Celestino Rivera

Oberlin College Library
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00:00:00 - Introduction to interview with Celestino Rivera.

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Partial Transcript: Ok, so my name is Gina Perez and I am a professor at Oberlin College and I am here today interviewing Celestino Rivera. And I am doing this as part of the Latino Lorain Oral History Project that is a collaboration between the Lorain Historical Society, El Centro de Servicios Sociales, an Oberlin Collge.

Segment Synopsis: PĂ©rez introduces Celestino Rivera who is being interviewed for the Latino Lorain History Project which is a collaboration between the Lorain Historical Society, El Centro de Servicios Sociales and Oberlin College. The interview is taking place via zoom due to the coranavirus global pandemic.

Keywords: El Centro de Servicios Sociales; Latino Lorain Oral History Project; Lorain Historical Society

00:01:01 - Early life growing up in Lorain, Ohio.

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Partial Transcript: Ok, great! So let's begin talking about your early life, and if you could tell me a little about your family and where you were born and where you grew up.

Segment Synopsis: Rivera discusses what he describes as his different experiences growing up Puerto Rican in Lorain, including losing his Puerto Rican heritage and culture. As the son of a contract laborer who came from Puerto Rico to work in the steel mill in Lorain in 1948, he describes labor recruitment to Lorain and how he was born in the city in 1949 after he father sent for his mother in Puerto Rico. When Rivera was 5 his mother grew ill and he and his siblings were sent to a Catholic orphanage called Parmadale in the city of Parma, an experience that was frightening because he was separated from his brothers and sisters. After 6 years of living there, he lost his Spanish and lost his connection to his Puerto Rican heritage, but was then reunited with his father in a boarding house in Lorain, only to be separated from his father and siblings again and placed in a foster home in Lorain until he turned 17 years old. Sacred Heart Chapel, the local Catholic Church, played an important role in his life, from the foster family that he grew up with to his friendships with other young men who were mentored by priest from Sacred Heart. He also discusses what it was like to grow up with a Puerto Rican foster family that lived in an African American neighborhood and how that shaped him for the rest of his life and how he struggled with anger and feeling distanced from his Puerto Rican culture and his own birth family.

Keywords: 500 men; African American neighborhoods; Catholic schools; Joining the military; Lorain High School; Lorain, Ohio; National Tube Company; Parma, Ohio; Parmadale orphanage; Puerto Rican heritage and culture; Puerto Ricans; Sacred Heart Chapel; South Lorain; U.S. Steel; boarding house; company barracks; foster home; labor recruitment from Puerto Rico; loss of heritage and culture; speaking Spanish; white students

00:11:24 - Military service

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Partial Transcript: I have one question: when you say you didn't fit in, did that change when you joined the military? So why did you join the military at 17 and how did joining the military make you maybe feel like you fit in or did you continue to feel like you didn't feel like you fit in anywhere?

Segment Synopsis: Rivera discusses the ways joining the military at 17 changed everything for him. After not doing well in school, enlisting in the military provided him the structure and discipline he says he needed and he served from December 1966-November 1969. In the military he earned his high school diploma. And while he considered re-enlisting, he also wanted to return to Lorain to be with his brothers and sisters. He speaks at length about his brothers and sisters and the kind of work they now do in Lorain. While in the military, he also became interested in becoming a police officer.

Keywords: Equality; GED (General Equivalency Diploma); High school; Military; Structure and discipline; Vietnam War

00:19:20 - Race, ethnicity and residential segregation in Lorain.

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Partial Transcript: So one thing you keep on saying is you talk about riding your bike around to connect with your brothers and sisters and to get away from home and school. And you also said you grew up on the African American side of town. Can you tell me a little bit about--was Lorain segregated and what was it like to be a kid riding your bike around town in those years?

Segment Synopsis: Rivera discusses how the city of Lorain is truly an international city, but it was segregated based on race and ethnicity. He also discusses the ways the city had many churches, clubs, and businesses catering to different ethnic and racial groups in the city. Residential segregation existed in the city, but he also describes different kinds of interactions among people across ethnic and racial lines. He also discusses the different kinds of jobs working and middle-class families. Growing up Puerto Rican and living in an African American neighborhood had an important and enduring impact on Rivera.

Keywords: Admiral King High School; Campito; Ford plant; International City; Lexington Avenue; Lorain High School; Mexican businesses; Middle-class families; Puerto Rican Home; Ship yard; Steel plant; Vine Avenue; West Side; ethnicty; race; residential segregation

00:24:56 - Mentors and friends growing up

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Partial Transcript: You talk about how you didn't feel like you didn't fit in anywhere and how even though you were an A student you were in and out of school. Did you ever have any mentors or people who reached out to you who tried to show you you were smart and that you should stay in school? Or was there a mentor who told you that maybe the military was a good thing for you? So who were your mentors or did you have any mentors growing up?

