A collection of love letters written to the town.
The only place where all of my pieces were held together.
You are the place that has held me for the last 16 years. Toledo, you have watched me stumble as a child, learning new words in English. You watched the bullying for not pronouncing things well, and the hugs from accepting friends who understood me non-verbally. I continue to look for those people today – those who understand my silence better than my words. You taught me to be resilient.
Hola Toledo! Can you believe we’ve been friends for over 16 years? Though if I’m being honest, I was a little afraid of you. You were the first place where I experienced snow falling on my hair and melting as it hit the warmth of my hands. You taught me the English language between friends and teachers who understood that my silence wasn’t always because I wanted to be quiet.
Toledo, you shaped me in a dire political time. I watched a man who looked like my Papi get elected President at age 14. I saw my Papi’s tears as he saw himself, a Black man, reflected with Hope and Change. Being Afro-Latina in a country that doesn’t respect Latinidad or Blackness could feel so lonely. I found comfort in your public libraries, in the words of Malcolm X and Gloria Anzaldua. I am where Baldwin meet Lavoe, where Celia Cruz and Nina Simone sing together. I knew that I would always be “too.” Too Peruvian to be fully American, and too American to be fully Peruvian. My intersection, the only place that felt like all of my pieces were held together, was Toledo. Suddenly, I realized you were home.
Growing up undocumented meant that many times I wanted to run away, I wanted to go back home. I wondered how I would go to college, how I could ever find a job, how I could pursue my dreams here. When DACA came, it’s as though you were waiting for me the whole time. So many doors that had been closed for so long started opening. I could finally have a job, and a state ID, which meant I could travel inside the country by airplane for the first time, yet I still kept coming back to you. That’s when I realized that in between family meals with my Mexican family, the late-night snacks with my Dominican family, and all the adventures with my high school and college friends, I realized you had become home. Not because my family in Peru didn’t have my heart, but because you too had my heart.
Things got dark and lonely when, 8 years later, an anti-immigrant and seemingly racist conservative, the polar opposite, ran for the Presidency and won. My ancestors – filled with Incan blood, African tenacity, Chinese resilience, Italian hospitality – all wept inside me. Today, Toledo, because you are my home, I am desperate to see you grow. I am desperate to see you not only welcome the stranger, but be a sanctuary. I need you to come home to yourself.
Today, we spend a lot of time together, whether I’m sitting at my favorite coffee shop in uptown Toledo, or I’m attending one of your local artist events, I know that we love each other, and while I don’t know what the future may hold, I know I’ll always have you in my heart. Thank you for showing me the four seasons this desert girl had never experienced before. You changed colors, you died, you bloomed, and then you thrived: may you always keep growing.
Karla and Vera Mendoza, sisters who arrived with their mother, Antonieta Mendoza, in Toledo, Ohio in December 2001, followed their father Hector after a year of separation while waiting for visas. Karla (with the lush head of curls) and Vera (with the wonderful pixie cut) were 11 and 8 years old, respectively, when they were thrust into a new culture, language, and way of living (and climate, it was freezing). They are both graduates of Toledo Early College High School, and graduated with enough credits to be 3rd year students at the University of Toledo. Hector, a chemical engineer, and Antonieta, a pre-school teacher, both instilled a sense of adventure, hunger for knowledge and education in both girls. Karla loves to travel, a good pour over, and laughing. Vera loves history, politics and studying ancient societies over a good cup of sage tea. We caught up with the girls at the Love Wall area where their smiles and laughs were infectious. They picked this area for their photoshoot since it represents the love and acceptance they find in the city.
This letter continues our series to celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month, an annual celebration of our nation’s shared immigrant heritage and cultural diversity. Immigrant Heritage Month stories are in partnership with Welcome Toledo-Lucas County, a local initiative housed in the Board of Lucas County Commissioners in partnership with LISC Toledo to advance an inclusive and global community.