get, like, really emotional. Things aren’t going my way, and then I’m like, why isn’t it working? And so essentially. So trying to get people ready before they had to do it. And also, like, with the networking opportunities to give ’em a chance to debrief, it’s like, okay, you’re doing it, you know, now come relax. These are some people that are handling very similar situations because it’s, like, also very, like, all the jobs I’ve been in so far, all three of them since graduation, there’s not a lot of Hispanic people. Typically, you’re by yourself. My current company, which is awesome and always awesome, there’s three of us out of, like, 100 people. Mind you, we work with CMSD high school. Like, there’s no way that only, like, a few people are Hispanic in CMSD high school. So. And then my prior job, it was, it wasn’t good either. I think there was, out of 700 people, there’s only 28 Hispanics. So, like, yeah, it’s super crazy, but, like, if you let, if you let a company get away with what they want to get away with, they’ll say, nobody’s applying. You know, they’re like, oh, well, nobody’s qualified that’s applying. So, like, it’s also trying to meet that demand where it’s like, well, I know, you know, Jose has chemical engineering background, and you’re looking for a chemical engineer, so try and also be this facilitator between the company and the people. And, like, this is a person, you know, you’re not gonna come in with that silly excuse, and you’re gonna hire people that are Hispanic, because if you have services that you want to get in my community, if you have things you wanna sell to my community, like, you have to have somebody that, like-

Sarah Nemeth [00:33:39] Knows that.

Maria Agosto [00:33:40] Yeah, like, I swear, like my aunt and grandmas, and, like, they don’t know half the services are out there. But, like, it’s because that’s kind of a failure from the services part for never being in front of them or being able to get in front of them. So that’s kind of why a lot of the impetus came from. It was also to work with Esperanza because they needed mentors for their, like, you know, high school aged kids. So we provide the mentors we sometimes work with, like, El Barrio, the workforce development folks, so that they can, I don’t know, their people can, like, they can either job shadow us or they can ask us questions, or we can work with them on resumes. So, like, it’s as they need it there. It’s cool.

Sarah Nemeth [00:34:23] Yeah. How did you get involved?

Maria Agosto [00:34:25] Ooh, let’s see. I had to- I think for me, I had graduated already, and I got my first job. Oh, it’s crazy because this is kind of public. I got my first job, and I was super excited, and, like, it was at its place. It did a really great mission, and I was super excited again. And that was the first- That was when I had walked into the first staff meeting, and it was like, it was just crazy. Like, I was- It was so- We were so on edge all the time because of certain factors. So, like, all the workers were, like, super on edge, and, like, it’s so uncomfortable. And, like, I was only there for three months, so I was hired to do their language bank, and I was doing a super awesome bomb ass job. The only thing that happened was that, unbeknownst to me, they’d found out that they were actually losing money with this language bank, and they wanted to take my role and combine it with their accountant so that this other person would handle both responsibilities. So I wasn’t there long, but I remember, like, I remember, like, I walked into this job on my first day, and I was like, okay, cool. And, like, after, like, about a month, I was like, this is- This is awful. Like, and, like, I’m so scared of my resume being negatively affected about me having this job for a month and being like, so I had to stick it through. But when they told me that they weren’t gonna keep me because they couldn’t financially afford it, I was like, that’s okay. You know, it was totally- It totally caught me off guard because I was, like, in my head, mentally. Parents, this is gonna be the two to three years before I could transition to the next responsibility. Like, so I had this whole thing played out in my head, and then it didn’t quite go the way it was supposed to go, and then I was, like, kind of stuck with this. Like, I’d worked there for three months, and I need another job, and they only gave me, like, three weeks notice of, like, your job is not gonna be here no more. So that’s when I became involved. So I, like, started harassing my mentor at the time. Like, what am I gonna do? Like, I need to find jobs. And he showed me the Young Latino Network, and, like, at that time, it’s come a long way in, like, five years too. It’s come a long way since the beginning, but, like, it was very grassrootsy before, but they’d meet at, like, May Duggan and, like, everyone sat around a table, and I don’t know, and then, like, update each other on things they were doing, so. And then I became treasurer because I knew how to do banky stuff. And then after a year being treasurer, it was time for the board to transition. So that’s when I ran as president. I totally won, and it’s been awesome. We did just have our superannual fund fundraiser last Friday, so it’s called Noche de Guayabera, and we sol sold out, which is awesome. And we raised all of our dollars so we can give more money back to the community.

