Bridgeport’s Hispanic Community: Rediscovering Elizabeth Medina, Hispanic Activist and Reporter

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By Benjamin Ortiz

During the late 40’s and early 50’s, Bridgeport was an important nucleus for the migration of Puerto Ricans and many Cubans. They left their Caribbean homeland in search of better opportunities for their families.

These pioneering families such as the Pericas, Faria, Medina, Diaz, Arias, and Batalla, are just a handful of many Families that called the Park City home. Their numerous contributions helped forge the growth of the Latino community in Bridgeport.  These families contributed to the city as business owners, leaders, politicians and activists. One of these activists was Elizabeth Medina.

Ms. Elizabeth Medina, given name Isabel Maria Fernandez-Mora, was born in Gaguey Grande, a Province of Matanzas, Cuba in 1907. Elizabeth was known to her family and friends as Isa.  Little is known of her childhood and adolescent years in Cuba, but it is known that Isa’s family was very understanding, patient and liberal as she sought out a career as a newspaper correspondent in the late 1920’s. This was a rarity due to the fact that a Latina would enter a career that was pretty much dominated by all males.  In the late 20’s, leaving her family behind, she moved to Havana where she worked and wrote for a Havana based newspaper.

During the decade of the 30’s, she traveled to the United States as an official newspaper correspondent for a Cuban newspaper to cover the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and also the New York World’s Fair in 1939.

In the 1940’s, she settled in New York City, There she met Nicolas Medina, a gentleman of Puerto Rican descent from the town of Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, and in 1946 they were married. Two years later in 1948 they made Bridgeport their home.  Ms. Medina came at an interesting time in history, witnessing the influx of Hispanics coming into the Park City.  Puerto Ricans and Cubans embraced Bridgeport as their new home and community. With their eagerness to work, they adjusted to their surroundings, appreciating  every opportunity for the jobs that the city had to offer.

Witnessing  firsthand the growing Hispanic community, Ms Medina, along with her husband, Nicolas, Fernando and Carmelita Pericas, Anibal Sotomayor, and others founded the Latin American Society, located at the time at 222 Golden Hill St.

The Latin American Society was created as a social outlet for the Latinos living in the city. It also served as an organization that monitored and gave voice to any arising issues whether they may be housing, employment, or discrimination against Bridgeport’s Latino residents.  One of these cases of discrimination to face the Latino community was in 1950. One of the City of Bridgeport’s Health Department officers stated that there was “a Puerto Rican problem,” referring to the influx of Bridgeport’s newest residents. Dr. Richard O’Brian Shea declared that Puerto Ricans constituted “this city’s major health problems,” because they carried tuberculosis with them. (“Bridgeport Herald,” December 30, 1951)

It has been said that Ms. Medina, along with members of the Latin American Society, went door to door and interviewed many Puerto Rican families to verify if tuberculosis was present in the home. Their findings showed no presence of tuberculosis and the findings were given to the “Sunday Herald” which in turn wrote an article disclosing that fact and unmasking the untrue information provided by the Bridgeport Heath Department’s officer.

Ms Medina contributed articles to both the “Bridgeport Sunday Herald” and the English/Spanish language newspaper “La Prensa” based in New York City. She also spearheaded  an effort to establish what is believed to be the first presence of Hispanics in the Barnum Festival Parade in the early 50’s:  a float displaying the costumes of the various Latin American countries.

Ms. Medina wore many hats. She was a woman who was advanced for her time, a free thinker.  She was not only a reporter, but served as a delegate to the United Nations. She was an advocate and a friend to the Latino community of Bridgeport.  Ms Medina lived in Bridgeport with her husband, Nicolas, for much of their  golden years before moving to California where she passed away at the age of 97.  Nicolas, Elizabeth’s husband, died a few years later.

Elizabeth Medina- Notes and Facts

She arrived in the United States (New York City) from Cuba on June 24, 1930.

What was born (Isabel Maria Hernandez-Mora) in Gaguey Grande, Provincia  Matanzas, Cuba, November 19, 1907.

She died in Carlsbad, California July 19, 2003 at the age of 97.

She married Nicolas Medina in New York City, Feb 21,1946.

Nicolas Medina came from Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, 1913

She was also one of the founding members of the Latin American Society.

She was a newspaper correspondent for the Bridgeport “SundayHerald.”

Sources:

McDonald, Bill- Post staff writer – In search of the Hispanic history, “Bridgeport Post,” Tuesday, February 19th 1985.

Whelan, Anne- Puerto Ricans: problems for Bridgeport; 5,000 Arise, Looking for Jobs, Get Them, Too  “Bridgeport Sunday Post,” Sunday, August   1953.

An EditorialWhy Drop Iron Curtain On Puerto Rican Scandal?  “Bridgeport Herald,” December 30, 1951.

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Benjamin Ortiz

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