Victor Leandry

Oberlin College Library
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00:00:04 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: My name is Kaytlen Cruz and I'm a third year student at Oberlin College. I'm here interviewing Victor Leandry for the Latino Lorain Oral History Project.

Segment Synopsis: Cruz introduces Victor Leandry, Executive Director at El Centro de Servicios Sociales, who is being interviewed for the Latino Lorain Oral History Project. The interview is being done over Zoom because of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Keywords: El Centro; El Centro de Servicios Sociales; Latino; Latino Lorain Oral History Project; Lorain; Oberlin College

00:01:03 - Early life growing up in Puerto Rico

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Partial Transcript: If we can begin with some questions about your early life, so tell me a little bit about your family and where you grew up and where you were born.

Segment Synopsis: Leandry discusses how his father was in the military so he and his siblings grew up in different military bases. Leandry was born in Atlanta, Georgia at Fort Gordon and when he was five, his family moved to Puerto Rico but his father abandoned them soon after. When his family first moved to Puerto Rico, they lived in a middle to high class community, which Leandry enjoyed since it was made up of many young people and the community would get together to do things like take hikes in the nearby mountains. Then, his family had to move to public housing because his mother could no longer afford the middle class community without the help of Leandry's father. Public housing was a cultural shock for Leandry and it took him some time to adjust to the violence and the language used in this new community.

Keywords: Cultural Shock; Military; Public Housing; Puerto Rico

00:04:51 - Passion for social work

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Partial Transcript: But then we moved to another project. Ponce Leon, it was called Ponce Leon and just to take care of our grandma. My grandma was going to live with us and at that point when we moved to Ponce Leon all of my siblings were out of the house, it was just me and my mom and my grandma. This was when I was in high school, or starting high school, we moved to this project and this was the project that really I really enjoyed, it gave me the beginning of social work. Through these efforts, drugs started moving out of the community.

Segment Synopsis: When Leandry moved to Ponce Leon he joined a program where a group of male teenagers would meet with a social worker every Monday to talk about issues affecting teen males in poor communities. Leandry was elected to be the President of the group, and this started his passion for social work. Leandry was in charge of making agendas for the Monday meetings and organizing events, which got him out of the house and deeply involved in the community. Through his leadership, the group became co-ed, they took trips to different parts of Puerto Rico, held Mother's Day celebrations, volleyball and basketball tournaments, and the first haunted house in his town.

Keywords: Ponce Leon; Project; Puerto Rico; Social Work

00:11:16 - Friends, mentors, and teachers

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Partial Transcript: We will continue. We can jump right back into it. Could you tell me a little bit about your friends, your teachers, and your mentors that come to mind for you from your early life?

Segment Synopsis: Leandry talks about his friends, mentors, and teachers during his early life. He mentions his mom as one of his biggest mentors; she was very supportive and encouraging towards Leandry's education. The social worker in charge of going to communities to talk to the teens, Machin, was also a huge mentor for Leandry. Machin pushed Leandry to be the leader that he is and imbued him with a passion for social work. Leandry also mentions a close friends he grew up with. This friend was Vice President alongside Leandry for the teen group in Ponce Leon and they are still like brothers to this day. Leandry points out that there is a poverty cycle in low-income communities that is hard to break out of. His friend and him were one of the first to break out of that cycle and leave the community, while others from the teen group in Ponce Leon took their lives, ended up in jail, were killed, or are still in the same situation after many years. While it took some many years to exit the cycle, many of them are now living in Florida.

Keywords: Friend; Mentor; Poverty; Poverty Cycle; Public Housing; Social work

00:16:18 - Earliest memories and college

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Partial Transcript: And kind of along, well I guess it's along different lines, but do you have an earliest memory? Does something come to mind as the first thing you remember about being a child or when you were younger?

Segment Synopsis: Leandry's early age memories are family memories of being with siblings at parties and celebrations. He doesn't have many memories about when he moved to his first public housing community because he didn't enjoy his time there and was depressed, so he chose not to remember much. However, he does have many memories about the second public housing community he lived in, where he developed as a social worker and was active in the community. Leandry would organize volleyball tournaments that lasted all day, and they were so good at volleyball that the professional volleyball team from Leandry's town would scrimmage with the youth team from Leandry's community. When Leandry graduated from high school, he was asked to coach one of the high school volleyball teams. Leandry was very disciplined and dedicated to school so he would do his homework first and then go out all night playing dominoes or doing something else in the community. Even in college and after, Leandry was passionate about organizing events and he kept a busy schedule where he would be out all day at different events and then use his car to change before going out to another event. Leandry also discusses his first job in high school and working through college. He chose to go to Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, close by to his community. Leandry wanted to go to the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus because they were known for architecture and engineering. Leandry wanted to be an architect but he knew it would be financially difficult for his family if he was to go to Mayagüez, so he eventually became a social worker at his catholic university.

Keywords: Childhood memories; College; Community Service; Depression; Public Housing; Puerto Rico; Volleyball

00:25:41 - Moving to Lorain, Ohio

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Partial Transcript: When was it that you, or your family, moved to Lorain?

Segment Synopsis: Leandry moved to Lorain, Ohio in 1991, but he had been back and forth between Puerto Rico and Savannah, Georgia before settling down in Lorain. When he moved to Lorain, he went with $260 and a suitcase full of clothes. Leandry took nothing that would tie him to Puerto Rico, no pictures or photo albums, because he didn't want to be tempted to move back to Puerto Rico since he knew it would be hard to adjust. His first job was at the Cotton Club Company in Cleveland where he was the only Latino in his shift, and he struggled with the regulations and the monotony of the job. Along with the challenges of finding a job, Leandry also struggled with getting to know people, building a community, and acclimating to the cold weather. It wasn't until Leandry started forming a family and gaining a support network that he finally started to feel at home in Lorain. Leandry also talks about getting a job at the Nord Center, doing work he is passionate about. Through the combination of finding family, doing work he loves, and playing volleyball he was able to adjust to Lorain.

