“Moving here from New York was like a breath of fresh air – my husband’s family and the community embraced me and that really made it feel like home.”
Life, for Yoshie Gonzalez, began about 1,600 miles south of Hazleton. She spent her first two and a half decades coming of age in the Dominican Republic capital of Santo Domingo. The “geeky” (her words) daughter of an Army General dad and an Accountant mom was rarely seen without a book in her hands.
She went from kindergarten through high school at a private academy in the mountains. And throughout, she carried with her (since her little fingers could hold a paint brush) an undying affinity for art. This passion landed her a coveted scholarship to the esteemed Parsons School of Design in Manhattan. Little fish meet big pond. Architecture degree in hand, she went to work for a NYC firm, handling major projects in the city and upstate. Soon, Yoshie and her husband found themselves faced with an intense nostalgia for home and a growing desire to raise their children near family.
About eleven years ago, Yoshie and her young family set their sights on Hazleton and never looked back. In the ensuing decade, Yoshie went from teacher to community liaison to realtor to mom of three to the new Executive Director of the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress.
And that brings her to The Hub, where we met for a quick chat about art, Frank Lloyd Wright, those humbling NYC years and the bright future of Hazleton. Oh, and she also took the time to answer the big one – Why NEPA?
How long have you lived in NEPA?
Umm… About eleven years, I think. Yeah. Eleven years now. It goes by so fast (laughs).
What do you love about your town?
I love how open people are to suggestions and to change. I mean, whenever I speak to people here, I see in them the same hope for the future, for improvement that I have. People are so friendly here. Ever since I moved here, everyone has made me feel like I belong. I also love the fact that Hazleton, to me at least, seems like a blank canvas. There is so much to be done. And we have the opportunity to mold and change it and move it in the right direction. People here are open to that, and they welcome people who are willing to help improve the city.
What’s your favorite NEPA restaurant?
In ALL of Northeastern Pennsylvania? (Pauses) Ok. Well, here in town, I just discovered The Ovalon, which is right up the street. The food is so good. I love traditional Italian and now I’m thinking of going back (laughs). But yeah, if you’re making me pick only one, that’s it.
What’s your favorite thing to do in NEPA?
We love hiking. We always get the family together and go to the park. We invite grandma and grampa, aunts and uncles. And like every Saturday, if it’s a nice day, we go for a hike. We try to mix it up and go to different locations, but here, locally, we love to go to Community Park. It’s easy. It’s close and has little trails that the kids can ride their bikes on. And, I don’t know if I mentioned, but my youngest is four and she’s a firecracker (laughs). So, she really needs the space to run. And Community Park is one of her favorites.
What’s next for you?
I still have that dream of just being an artist and staying at home and painting all day. I love the idea of having a very low-key life and not a hundred different meetings (laughs). Of course, I also love being busy, and while I have the energy to do it, I really don’t mind all the running around. I kind of also love having a full, crazy schedule. But, for me, in the future, I’d love to really slow down. I can see myself having my own studio and maybe a small gallery. It doesn’t have to be big – just a space where I can get lost in my painting. I’m looking forward to enjoying quieter moments.
Check out some of Yoshie’s incredible artwork here.
Where do you see NEPA heading in the future?
I see more people walking the streets downtown – shopping and dining. I see a Downtown Hazleton with bike lanes and more restaurants and coffee shops and art galleries. I think we’ll get to that point where the mixture of all the different cultures here will start to result in a more cosmopolitan Hazleton. We’ve been growing so fast, especially over the last few years, a lot of new people have started coming in from major cities like New York and Philadelphia. And as our population continues to grow, it’s just inevitable that we’ll start to see more small businesses and more affordable housing.
Of course, that’s also going to open a lot more educational opportunities and programs for our youth. I definitely think it’s looking good for Hazleton, and all of NEPA. You know, because it’s not all just happening here. All of these other cities or towns that I visit seem to be booming. I’m seeing a lot more diversity. And people, to me at least, seem to be very proud of where they live and that’s important.
I actually had the opportunity to go back to the Dominican Republic and try to get something off the ground over there. We opened a little bar and restaurant and it had a little art gallery. I was also teaching at my old art school. It was fine, but it wasn’t enough to sustain us. And we realized that it wasn’t like it is in NEPA. Here, you can work hard and build something and save money and buy a house. While there, you’re just making ends meet. And, as a mom, I’m only thinking of my children’s futures. So, we decided to come back to Hazleton because we saw a clear future here.
And, as young parents at the time, we wanted to have relatives close by and wanted to be somewhere we felt safe. Once the kids started at school, we realized how important it was to be a part of a community like this. And with all the work I do, I get to meet so many people here, whether they’re business owners or with Can Do, or the Chamber, or if I meet them through the school or as a realtor, I realized that there are a lot of pieces that come together to make Hazleton a great place to live. So many of these people have families and their own unique stories and they just want to live somewhere safe, raise their kids, have opportunities and leave a legacy for the generations to come. And that’s something we can’t forget. It’s a community effort. We’re not here alone.