CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) — A central part of Cleveland’s Mexican community and their history is going to be torn down. A historic building in Detroit Ave was once home to a prominent Mexican-American social club, Club Azteca, that served the community inside and outside its walls.
The club still exists today and has a new partner to help reenergize its legacy and mission.
Part of that is preserving artifacts like a bright tri-colored and carefully hand-stenciled variation of the Flag of Mexico made on US soil 71 years ago.
“That flag is 18 feet long. It’s huge,” said Bella Sin, Head Curator and Historian for Club Azteca.
She and partner Jessica Wobig are carefully storing it after it was recovered from the now vacant Club Azteca building where it once hung proudly.
“The club, I mean it represents so much. It represents the unity of the Mexican community, the ability to overcome any obstacles,” said Ruth Rubio-Pino, Executive Director of Club Azteca which focuses on empowerment and education.
“My mother basically made me promise on her death bed to help with the Azteca Club.”
Founded in 1932 by several Mexican families looking for a way to celebrate their culture and discuss mutual problems, it turned into a beacon for many.
“The Azteca Club became one of the hubs for Latino immigrants from Cuba and Puerto Rico as well. They were helping them with resources in Spanish, it was a political icon in northeast Ohio,” said Sin.
Blanca Camargo was a toddler when her mother immigrated to Cleveland, later becoming heavily involved in the club.
“I remember playing with friends in the back that I still have today as friends. I remember Christmas parties, I remember dance practice, I remember socializing and building my own way through the club.”
Rubio-Pino remembers sleeping behind the bar as a kid, hearing the men cry and asking her mother why.
“Most of our immigrants back then were men and they were heads of households from their home in Mexico and they had to leave their families behind.”
But the Azteca was very matriarchal. Blanca’s mother taught dance and was a cultural leader and Ruth’s mother had a passion for civil justice.
“She was actually the first woman President of this, of the club.”
After years of success celebrating Mexican holidays, the club lost its focus, stopped using the building and donated it to a local developer that has other plans for the property.
Soon the building will be gone but many people are invested in carrying on the legacy of Club Azteca.
Now, Azteca is merging with a newer non-profit, Comite Mexicano, in a reenergized effort to address issues in the community while celebrating Mexican arts and culture.
“Take a part of the facade and make it hopefully part of the new structure. There are some items that were rescued. The idea with Comite Mexicano is to take some of those items and actually create a museum,” said Rey Esparza, Executive Director of the Comite.
That includes part of the original sign that once hung on the building that red Casa Mexico and of course, that beautiful flag, a symbol of the club’s commitment to moving forward.
“It’s important as a community that not just some of us rise above it but all of us,” said Camargo.
“The legacy goes on,” said Rubio-Pino
Club Azteca is also working to have a historical marker placed where the building will have once stood.