Keywords: Cotton Club Company; Lorain; Lorain, Ohio; Mlitary; Nord Center

00:47:36 - Taking on the challenge of El Centro

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Partial Transcript: And so now you've mentioned Nord Center and El Centro, were those some of the most important institutions that you've been involved with in Lorain, and were there others?

Segment Synopsis: Leandry discusses the different institutions he has worked with in Lorain. Between Nord Center and El Centro, Leandry worked in the schools in Lorain. When a job opened up at El Centro, he didn't want to take the job because El Centro was losing money and didn't have the best reputation. Through many people approaching him about the job, he eventually applied to be the director and took on the challenge of reforming El Centro. Leandry looks back on how big of a challenge it was to be the Executive Director of El Centro; he faced opposition from other employees and had to work around a lack of resources. By the second year of taking on the position, Leandry built a new team and prioritized hiring people that had a personal mission tied closely to El Centro's mission. He also prioritized the quality of service provided by El Centro over the quantity of people served, and now El Centro has been recognized on the state and national level. Leandry saw that there weren't many social services in Lorain County so he began getting affiliated with Unidos U.S. to start building connections and get to know Latino leadership throughout the midwest. In 2007, Leandry became the Chair for the midwest group of Unidos U.S. and he was also on the board for Unidos U.S.

Keywords: El Centro; El Centro de Servicios Socials; Lorain; National Council of La Raza; Nord Center; Social Services; Unidos US

01:03:55 - Proudest moments

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Partial Transcript: So if you ask me about some of my proudest, or some of my moments at El Centro that I feel more proud, it was during that time that I was representing a national organization. Being from Lorain, hardly nobody could remember Ohio or the leadership in Ohio, and Lorain is so small, and here I was the chair of the affiliate council of the entire midwest and then I was in the board and I was so active with this national organization that people knew me and people knew El Centro.

Segment Synopsis: Leandry talks about his proudest moments, from changing the culture of El Centro to being a chair on the affiliate council for Unidos U.S. (National Council of La Raza). For five or six years, Leandry would open the largest Latino conference in the United States, through Unidos US. He looks back on how important it was that he had the opportunity to open the conference in front of thousands of people with many different news cameras capturing his words. Leandry is also proud of the fact that he was able to move El Centro to a new building where they had to gather $1.5 million to fix the interior and do construction. El Centro was one of the first nonprofits in Lorain County to do a capital campaign and raise money to move to a new building.

Keywords: El Centro; El Centro de Servicios Sociales; Latino-led nonprofit; Lorain; Midwest; NCLR; National Council of La Raza; Ohio

01:16:31 - The role of El Centro in the community

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Partial Transcript: What role does El Centro play in the community, I know you guys do a-lot of social services and so much work, but could you elaborate on that?

Segment Synopsis: Leandry talks about how El Centro is seen as a lead organization in Lorain, so many people want El Centro to be part of conversations throughout the community. While El Centro is run by a small staff, Leandry emphasizes that people know they are committed and dedicated to bettering the community in Lorain.

Keywords: El Centro; El Centro de Servicios Sociales; Latino; Lorain; Nonprofit

01:18:30 - Change in Lorain

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Partial Transcript: And so you kind of mentioned El Centro itself as an organization having changed from the time that you were here in Lorain and have you noticed also other ways that Lorain has changed since you first arrived?

Segment Synopsis: Leandry looks back on how Lorain has changed and looks towards the future of Lorain. He mentions that may industries have left Lorain, so the economy has been struggling. Leandry also talks about how the schools had to constantly go through different superintendents, but now there is a new change of administration that sparks hope for the direction the schools will go in. Leandry mentions that in the past, Lorain used to have more transportation systems and routes throughout, but now there are less and less routes and systems.

Keywords: Economy; Ford; Lorain; School; Transporation

01:21:31 - Historical moments in Lorain

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Partial Transcript: And kind of along the same lines, what have been some of the most important historical moments in the city?

Segment Synopsis: Leandry discusses how Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico had a huge impact on residents in Lorain and on El Centro. The schools and community had to adjust to around 300 people coming into the community at once. Another historical moment happened in 2018 when there was an ICE raid at Corso's Flower and Garden Center in Sandusky County. It was the biggest raid in Ohio and they detained and tried to deport around 114 Latinos, some were US citizens. Leandry also briefly discusses political moments in Lorain. Looking towards the future, Leandry touches on the revitalization efforts of downtown Lorain.

Keywords: Citizenship; Hurricane Maria; ICE Raid; Lorain; Puerto Rico; Sandusky

01:25:30 - Challenges and Strengths of Lorain

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Partial Transcript: And now kind of talking more about Lorain, the city, overall. What do you see as the greatest challenge facing people in the city of Lorain today?

Segment Synopsis: Leandry mentions connectivity as an obstacle facing Lorain residents, he also talks about the high unemployment rate, transportation issues, and lack of senior services in Lorain. Leandry emphasizes the need for revitalization efforts in Lorain to convert all of the empty buildings. For the greatest strengths of Lorain, Leandry lists the strength of collaboration and expands on the success of the 2020 US Census. To wrap up the oral history interview, Leandry talks about his love for Lorain and his desire to keep Lorain as his home.

Keywords: 2020 US Census; Lack of Transportation; Latinos; Lorain; Senior Services; Unemployment