A clear vision: Arts nonprofit unveils Cleveland’s vibrant Mexican heritage

There is a photo of a girl and three women beaming, all wearing pearls and late-1980s hairstyles.

Jennifer Saenz Ivancic is the girl, while the women were her “three mothers” growing up—a loving triumvirate Saenz Ivancic knew better as her aunt, grandmother, and birth mother.

Like many Latino immigrants, the older generations of Saenz Ivancic’s Mexico-born family immersed their non-native loved ones in their homeland’s rich tradition—creating a close-knit collective that valued the larger culture. 

Saenz Ivancic is now sharing this story through Hecho en CLE (Made in CLE), a celebratory exhibition of the Mexican experience from newly minted arts and culture nonprofit AlmaVision: Cultura y Más.

Jennifer Saenz Ivancic, left, submitted a family photo to the upcoming Hecho en CLE exhibition, which celebrates the Mexican experience in the U.S.Jennifer Saenz Ivancic, left, submitted a family photo to the upcoming Hecho en CLE exhibition, which celebrates the Mexican experience in the U.S.The upcoming installation is hosted by arts and innovation group Ingenuity Cleveland in the St. Clair-Superior neihborhood. The installation is comprised of photos and stories submitted by Cleveland’s Mexican community. Saenz Ivancic says her contribution is a means of bringing her proud heritage to the forefront.

“I wanted to share my story to show that different types of families can come from all walks of life,” says Seanz Ivancic. “And I’m sharing my narrative from my own voice, not from a national opinion or media voice. I wanted to speak for myself.”

The Hecho en CLE exhibit was co-created by Alexander Corona, a first-generation Mexican artist who grew up on Cleveland’s west side. Seeds for the project germinated in 2022, when his AlmaVision group unveiled a temporary community mural honoring the indigenous roots of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, at Ingenuity. 

Ideally, Hecho en CLE—available for viewing this Saturday, June 15 and Sunday, June 16 at Ingenuity, 5401 Hamilton Ave.—will help unify a local Mexican population scattered throughout Northeast Ohio. Outreach to the wider region is another key aspect of the program, says Corona.

“We’re showing that our stories matter,” he says. “We’ve always been here, and we’ll continue to be here and contribute to this city.”

Programs for the community

Cleveland’s Latino population is made up of 46,332 Puerto Ricans, 13,200 Mexicans, and 1,624 Cubans, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. Like their Spanish-speaking brethren, most Mexicans are spread throughout Northeast Ohio, living in Lorain, Painesville, and Brooklyn,—meaning they lack the concentrated communities found in the southern United State, notes Corona.

Corona says that as a boy growing up in the region, the lack of community sometimes made him feel like an outsider—even attending large-scale Latino events did not fill that hole. With AlmaVision, Corona formed his own intimately linked Mexican enclave, where “alma” translates to “soul” or “spirit” in English.  

Photos from the Hecho en CLE exhibition depict a population that continues to contribute to the city, says CoronaPhotos from the Hecho en CLE exhibition depict a population that continues to contribute to the city, says CoronaThe eight-person group—made up of members from all walks of Latino life—earned nonprofit status this year. Along with the Day of the Dead mural, AlmaVision holds programs that celebrate ancestral dance as well as musical genres from varied and distinctive regions of Mexico.

A recent Son Jarocho workshop drew participants of all backgrounds and ages in learning about a traditional folk music style from Veracruz, Mexico. Thanks to grants and individual donations, all AlmaVision programs are free to the public, adds Corona.

“I felt left out as a kid, and I didn’t want to have an organization that made anyone else feel that way,” Corona says. “Our Mexican communities are important, but the communities we live with are important, too.”

A big vision

Efforts like AlmaVision also bring underserved populations into focus—a crucial role when anti-immigrant rhetoric is becoming a mainstay of the election cycle, says Saenz Ivancic, the Hecho en CLE participant.

Born in San Antonio, Saenz Ivancic came to Cleveland for the nurse practitioner program at Case Western Reserve University. Now a full-time specialist in adult and geriatric nursing, Saenz Ivancic aims to bust myths about Mexican people only being good for jobs that other people don’t want.

Meanwhile, her Hecho en CLE photo tells the story of an immigrant family thriving in the U.S. Saenz Ivancic’s aunt Concepcion, for example, worked as a teacher and served as White House secretary for former President Lyndon B. Johnson.

“She was a force to be reckoned with—a powerful woman who spoke her truth,” Saenz Ivancic says. “She knew her culture and spread that information, not just in the Mexican community, but also the wider community outside the culture.”

AlmaVision originator Corona knows that every person has worth—he is compelled to shed light on a population that has existed too long in the shadows.

“As we grow, we can reach out to pockets of [Mexican] communities in rural areas or the far suburbs, and have them participate in what we do,” says Corona. “It’s a pretty big vision, but it’s an attainable one.”

Douglas J. Guth
Douglas J. Guth

About the Author: Douglas J. Guth

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to being senior contributing editor at FreshWater, his work has been published by Crain’s Cleveland Business, Ideastream, and Middle Market Growth. At FreshWater, he contributes regularly to the news and features departments, as well as works on regular sponsored series features.