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From Jewelry To Community Activism On Cleveland's West Side

Joyería Viejo San Juan (the Old San Juan Jewelry Store) has been Selina Pagán’s second home ever since she can remember. Her dad started the store — in the Clark Fulton neighborhood on Clevleand's West Side — in 2000, a few years after he moved here from Puerto Rico.

"I just remember being really young, working here all the time," she said. "Like this is where I would spend my Saturdays and my weekends helping out as much as I could."

Pagán is 24 now and she has a full-time job with a nonprofit. But she still comes in sometimes to help out.

On this weekday afternoon, about a month before Valentine’s Day, she stands behind a jewelry case full of gold necklaces and baby bracelets. Customers drift in to browse or drop off repairs.

Customers browse inside the store. [Jean-Marie Papoi / ideastream]

Wearing a sparkly headband, gold watch and a chunky turquoise ring, Pagán definitely looks like the child of a jewelry store now. But when she was a little girl? Not so much.

"I was not into it," she said. "I was a tomboy. I wasn't girly like that. I was like into sports and I was just not about it."

To entertain herself, she started gravitating toward her dad’s repair workshop in the back of the store. He’d give her little tasks to keep her busy. Sometimes, things didn’t go so well. Like the time he asked her to grab his case of tiny pieces of gold and silver for repairs.

"Little jump rings, little end caps, locks — like, it was a case of all the tiny things," she said, laughing. "And I grabbed it and they fell. And so, like, all these little pieces of gold [went] everywhere. I cried. My dad was so mad at me."

The inner sanctum

But as much as hanging out in the workshop sometimes got her in trouble, she kept coming back.

In the closet-sized space, she’d watch her dad, Ramon Pagán, doing exactly what he’s doing today — looking through a pair of magnifying goggles. Heating up broken clasps and gold chains, tweezing them back together, then cooling them in a cup of water, fully mended.

Ramon Pagán sodders a piece of broken jewelry. [Jean-Marie Papoi / ideastream]

And most of all, she would listen to him talk.

"We’re giving to other people," he says now, explaining his work. "We fix their jewelry, we treat it with love because we know that this is some sentimental value for them.

Ramon Pagán, Selina's father, is the owner of the store. [Justin Glanville / ideastream]

"You know, sometimes a great grandmother gave [the pieces] to them or their dad passed away, you know. And, you know, every piece we have for repair is precious, no matter what it is. Doesn't matter,” he says.

Not just jewelry

All the time she spent in the workshop hearing her dad speak is where she finally got what this store is all about, Selina Pagán said.

Her dad’s a jewelry seller, yes. But even more than that, he’s the keeper of this neighborhood’s memories and personal connections. That’s especially meaningful in a lower-income, Hispanic neighborhood like this one, where people may feel second class, even ignored sometimes, she said.

The store's display cases glitter with rings and other jewelry. [Jean-Marie Papoi / ideastream]

"This is a community where, you know, you have to build that trust," she said. "You have to become a part of it. For folks to really support you."

It’s a lesson that inspired her own career at a community nonprofit. On a recent afternoon, she sits in a meeting, organizing a potluck where she’ll be encouraging people to fill out their 2020 Census forms.

Selina Pagán works at Metro West Community Development Organization, in the same neighborhood as her father's store. [Justin Glanville / ideastream]

There’s no gold here, no expensive watches. Just the beige walls and a beat up old conference table.

And a young woman who, like her father, wants to make sure her neighbors and their community feel counted.

This story is part of ideastream's ongoing collaboration with the Cleveland Public Library to present a "snapshot" of Cleveland and Clevelanders in 2020.

Copyright 2021 90.3 WCPN ideastream. To see more, visit 90.3 WCPN ideastream.