Sarah Nemeth [00:37:25] It’s worth it in the end.

Maria Agosto [00:37:27] It is.

Sarah Nemeth [00:37:27] But the process is very stressful.

Maria Agosto [00:37:30] Yes. It’s like, you have to, like, maintain really, like, conversations, everything, like, hey, hey, remember you said, like, you were gonna send me that money? [crosstalk] What’s up? Up with that? Like, are you still doing that? Right? You remember that? Because I remember that.

Sarah Nemeth [00:37:44] I had it written down, mentioned it briefly in the conversation a year ago.

Maria Agosto [00:37:49] Like, we’re gonna. Yeah, you definitely said that you were interested in sponsoring us. What’s up? You know? And then we work with, like, La Placita, too. So we’ll have a table there, and we’ll, like, volunteer there, and it’s also to give the community exposure. Like, look what a professional looks like. So that’s what we do.

Sarah Nemeth [00:38:09] Okay. I did have a question about that before. Do you still work at College Now?

Maria Agosto [00:38:15] I do.

Sarah Nemeth [00:38:15] Okay. I wanted to ask about that before, but this question real quick. Are the youth, as they’re coming out of becoming the second generation or the third generation, are they disenfranchised? Was that another reason for the Young Latino Network, that they have these ties to their family, and they want to maintain that tradition, but they also are entering, like you said, the workforce. And it’s different, and it’s strange, and-

Maria Agosto [00:38:42] And you have to adapt, you know? Like, there’s definitely a lot of, like, trying to create a space for people. Now, we do try to hit professionals because it’s also, like, you know, there’s so few of us. I read somewhere it’s like four out of every hundred, you know, graduate people or graduate seeking folks are Hispanic, so, like, it’s trying to, like, build awareness. It’s trying to build a place. And. And there is a lot of, like, I love my community. I do. But there’s a lot of, like, misinformation in the community, like, around, oh, so much. But, like. But when you go to college and it dispels certain things that you were raised to believe, and then you have to, like, you have to, like, come to terms with it. You have to, like, okay, you know, here’s a part of me that’s educated here, probably. It’s very family centric as well. And I have to, like, make these two things work, these two ideas that are not mushing well, so that’s a kind. That’s another part of it is trying to, like, create some middle areas and see how other people have done it, you know, especially when you’re, like, the only one in your family that’s going to college is, like, it’s very isolating, I think there’s. There’s three in my family. Like, there’s, like, my cousins are now in college, and they’re working on it. Like, so I finished my masters, and, like, I was one of the ones that, like, after high school, it’s like, that was the plan. We’re gonna go to college, and I’m gonna enroll. But, like, so now, like, my cousins have kids, and they’re going for, like, vet tech stuff. So, like, like, even, like, looking at it. It’s like, that’s gonna be hard. It’s a hard life for those, because, like, those jobs don’t pay great, and there’s not necessarily great transitioning between that and another job. You know? Especially vet tech. Like, you could never become a vet tech for, like, 20 years and become a veterinarian. Like, that would never happen. Like, you’re a vet tech now forever.

Sarah Nemeth [00:40:40] And that’s not- You can’t just take those skills and move it on something else, I don’t think.

Maria Agosto [00:40:44] I mean, and really, it’s like, is it gonna be something you can move on to and make more money at? You know?

Sarah Nemeth [00:40:49] Mm hmm, there’s no ladder up.

