James Berroteran

James (Jaime) Berroteran’s family first came to the U.S. during World War I, when his father came to work on the railroad as part of a guest worker program.  When the railroad job was over, he went to work in the steel mills, first in Chicago and then in Youngstown.  A few years later, in the early 20s, he returned home to Chihauhau, where he got married.  But as Pancho Villa gained power in northern Mexico, the Berroteran family decided to leave.  Nearly everyone in the family moved to the US, and Berroteran’s father brought his family back to Youngstown, where he went to work for U.S. Steel. He worked at the mill for the next 25 years.

James himself worked at Republic Steel for 30 years, but he also started his own carpet cleaning business.  He originally thought that would be a part-time side business, but he ended out running that for 30 years as well.

The Berroterans were the second Mexican family to settle in the Youngstown area.  They lived on the North Side, in the “Monkey’s Nest” area that would later become home to many Mexican families.  Because there were so few Mexicans, there was no Spanish-language church.  Instead, the Berroteran family attended St. Ann’s church, which he said was mostly Irish.

By the 1950s, James says, there were 50 or 60 Mexican families in the community.  James’s father together with about a dozen other Mexican men formed La Sociedad Mutualista Mexicana, the Youngstown Mexican Club, in the 1930s.  The club sponsored dances and other diversions, but they also helped each other and new immigrants make their way in Youngstown.  James continues to be active in the Mexican Club to this day, though he acknowledges that it’s a smaller organization now.

James married a Slovak woman, because, he says, there were so few Mexicans in town.  His wife learned to cook Mexican food, though, which James says she does very well.  He remembers growing up during a time when many people in the local community were immigrants and the children of immigrants, and he says there was little prejudice or discrimination.  James says that his father’s closest friends were Croatians, Russians, and Germans.

But his Mexican heritage is important to James.  He is still active in the Mexican Club, and he enjoys speaking Spanish when he gets the opportunity.

Read the full transcript of the interview with James Berroteran.

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