CLEVELAND (WJW)- “I’m always looking at my name tag and I just can’t believe that I’m here,” said Cleveland City Councilwoman Jasmin Santana. Now in her second term, Cleveland’s first Latina councilmember reflects this Hispanic Heritage Month on her ward, its unique challenges and triumphs.

“I had no aspirations to run for office, be an elected official,” said Santana. “All I wanted in my life was just to help people and in particular Latino families. I ran on a platform of like restore, restore hope in Ward 14 repair right and rebuild it.”

The effort to rebuild is underway at the gateway to the Clark-Fulton community also known as La Villa Hispania, home to the densest population of Hispanic and Latino residents in Ohio. “MetroHealth is investing $60 billion dollars in the neighborhood and that includes housing that includes assisting small businesses in the area and now they’re working on a greenspace, so we’re finally getting a park,” said Santana.

A community starved of investments Santana said she remembers as a child growing up the neighborhood. ‘When I was young, I did not speak English and so Spanish was my first language,” said Santana. “What I struggled in that neighborhood to be honest is safety, quality and healthy housing, being able to walk to a park, there weren’t any parks any greenspace for families there so just a very toxic environment as I grew up but we’re changing that.”

Santana said Latinos are the fastest growing population in Cleveland, and with that growth comes growing pains. New investment is bringing challenges for business owners in her ward who would like to stay but have limited options to grow their business.

“I get a lot of business owners at my office asking for space but because we don’t have store fronts that are ready, they’re moving out the neighborhood,” said Santana. “We’re losing Latino businesses to other areas and so it is really important for us to take some action so we can preserve the Latino community in Ward 14 keep the business there and really build on La Villa Hispania.”

Preserving the vibrant heritage of the community Santana said is a priority along with creating affordable housing “Since we’re receiving a lot of investment a lot of our families were being displaced,” said Santana. “We have 38 percent owner occupancy so they’re not owning their home so now that the investors are actually selling their property rents are rising, Latino families were being displaced.”

Santana said nearly 200 affordable units are coming soon to the community. The councilwoman said the development will keep families from being priced out of the neighborhood they call home. 
“Rents are rising, and wages are not, so families are struggling,” said Santana. 

Now part of city council leadership as the majority whip, Santana said she is focused on making the city’s government and the help it can offer families more accessible.  “They also need help with bilingual services,” said Santana. “In our area a lot of organizations don’t have bilingual workers. They don’t have access to language and they’re not culturally relevant or appropriate so it’s very hard for Latino families to access these services that they need.”

People living in her ward said they noticed Santana’s efforts. “It’s an empowering feeling to have she’s female and Latino at that… so to me that’s a wonderful thing she’s my Rosie the Riveter you would say,” Madelyne Muniz said with a laugh.  Energizing her ward in a role Santana did not aspire to hold, yet still fulfilling her childhood dream to help Latino families.