Maria Agosto [00:40:52] Mm hmm. So. And then because of the College Now position is that I’m very used to having college conversations, you know, like, well, this is the FAFSA, and I break it down super fast. Like, it’s like, food stamps for college money. You apply once a year. You get this set of money and this is what you can use it for. I’m like, oh, it’s just rough. Let’s back to family stuff. So the Young Latino Network, it’s a great way to try whole new skill sets in areas that you wouldn’t necessarily otherwise get skill sets in like fundraising and recruiting and, you know, some database management, creating newsletters, creating flyers, things that like as, you know, the accounting person I was, as the HR person I was, as like now the college advisor I am, I don’t get to do that very often because there’s no point in it. I don’t need to make flyers for Lincoln West. I have like harass children by face continually, so it’s a great way to try new skill sets as well. And it’s a fun experience. I always recommend networking just to network, you know, like you’ve got to as young professionals because your job is never going to train you on how to get the next job. They’re more invested in you staying here with your institutional knowledge to help out here. They’re not going to show you this other cool job over here that pays more. So.

Sarah Nemeth [00:42:23] So College Now is located, it’s located in Tower City?

Maria Agosto [00:42:26] It is. But we’re like independent contractors. [crosstalk] There’s one of us in like every high school. They’re not all full time people. A lot of them are AmeriCorps.

Sarah Nemeth [00:42:35] Is that how you work with Lincoln West?

Maria Agosto [00:42:37] Mm hmm. So I’m at Lincoln West like all day.

Sarah Nemeth [00:42:40] And you’re an advisor. Okay.

Maria Agosto [00:42:43] So that means I get like every year I get a cohort of kids. I mostly target the same, but I also like start grooming the 11th graders and then a little bit with the 9th and 10th graders. But I have to do college applications, scholarship essays, scholarship applications entirely helping kids get letters of recommendation, helping them write out a story that flows and then FAFSAs, registering them for the act, reminding them of their registration to the actual and just the whole gambit. Signing up for their orientation, helping them do their placement test, helping them take up their loans. So that’s what I do with them. So every high school is different and every high school has its own culture. Like, so some like, we have a John Hay person and we have a Cleveland School of the Arts person. So they will have a different experience than I will have Lincoln West because my kids are not high achieving. They don’t have great ACT scores. About half of them have good grades. Being like a 2.5. It’s like I can work with that. So that’s what I do there.

Sarah Nemeth [00:43:53] Okay. And I guess finally, what is your hope for the hispanic community in your neighborhood? And just Metro West in general.

Maria Agosto [00:44:06] Ooh, hopes and dreams. So many. So why I chose Lincoln West to work there? Because it’s. It’s a very rough school. But in my earlier jobs, I had accesses to the refugee populations in Cleveland. So a lot of the refugees go to Lincoln West. I also cover Thomas Jefferson as well. So I work with the refugee kids there. And then I work with the kids that came straight from Puerto Rico. They don’t know English. And then I come from. And like, once they transition over to Lincoln West, I still work with them. So, like, the thing we’re known for in, like, all high schools is like, we’re the awesome soccer players. We always win. Except for against St. Ignatius. Those kids are huge. My kids are little.

Sarah Nemeth [00:44:52] My brother went there.

