“If it wasn’t for the Latino community,” says Nelson Cintron Jr., “Painesville, Ohio would be a dead city.” Cintron knows the Painesville Hispanic community well. He owns La Nueva Mia 88.3FM WHWN, a noncommercial radio station that broadcasts throughout Lake County and as far as East Cleveland. It’s a news and culture hub for Painesville’s immigrants and first-generation Americans — a community that makes up more than a third of the city’s population. “They are agricultural workers, landscapers and carpenters. They come with a lot of trades,” says Cintron. “Certain politicians are excited they’re here, but they’re afraid to speak up for Latinos.”
The reason, he says, is because people believe the stereotypes about the Hispanic community. These unfair characterizations — that Hispanic immigrants bring crime and take American jobs — are fueling our country’s immigration policy. To combat this, Cintron has made it La Nueva Mia’s mission to empower Hispanics in Lake County and, in so doing, show the positive contributions they make. The radio station helps connect Painesville’s immigrants to reputable attorneys, educates them about their rights, and involves their American-born children in the political process. Leading up to the 2016 election, the station helped register young Latino citizens to vote.
Certain politicians are excited [Latinos] are here, but they’re afraid to speak up for us.
Cintron, who came to Ohio from Puerto Rico as an infant, knows firsthand the great contribution that a civically engaged Latino community can make. In 1997, he became the first Hispanic to be elected to Cleveland’s City Council, where he worked to support workers’ rights and improve affordable housing. Today, he sits on a number of community and business boards. He was recently appointed to help lead a new “Begin the Conversation” initiative in Lake County, a program geared toward combating racial profiling. Cintron has also made Painesville’s Hispanic community a prominent and respected face of the Lake County fair.
“When we first joined the fair six years ago, there was hesitancy in our participating,” says Cintron, alluding to the negative perceptions that many people have about Hispanics. “But people saw that families came out and lots of kids.” The multitude of Hispanic businesses represented at the fair has also demonstrated what a vital economic force Lake County’s immigrant community can be.
Moving forward, Cintron wants to see immigration policies that help integrate new arrivals into mainstream American life. He says this will help reduce stereotypes and empower immigrants and their children to be civically and economically engaged. “Latinos,” he says, “want to blend in.”