Segment Synopsis: Rivera recalls how his truant officer, Mr. Gloriosso, was an important mentor to him and who remained a life-long friend to him. Sacred Heart Chapel with Brother Ciprian and Father Lawrence and were also important people who helped take care of him and his friends during their adolescence. He also talks fondly about his friends, most of whom also served in the military eventually, but who were regarded as a rough crowd when they were younger.

Keywords: Mentors; Sacred Heart Chapel; Truant officer

00:28:52 - Thinking of becoming a police officer

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Partial Transcript: So, I want to ask you about how you decided to become a police officer, but before that I want to--because I can't resist, you're talking about these friends who were a little different and then Mr. Gloriosso and how he approached you and how he could have led to your getting a police record, but he didn't. So do you think those experiences growing up affected the fact that you went into policing and how you approached being a police officer?

Segment Synopsis: Rivera talks about how as a young boy he thought he wanted to be writer, not a police officer. He was a big reader and would write lyrics and songs. He also discusses how his experiences in Vietnam shaped his what he thought he could do when he returned home. He was always interested in in helping people and also was influenced by the Civil Rights Movement and how his experiences might allow him to help others. After reading an article in the newspaper about Oberlin Police Chief Rob Ferber he wrote a letter asking for advice. The Police Chief suggested enrolling in the Police Science program at Lorain County Community College and he was convinced what he wanted to do. Rivera also talks about how visiting Puerto Rico after his father died and how that allowed him to connect to his birth family and how that had a profound impact on him and made him want to return to Lorain to help his community. He describes how there was an adversarial relationship with the police and his belief in transforming institutions from the inside. He also discusses the Civil Rights Movement in Lorain after he returned to Lorain in 1969 and the tensions between the police and community members in Lorain. While at LCCC he also worked at Ford which was hard and so he decided to work at U.S. Steel where he could work in the evenings and go to school in the mornings. He also discussed how much he loved LCCC and the great teacher he had.

Keywords: Black Power and Chicano Movement; Civil Rights Movement; Lorain County Community College; Oberlin Police Chief; Police Science Program LCCC; Puerto Rico; Student activists, University of Puerto Rico; Vietnam War; career as a writer; police officer; police-commnunity relations; transforming institutions from inside; wanting to help people

00:40:08 - Early years as a police officer

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Partial Transcript: Tell me a little bit about when you were a young police officer, what that was like. Were you--did you have to go to the military academy or was the Lorain County Community College the training you needed?

Segment Synopsis: Rivera talks about his early years in the Lorain Police Department and some of the challenge the Lorain Police Department faced. He also discussed the tense relationship between the police and the people in Lorain. He considered other options, such as the Los Angeles Police Department, but he wanted to stay in Lorain, even with all its problems. He joined LPD in 1971 when there was one African-American and one Puerto Rican an one Mexican American police department and discussed how the department changed its practices from being tough and adversarial to better relationships with the the community, especially as younger police officers joined. As a city that experienced high levels of crime, he describes how he also had a similar approach to policing that was nation-wide. But as he continued in the department and advanced in the ranks, his approach to policing changed. He discusses the ways he and others in the FOP (the Fraternal Order of Police) began to build relationships with organizations like the NAACP and local churches to improve relations between the police and the community.

Keywords: Changing the culture of the police department; Civilian Review Board; Community Policing; Crime in Lorain; Fraternal Order of Police (FOP); Lorain County Community College; Lorain Morning Journal; Lorain Police Department; NAACP; Narcotics; Police Academy; Police Union; Police culture; Police-community relations; Professionalizing police force; Veterans and policing; challenge for minority officers; police brutality; racial profiling

01:00:07 - Transforming police-community relations in Lorain

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Partial Transcript: So, what were those conversations like with the NAACP and what kinds of concrete changes did you all make to try to have a different approach in policing?

Segment Synopsis: Rivera discusses the challenges of transforming the Lorain Police Department and the different strategies they used to improve policing and relations with the community. Some of the important changes included hiring more African American police officers, sensitivity training, and other resources to train officers better, as well as the creation of the Citizens Advisory Board for the Use of Force. The creation of Use of Force Policy was also another important change that helped transform the police force as well as developing stronger relations with organizations like the Nord Center to train officers around mental health issues. Rivera became police captain in 1983 and police chief in 1994.

Keywords: African-American officers; Citizens Advisory Board for the Use of Force; Immigation and policing; Mental health and policing; Nord Center; Police training; SWAT team; Use of force policy

01:06:51 - Becoming police chief of Lorain Police Department

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Partial Transcript: So when did you become police chief?...And how did that happen?