Maria Agosto [00:44:54] They’re big. They eat meat. So I love, like, what I do with them and trying to get them to see that Cleveland’s not terrible and that because they went to a Cleveland high school that they’re not, like, screwed in life because that’s like, I don’t know how much exposure you have to teenagers, but they are very dramatic people. They are dramatic by nature. So they’re like, I can’t go to, you know, Baldwin Wallace. I can’t go to Ohio State because, like, I went here. Who from here goes there? So, like, trying to dispel in them their own negativities where I’m like, you know, you have every bit of the intelligence of any other kid. You can do this. You can do this. It takes a leap of faith. So our community, the Metro West community, has lots of problems. Like, no one’s saying we’re perfect. We have lots of great things too, though. So if we can get the high school to be what I want them to be. So I want them to apply to, like, more colleges. I want them to, like, truly consider being in a dorm because, like, they see the price tag of dorms and they’re just. They’re like, no way. No way. And it is expensive. But I have a lot of kids that- So this is my second school. I just finished my second school year. My first school year. Like, they dropped out a high school or a college. They went to Kent, bombed. And, like, now they’re back. One’s pregnant. You know, one doesn’t know what they want to do with their life and they’re flailing. So, like, it makes more sense to me, if they try the dorm life and they try to fully commit to this, like, we’re gonna try to do college and we’re gonna, you know, we got this. And then, you know, I’ll work with them, you know, we’ll find you scholarship money. We’ll help you pay for it. But this, from a high school perspective, trying to get the kids to be more comfortable with loans, trying to get them to understand that you trying to work and pay off your tuition as you go is not a great idea because it’s gonna take you forever. And I can tell them you’re gonna make more money on the other end of that education. So why are you here? $8 an hour trying to kill yourself raising this money when you want to be a pharmacist and, like, there’s $100,000 on the other end of this, you know, like, quit playing around. Go to school, knock out these classes, get it done. So from a high school perspective, that’s what I want. Because those are the kids that live in the community. And if we can get them to believe in themselves or them to try these new things, them to work a little less, to just focus on school a little more, it’s gonna help the whole community. Other community stuffs. I do like that there’s, like, this old lady walking group, so maybe, like, if they could find, like, one for, like, Hispanic women. I know it’s for everybody, but, like, I don’t know, I just. I can’t sell it to my grandma yet. Like, I’ve- I thought about it, but I’m like, what is she gonna, like, talk about? You know, she’s had trouble walking around. She only speaks Spanish, but she’s really sweet. And so trying to figure out a way to connect the services that do exist to people that could use them. It’s always tough, though. Cause I always bitch to everybody here. There’s this house that has a tree running through it next to my aunt’s house. She’s taking fabulous care of her property. It’s, like, right next door. So, like, I’m like, she needs to know how to get that property. There’s gotta be a process. I’m sure the land bank owns. Cause it’s totally abandoned. It’s been abandoned forever. So, like, trying to figure out how, like, how does she, a school bus driver, understand the process of, you know, I can own this house. I can get help demolishing this house, and then I can expand my yard. And now the neighborhood doesn’t look as crappy, you know?

Sarah Nemeth [00:48:55] Right. It’s a win-win all around.

Maria Agosto [00:48:56] Yeah. And, like, next to my grandma’s house, there’s an abandoned house. So, like, the abandoned housing will always be a super pain in the butt for Cleveland because what do you do with it, especially once, like, the pipes and stuff gets stolen out of it. So trying, like, the only way I could think of, like, that getting better is trying to get people that do live in the community to understand how to do it. That transition. There’s a lot of heart in this community, and a lot of, like- One thing I really liked since I moved from Ohio City was there’s kids everywhere. There’s little kids that play everywhere, but they don’t have, like, they don’t have safe places. Like, the kids of my every play in the alley, that’s not great. [laughs] But there’s no park around, you know, like, where else are they gonna play? What else are they gonna do? And even though- And my other final point would be is that I go to my block club meeting, which I could always complain about because it’s like, seven old people and me, so it’s- They’re very nice. They’re not very nice. They’re adequately nice. So there’s, like, seven old people. And, like, their strategy for everything is, let’s go to the city, or let’s go to the councilman and let’s bitch about it until we can get some tickets written about the people that are infringing upon whatever. We need tickets. We need tickets. And it just, like, boggles my brain because, like, it’s a negative plan for two reasons. One, they don’t have money. They can’t pay a ticket. Like. And then. And the city probably knows that, you know, so they’re going to drag their feet on issuing a ticket because they know nobody’s going to pay that ticket. And then they got to put it in collections or whatever happens to tickets that don’t get paid. And the other thing is, let’s say we wanted them to come to our block club meeting. Now they’re pissed at us. Like, we’ve issued a ticket to them. Like, they’re not happy. They don’t want to be there. So it’s building a wall instead of building a bridge. And, like, if they’re old and they just need help with their yard or if they need help in something, they’re not gonna reach out to us because why? Because we issued them a ticket. We are their enemy now. We cost them a $100 or something. You know, people- People like their money, so safer spaces for kids. The safety thing is always like a big old pisser for the city, but, like, I live on Daisy, so I don’t got the complaints about that. Figuring out ways to get residents to understand the resources that are there for them, so how to get abandoned properties taken care of, how to get them transferred in ownership again. In my last block of meeting, I learned that if you’re over 65 and, like, you have one big, expensive house project needs help with, there’s a program to help you. So, like, you know, the houses are not great. They’re not in great condition, but if you could help them figure out how to make it a little better, that could have big consequences. And then I always go back and forth on the block club. Is it the block club’s fault or people should go, and then the culture of the block club will change? So figuring out that working with the high school to get them- I have to more advocate to colleges than high schools have to go to the college. And, like, look, when you do this, it makes it harder for my kids to come here. Like, we’re not a common app school, so if you’re John Carroll and my kid could go there, my kid can’t apply there because the guidance counselor won’t do the application. So, like, even if the kid does it, there’s pieces that the guidance counselor has to do. Otherwise it’s not a complete application. So, like, they won’t get there and then Tri-C recently changed one of their scholarship requirements, so my kids two years ago, got ten of these scholarships, so we submitted 15 applications last year, but then they changed it, and you had to test into- We did all the regular stuff. You had to test into college level math and English. So all my, like, refugee kids and all my Hispanic kids, totally, like, they were close, but they did not get into college, so, like, all their applications removed.

