Cleveland Kidnappings Hit Puerto Rican Community Hard

PHOTO: Nancy Ruiz, mother of Gina DeJesus, speaks at a news-conference after bringing her daughter home Wednesday, May 8, 2013, in Cleveland. Ginas father, Felix DeJesus, listens at right.

Tony Dejak/AP Photo

This tragedy began for me in 2004, when Georgina "Gina" DeJesus was kidnapped.

I was in middle school and although I did not know Gina personally, we were the same age. Being a Puerto Rican girl growing up not too far from where she and two others were kidnapped always gave me an unsafe feeling. The topic of Gina's kidnapping was frequently discussed amongst my friends, family, and teachers. Over the years I, like many others, gave up hope.

On Monday evening, hearing that these girls were found alive, was nothing short of a miracle. The Castro family is big, and many family members are well known and liked in the Puerto Rican community here in Cleveland. Some have attended vigils for Gina. The family owns a hardware store in the very Puerto Rican neighborhood of Clark-Fulton. The main suspect, Ariel Castro, is a familiar face who performs regularly with local bands. No one ever suspected him to be doing something such as this.

A lot of locals have resorted to social media to share their thoughts and opinions on the issue, on Facebook pages such as Cleveland Puerto Ricans. I've seen complete joy mixed in with a lot of anger and confusion. How could he hold these girls captive for so long in such a tightly-knit block? Some find it absolutely amazing that these girls are alive; some say they never lost hope.

When the house where the girls were held captive in was shown on the news, I could not help but notice the swaying Puerto Rican flag on the porch pillar. My father Manuel's initial reaction was that this would bring a lot of shame to the community. These horrific actions are in no way a reflection of all Puerto Rican men. Gina DeJesus is in fact also Puerto Rican, and comes from a large family with many members who are actively involved in the neighborhood.

Many might not know that throughout Northeastern Ohio there is a high population of Puerto Ricans, which first settled in high numbers in the 1940s to work in the steel industry. My grandparents came to Ohio from Arecibo in the 1950s along with many other families looking to start a better life in the Midwest.

At the end of the day, this tragedy should have never happened. But it did. For a decade. I hope that the media and the nation can look passethe suspects' cultural background and move forward onto what's most important: getting these girls back to normal.

As a local Puerto Rican living and working for a local non-profit organization, I am overjoyed for this miraculous ending. The Puerto Rican community of Cleveland is extremely resilient. This may have shaken us, but now that the girls are home, the weeks to come are for us to rebuild and grow stronger than ever.

The entire Cleveland community wishes the victims and their families a peaceful recovery.

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