COLUMBUS, Ohio — Data from the 2019 Census shows nearly half a million Ohioans are Hispanic; a number that has been growing over the ages.
Jose Luis Mas, who serves as the vice mayor of Worthington and an attorney in central Ohio, has spent years studying the area's Hispanic population.
"Hispanics have been in Ohio and in the Midwest for longer than you might think," he said. "As early as 1779, the Spanish army engaged the British on the field here in the Midwest, and in 1781 they defeated the British at Fort Saint Joseph, which is very close to modern day Toledo."
Later on in 1858, Jose de Rivera San Jurgo, a Spanish immigrant from Barcelona, bought and started vineyards on Ohio’s Lake Erie Islands.
Ohio's Hispanic population grew from vineyards through the early 20th century to the 1950s, when the state saw more immigrants from Mexico and Texas coming to find work, picking produce in Toledo.
“My mom, we always used to go up to Michigan to do cherry picking when she was young,” said Juan Jose Perez, an attorney in central Ohio.
His family, migrant workers who traveled all over the country for work in the fields, settled in Ohio in the late 60s, like many others.
“Eventually, of course, you get tired of the migrant life and begin to settle out. So our numbers began to grow as individuals began to settle out,” Perez said.
“My mom had a third-grade education, my dad had a sixth-grade education. So they wanted us to go to high school… so they settled out in Toledo because the auto industry was in Toledo."
Perez said families like his told relatives about opportunities they found in the Midwest, but with those opportunities stood a big barrier.
"Most of the Hispanics living up north didn’t speak Spanish,” he said.
“So that was a little rough for us because our primary language was Spanish in Texas."
Perez took on that challenge.
He went to and finished law school from Toledo to Columbus in the 80s where he saw even more Hispanic people settle in and follow their dreams.
“Hispanics were working some kind of janitorial jobs,” he said. “Eventually as the population grew, we began to see more people opening Mexican restaurants, getting into construction trades to where we are now. We're everywhere."
According to the 2019 census, there are 467,589 Hispanic people living in Ohio.
Perez and Mas say seeing that growth is great, but there is still work to do.
"A lot of our businesses are small, but you got to start somewhere, and the path that the Hispanics are following coming into Ohio is the path that every immigrant community has followed in the past,” Perez said.
“I think you have to know about yourself to know where you are going," said Mas. "It should be a source of great pride for our young people and something to continue to dig into even deeper and finding out how better we can contribute to the community. That is my hope for the future."