Alejandra Amegin immigrated from Mexico to California with her family when she was just five years old. They came for a better life but building that wasn’t easy. She felt like an outcast, a secret, in her new home. 
“It remains a secret because you have nobody to go to and say, ‘Hey, I’m experiencing this, I need help.’ But nobody can know you’re here illegally. You can’t ever go and talk about what is happening within your family,” Amegin, who is now 45, said. “So, unfortunately, I did suffer from child abuse and sexual abuse, but it was kept very much under wraps.” 
Despite the trauma and challenges of her childhood, Amegin joined the Navy, eventually moving to Jacksonville. After leaving the service, she opened her own business, Jacksonville Natural Healing and Vive Yoga Studio, to help others in Jacksonville heal in the way that she has. 
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Amegin’s life story is one of 40 Jacksonville residents whose story of struggle and triumph has been encapsulated at the Jacksonville Historical Society as part of a project that began in 2021. The project, led by a local historian, collects audio recordings of life stories from Hispanics in Northeast Florida to highlight their historical, cultural, and economic contributions spanning the last 100 years in the region. 
She hopes that the collected oral histories will give all Hispanics a sense of unity and belonging when they listen.
“Sometimes I can walk into a room full of people that don’t look like me and I still have this little voice in my head that tells me I’m the other,” Amegin said. “I think what I would hope that comes out of this project is to acknowledge that and be aware of it, but also know that we do belong.” 
The project, Voces de Hispanos: “New Stories to Tell”, began in Duval County, spearheaded by local historian Rebecca Dominguez-Karimi and sponsored by the First Coast Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
Dominguez-Karimi is now also interviewing Hispanics outside of Duval. These oral stories will be housed at the Amelia Island Museum of History, Clay County Archives and St. Augustine Historical Society for everyone to listen.
Forty Voces de Hispanos oral histories are permanently stored at the Jacksonville Historical Society. The goal is to interview at least 100 more Hispanics from the greater five-county area to complete the project.
The project will also include the Menorcan community in St. Augustine. Menorcans is the name given to a group of people from the Mediterranean, including Spain and Greece, who were brought to Florida as indentured servants to work on an indigo plantation in New Smyrna in the late 1700s.
Six hundred surviving Menorcans eventually escaped to St. Augustine. Hundreds of years later, over 10,000 descendants of the original Menorcans are estimated to still live in St. Augustine and St. Johns County with last names like Hernandez, Acosta, Pacetti and Rogero.
Dominguez-Karimi says people who listen to the oral histories are going to “hear something they’ve not heard before.”
“Each person’s experiences here are very unique. They’ll get a sense of what Hispanic life has been like for Hispanics in the area,” Dominguez-Karimi said. 
Hispanics have had an increasing impact on the area as the population has grown. The five-county Jacksonville metro area’s growth since 2010 was partially fueled by a 76.4 percent rise in the metro area’s Hispanic population.
But as a historian, Dominguez-Karimi noticed what was missing: a record of the way Hispanics have shaped Northeast Florida. All Hispanic communities in Northeast Florida are invited to participate in Voces de Hispanos, she says. From Menorcans in St. Augustine to long-term Floridians to newcomers, Dominguez-Karimi wants to hear their stories about how they arrived here and preserve the history of the Latino and Hispanic influence on Northeast Florida.
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David Manjarres, 27, was born and raised in Miami but moved to Jacksonville to attend the University of North Florida and stayed after graduation for work. He decided to participate in the project in the hopes of inspiring other young Latinos. His mom is Mexican, and his dad is Colombian. 
“I firmly believe that when you get opportunities like this to tell you your story, it’s your duty to share it because you don’t know whose life you can impact because, growing up, a lot of history books…I could never identify with,” Manjarres said. “So, if I could create an opportunity for a young Latino one day to be able to identify or relate himself and find inspiration to become something more that is my duty.” 
Katherine Lewin is the enterprise reporter at the Times-Union covering criminal and social justice issues in Northeast Florida.  Email her at klewin@jacksonville.com or follow on Twitter @KatherineMLewin. Contact her for her Signal number to share anonymous tips and documents. Support local journalism!

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