Sarah Nemeth [00:53:10] Oh, that’s terrible. I hate- Is it still the compass test?

Maria Agosto [00:53:15] They call it Accuplacer now. Accuplacer. And, like, they were close. Like, super close, but, like, they weren’t. And, like, I. I complained my. My butt off to them. I’m like, look, this is my, you know, my number two in the class is trying to get a scholarship here. You know, these are the top ten kids that are in Lincoln West that are applying, applying for the scholarship. You know, they make the most of the resources offered to them, but, like, ultimately, it’s up to the college to decide. We also had four applications to the CSU Honors program, so it’s four Hispanic men, the hardest demographic to get through college. And we did the applications, submitted them, and these applications take me forever. Like, I was up to, like, three in the morning piling, like, all the right pieces together because you need, like, the application. You need the application. Like, what? You fill out your name and address. You need your essay. You need it printed. You need two letters of recommendation. You need your transcripts. You need, like, proof of, like, volunteer services for each kid.

Sarah Nemeth [00:54:16] Undergrad is so difficult to get into. Graduate school is just much easier.

Maria Agosto [00:54:20] It’s just so I have to, like, work so one on one with every application because the colleges are quick to overlook it. They’re like, oh, well, no, you know, they need this. And, like, they’ll try to brush me off, and the kid doesn’t know. They’ll be like, okay, well, I don’t have that. You know? Like, we’ll have to go look somewhere else. So it takes forever. So part of this, how does the high school thrive is the college’s understanding these kids are awesome, these kids can make it, but you need to understand where they’re coming from. You know? Like, I also do applications for Project Act. So if a kid comes in and tells me they’re homeless or they’re not living with their parents, they’re living with a friend, we do the application for that. So I did ten last year for my seniors, but, like, that’s 10% of the senior class was homeless. You know, like, that’s a big statistic if you think about it in that way. And then that’s only the ones I found, you know? Like, there’s more.

Sarah Nemeth [00:55:18] Yeah, there’s more out there.

Maria Agosto [00:55:19] Mm hmm. So part of how the high school is gonna thrive and do any kind of better is the colleges being more aware of anytime they change something, it’s gonna impact kids, and it’s gonna impact certain specific kinds of kids. And the truth behind that matter is that they’re looking for kids that they think are gonna finish college. So, like, they’re not always focusing on my kids, which are awesome kids, and then, I don’t know, just awareness and other college things. Like, you can’t work through college. Like, you can work some, but you can’t work 80 hours a week. It’s not gonna work. You’re going to mess up at college. So that’s how this community gets better.

Sarah Nemeth [00:55:59] Well, thank you so much for meeting with me today.

Maria Agosto [00:56:01] Thank you for having me.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.