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BECOMING A LOCAL: An Interview with Dionne Hernandez-Lugo, PhD

Dionne Hernandez-Lugo

Q: Where are you from originally and what brought you here?

A: I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. I came here in 2010 for an internship funded by NASA. In 2013, I was lucky enough to be offered a fulltime position. I work on the Kilopower Project; we’re developing fission power technologies that would allow us to live away from Earth by providing continuous power to habitats or instruments.


Q: How much did you know about the area before moving here?

A: Almost nothing. I came here to give a presentation once, and I had about two hours to explore. A friend drove me all around downtown, pointing out the stadiums, landmarks, the different restaurants, and places to enjoy nightlife. It looked really fun!

Q: What has surprised you the most about living here?

A: I really feel that Cleveland is kind of a jewel. What it offers in terms of jobs, schools, extracurricular activities—I had no idea. Also, the area has great programs for English as a Second Language (ESL). My husband understood English but didn’t have the fluency. So he enrolled in an ESL class through the library and now he’s doing great. It was a very comfortable environment. My kids didn’t speak any English at all, but the first school they went to partnered with Title 1 to provide ESL.


Q: In what neighborhood do you currently live? What do you like about it?

A: We’re in North Ridgeville. I really like all the activities that the city offers for my kids. My son is on the soccer team. My daughter is into theater and dance, and they have a school for that.


Q: What are your favorite places to go or things to do?

A: Cleveland offers a lot of affordable activities for families. When we moved here, I was the only one working, so we enjoyed going to the Metroparks. We could have picnics, my son could practice soccer, we could walk the trails—and all for free.

Q: What are some of your favorite restaurants?

A: Cleveland really celebrates diversity in general, and you can feel it by the different types of foods that you can find here. There’s a Puerto Rican restaurant near NASA called Campus Grille. They have flavorful, authentic dishes that represent my culture.

Fall in Northeast Ohio
"Fall (in Northeast Ohio) is the most beautiful thing EVER!"

Q: Being from Puerto Rico, how do you feel about the seasons here?

A: Summertime is beautiful and sunny, not humid like back home. And fall is the most beautiful thing EVER! Coming from Puerto Rico, where everything is green all year long, that may be good for some people but not for me. The seasons are something that I really, really enjoy.


Q: What advice would you give to someone considering moving to the area?

A: I would answer that question from the perspective of having a Latin or Hispanic background. Cleveland offers many organizations that provide assistance, whether you need help finding a doctor or getting translation services. There’s Esperanza, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and many other entities.


Q: Is there anything else you would like to say about the area?

A: When Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria, the whole community was amazing. We had a big influx of people arriving, and it was winter. Imagine having nowhere to live, no jackets, no proper clothing, kids needing to go to school. The people of Cleveland really stepped up, and I applaud them for that.


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