During the 1990s, Spanish-speaking individuals constituted the fastest-growing portion of America’s migrant population. Though the Latino population in Ohio did not grow as rapidly as those in Florida or California, the rate of change in Ohio does reflect national trends. In the 1980s Ohio was a state with a solid white majority and a large African American minority. However, a steady shift in the demographic composition of the state began to take place during the 1990s. Between 1990 and 2004 the Latino population in Ohio grew from 139,000 to
220,000.1 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 42 percent of the Latino population in Ohio is of Mexican descent, 31 percent is composed of Puerto Ricans, 2 percent of Cubans, and 25 percent of Central/South Americans or other.2 Puerto Ricans are predominant in northeast Ohio, whereas Mexicans concentrate in the northwest portion of the state. Central and southwest Ohio are more diverse. There are Latinos residing in each of Ohio’s 88 counties. Latinos are now more visible across the state, working in many sectors of Ohio’s economy. However, many Ohioans mistakenly believe that their presence in the state is a recent phenomenon.
Immediately after the Cuban-Spanish-American War, thousands of Latin Americans, mostly Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, were recruited to fill shortages in the agricultural labor force in the United States and Hawaii. Although census documents do not register Latino Americans residing in Ohio until the 1930s, oral
history projects and local histories show Mexican migrants living in Lorain, Ohio, in the years immediately after the World War I.3 Though in the past Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban migrants settled in the industrial regions of Ohio (Cleveland, Lorain, Toledo, and Youngstown), the past 16 years (1990-2006) have seen a growth of the Latino population in regions that previously were ignored by Latinos. During this period, Painesville, Cincinnati, and south central Ohio (south and east of Columbus) have become common destinations for Latino migrants. This migration is determined by the need for laborers in agriculture, low-skilled services, poultry and manufacturing industries, and construction.