How first Hispanic families in city shaped Rochester today

Hispanic Heritage Month

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — As Hispanic Heritage Month continues, a local community member reflects on how her family helped shape the city of Rochester as one of the first Hispanic families in the area.

Rose Mary Villarubia-Izzo and her family moved to Rochester from Puerto Rico in the 1960s. When they arrived, there were very few Hispanic families. So, when more families began to arrive, the Hispanic community embraced them.

Villarubia-Izzo said her family moved to Upstate New York when she was just five years old. The move, especially because of the change in climate, was an adjustment.

“We get here in typical Rochester weather. It was typical Labor Day: rainy and cold, and I didn’t have the proper wear for that day. That’s what most families encountered,” said Villarubia-Izzo.

This experience inspired her father to co-found the Ibero-American Action League in Rochester.

“That’s how they decided that there needed to be a family that came together in assisting,” said Villarubia-Izzo.

Additionally, Villarubia-Izzo’s father co-founded the first Puerto Rican festival in the city.

“It was about gathering together, playing guitars, listening to the music, playing dominos. Everything that they had done in Puerto Rico,” said Villarubia-Izzo.

Since her family arrived in the area, Villarubia-Izzo has put in decades of community work to improve lives in Rochester’s Hispanic community — all of which began at home.

“I go back and look at everything that my family had input with, and it actually created me as a community activist to continue in the steps of my father,” said Villarubia-Izzo.

Although her father has since returned to Puerto Rico, he is filled with pride of what Villarubia-Izzo has accomplished.

“There was a paper I was in one time, and [when ] I got to Puerto Rico, he had it laminated and on his dresser,” said Villarubia-Izzo.

“I’m proud that he taught me to do the work in the community because if it wasn’t for [my parents], I wouldn’t be standing here pride, with so much pride, about our neighborhood and our community and the people.”

Villarubia-Izzo said since her family arrived in Rochester decades ago, the community has come a long way.

“It’s amazing how we went from being one of the first families in Rochester [to having] almost 80,000 Hispanics in Rochester now.”

Rose Mary Villarubia-Izzo has received numerous awards for her community service, leadership, and activism. This includes the Father Tracy Lifeline Leadership and Community Activist award.

She said what keeps her going is her passion for uplifting the community.

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