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ERNIE BROWN Mexican Society preserves culture



Published: Sun, May 6, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Saturday was Cinco de Mayo, one of several major holidays celebrated by Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.

Many restaurants and shopping centers along the Mexican-U.S. border celebrate with specials on selected Mexican foods and rightfully extol the virtues of Mexican culture and customs.

Cinco De Mayo commemorates the defeat of the French army by the undermanned and poorly equipped Mexicans at the Battle Of Puebla in 1862 under the leadership of Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza and Brig. Gen. Porfirio Diaz.

While acknowledging the significance of Cinco de Mayo, officers of the Mexican Society of Youngstown, officially known as Sociedad Mutualista Mexicana, point out that Sept. 16, 1810, has a greater significance.

Beginning of independence: That is the day Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a radical priest, issued a proclamation calling for Mexican independence from the yoke of Spanish rule that started in 1519 when Hernando Cortes, a Spanish solider and explorer, first landed on Mexican soil.

The Mexican Society seeks to preserve that history for the next generation of Mexican Americans in the Mahoning Valley. Since 1937, its goal has been "to unite all the Mexican residents in the city of Youngstown and its suburbs, to develop friendship and understanding, to promote cultural heritage, and to keep the honor and good name of our Mexican nationality."

"Our parents came here years ago to the Mahoning Valley to find jobs," said Fran Wilson, society secretary. "They discovered there were cultural problems and language barriers. They needed each other."

Armando Labra, society president, said many Mexicans made their way to the Valley in 1910, leaving at the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. They took jobs with the railroads.

The society's founders were determined to have a place where Mexicans coming to Youngstown could feel at ease.

Wilson said Mexican immigrants got together socially in their homes. They wanted to keep that fellowship going, so they formed the society in 1937 and it was officially chartered in the 1950s.

Rachel Flores-Flasco, society vice president, says the organization takes in Mexican immigrants to help them become acclimated to their new surroundings.

The Rev. Thomas Carney, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church, Coitsville, The Way Station in Columbiana, Organizacion Civica y Cultural Hispana Americana of Youngstown, the area's primary Hispanic social service agency, also helps in that process.

Some come to Youngstown for jobs, but many Mexicans travel to Columbiana County and Hartville in Portage County to work in the orchards or on large farms.

The society has met at La Fiesta Restaurant on Midland Avenue on the city's West Side since the 1970s. Besides a restaurant and bar section, there is an upstairs portion, which is used for various classes.

As I walk up the stairs with Labra, I hear the strumming of several guitars and the sounds of four children singing in their native language.

Labra explained that on Saturdays, the society pays a musician to teach young Mexican-American children how to play the guitar and work on singing songs in Spanish.

"This gives the young ones something to do besides playing computer games and watching a lot of television," Labra said.

Soccer: Gloria De Los Santos, the society treasurer who was born in Mexico and lived there until she was 12, said soccer is another activity that brings together the younger Mexican population for fellowship and competition. The matches are in Campbell on Sundays.

Society officers point out that the stereotypes about Mexico and Mexicans need to be destroyed. Mexico boasts the oldest civilization in the Americas. There are 31 states in Mexico and a federal district. The U.S. states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado were once within the nation's borders. They add that Mexicans are hard-working and resourceful people.

The society will have a Cinco de Mayo dance May 19 at St. Rose of Lima Church social hall, and two members -- Tony Hernandez and Frank Guzman Sr., both of Youngstown -- will be recognized for their service to the society. You are welcome to come out and enjoy the celebration.




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