Latina historian connects own family tree from Mexico to Indiana

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INDIANAPOLIS – Sometimes it’s the little things that keep us rooted to our ancestors. A doll stitched together in the Hoosier state nearly 100 years ago is one of those little things for Nicole Martinez-LeGrand.

“So, when we opened up this steam trunk, there was a little tray, and there was nothing, but doll parts– so heads, arms, legs, and I’m like, ‘What is this'” she asked?

It was one Hoosier’s act of kindness for her homeland, Su Patria, Mexico.

 “Her name was Maria Picón de Reyes,” Martinez-LeGrand said as she beams with pride. “Don’t you forget it!”

 That’s who took the doll parts and sewed them together for Mexican kids affected by war.

 She’s special to Martinez-LeGrand, an Indiana historian because that’s her great-great-grandmother. Picón de Reyes was one of many Latinos who came to Indiana at the start of the 20th century.

“There’s push. There’s pull, and there’s stick. What is pushing these people out of their native homeland? What is pulling them into the United States, and what is making them stick into certain areas of our state?” she explained.

As early 1890, the U.S. Census records Latinos in America. By 1910, the Mexican Revolution pushed people to Indiana for safety and work.

“There’s a newspaper article here in Indianapolis that says ‘100 Mexicans Living in Indianapolis’, and so this article talked a lot about the Mexicans here being university students,” Martinez-LeGrande described the 1916 article in the Indianapolis News, a local evening paper.

Education later pulled more Latinos from Mexico plus Central and South America to the Hoosier state. As an Indiana Historical Society staffer, she researches Latino Hoosiers and their stories.

“You know they are the American story! They are the American dream,” the Hoosier said.

Her great-great-grandparents settled with their kids in Indiana harbor probably around the 1910s. Nicole’s great-grandmother later married Antonio Medina.

The couple welcomed a baby boy, Nicole’s grandfather.

After 2 years of work across the state, the Lake County native discovered her own family tree, rooted in Mexico and flourished in Indiana.

“That really has deepened my sense of pride, not only to be a Latina, to be a Mexican-American heritage, but to be a Latina Hoosier,” she said.

Like Martinez-LeGrand, her great-great grandmother was proud and invested in this community. Her ledger from more than a century ago, also found in the steam trunk, shows what made the family stick around in Indiana.

Her great-great-grandmother helped build the state’s first Latino, Catholic church in 1927. It still stands tall today, a reminder of what Latino Hoosiers have built.

“We have been here for over 100 years,” Martinez-LeGrand estimated. “We, Latinos in Indiana have influenced anything from legislature, education, business, pretty much in all the sectors — whether you explicitly recognize it or not.”

But she really hopes you do see her and know somos Hoosiers también! We’re Hoosiers too!

If you would like to learn more about your family or believe they’ve made significant contributions to the Latino Hoosier community, you can contact Nicole at Nicole NMartinez-LeGrand@indianahistory.org.

Tune in, October 11th on FOX59 at 11 p.m. to watch our 30-minute special, Celebrating Latino Hoosiers.

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