Segment Synopsis: Rivera becomes police chief in 1994 and explains that for the first 20 years of being a police officer, he didn't have a great desire to become police chief and enjoyed being a police captain. But that changed when he was encouraged by fellow officers to take the police chief exam. Shortly thereafter he became police chief after the long-time chief retired, and a younger chief served until he grew ill and had to resign. Once Rivera became chief, he focused on training his officers, even with the challenges that limited their resources for training. He discusses how he wanted to build better relationships with communities in Lorain, including the African-American and Latino communities, as well as the business communities and City Hall. Rivera also reflects on how the different positions he held over the years developed respect between him and fellow officers which was key to strengthening police-community relations and how his role serving on various boards of community organizations was also key to building trust. Rivera also talks about the importance of building strong relationships with local schools by supporting school levies, developing safety plans for schools, providing school resource officers and offering funding and implementing afterschool programs.

Keywords: Afterschool programs; City Hall; Coalition for Hispanic Issues and Progress (CHIP); Community Foundation; El Centro; Gensis House; Police Chief; Relationships with schools; Relationshp-building; Respect of fellow officers; School resource officers; school levies

01:15:32 - Most challenging moment in career

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Partial Transcript: So we are almost at an hour and half, so I have two other questions for you: Could you share with me, maybe the most challenging experiences you've had in your role in the police department or as police chief or challenging moment? A specific instance?

Segment Synopsis: Rivera explains how when he first joined the police department, it was not the kind of police department he wanted to be a part of because it was so aggressive and enforcement-oriented. It was also tough for him as a Puerto Rican/Latino officer dealing with issues that were centered in his own community, such as closing down bolita, culturally-specific open gambling in the Puerto Rican community. He also discussed some of the challenges of supporting police who struggle with the stress of the job.

Keywords: Bolita and Puerto Ricans; Open gambling; Sucide and police; The numbers and African Americans; organized crime in Ohio; reputation of corruption

01:20:13 - Proudest moment as police chief

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Partial Transcript: How about the thing you're most proud of in your time as police chief or working for the Lorain Police Department?

Segment Synopsis: Rivera discusses how when he received the Bronze Star, that was the first time he felt any sense of pride since he had failed out of school and didn't feel proud of himself. But within the police department, after 49 years, he feels truly respected and cherished by the community. He ends with reflections on the Hispanic communities in Lorain and their resilience that builds on the legacy of Puerto Ricans who arrived in 1947 and Mexicans who came in the 1920s. While Lorain used to be a thriving economic center, now it faces economic challenges that are being met with rebuilding efforts. Even though he didn't feel part of the Latino community growing up, he feels great pride being part of the community now.

Keywords: Bronze Star; Economic decline; Economic revitalization; Faith; Latino success; Little Chicago; Lorain pride; Resilience of Hispanic communities; Vietnam War; housing discrimination

01:26:38 - Reflecting on relationship with Latinos in Lorain

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Partial Transcript: I have another question now: So tell me more about that--you talked a lot about the relationships of African Americans and policing, but what about the Latino community and how that's changed and what you feel your role has been as a police officer and police chief in supporting Latinos in the city.

Segment Synopsis: Rivera discusses how when he first became a police officer and worked in narcotics, he felt the need to get rid of the scourge in his community and how that changed to being more of an advocate for the community. He described the South Lorain Project that involved offering translation for Spanish-speakers and other efforts to make Latinos feel part of the community. Partnerships with El Centro were also key, as well as being explicit about including Latinos in programs like Citizens Police Academy and the Use of Force Advisory Board. He also discusses on the significance of the shift from the Puerto Rican community to serving the needs of the undocumented in the city who were afraid to report crimes to the police and how he instructed his officers not to cooperate with ICE except under specific circumstances. He ends focusing on how the past two years have seen more optimism and pride and new businesses in downtown Lorain as well as the energy of Latinos in South Lorain, including the leadership of Councilman Rey Carrion. With Latinos making up at least 30% of the population, he ends by talking about their role in this new energy and revitalization of Lorain and the new sense of hope. Part of this hope and pride is reflected in the Hispanic Veterans Memorial in Oakwood Park that has been there for 40 years and they hope will be renamed to the Ohio Hispanic Veterans Memorial. This is one of many efforts to preserve Latino history in Lorain.

Keywords: Borinkeneers; Citizens Police Academy; Councilman Rey Carrion; Downtown Lorain and revitalization; El Centro; HOLA; Hispanic Veterans Memorial, Oakwood Park; ICE; LOIRA; Laitno veterans and service; Laitnos and policing; Lakeview Park; Latino inclusion; Lorain Historical Society; Ohio Hispanic Veterans Memorial; South Lorain Project; South Lorain beautificaton projects; The Lighthouse; Use of Force Advisory Board; advocating for Latinos; language interpretation; undocumented community