Lydia Centeno stands in the front yard of her childhood home on the 400 block of West Mineral Street in Walker’s Point. Centeno has lived and worked in the neighborhood, which she describes as “family,” for most of her life.
“[There are] a lot of families here. Some families are still living here, some are moved out,” says Lydia, 58. “And, right now, there’s a lot of businesses that are going up on 2nd Street. So, a lot of people are moving this way.”
Her elementary school, Escuela Vieau School, was in the neighborhood, as well. “It was nice — I loved it there,” she says. “Everybody knew each other. From kindergarten to eighth grade, everybody was there so it was like being around your family, your everybody.”
For high school, Centeno attended South Division, which didn’t have the same feel. “It was different, very different. Every hour, you’re going to a different classroom, you’re with all new, different people. It was different.”
At 20, she married and was with her husband for 10 or 15 years. They’re separated now but she doesn’t deny that it was love. “Maybe we got married too young, you know; we got together too young,” says Centeno, who has two children in their 40s.
Lydia, who is the youngest of four, says she “learned a lot from” her three older sisters; she’d moved away, herself, but ended up coming back when her sister, who was three years older, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
“She was ill … for many years and, then, it finally just took her life,” says Centeno, who helped to care of her sister while she was still alive. “It was terrible, a terrible experience.”
Besides caring for her sister, Lydia has worked at the United Community Center for 20 years. “I’m blessed to be there that long and I hope I can stay till I retire there. Being there is like being at home. It’s like your second home, it’s like family — everybody is there to help each other, everyone’s there if you need something and it’s a wonderful place to work.”
It all feeds back into why she values community and family. “Not just me but a lot of people around here, we like to see the neighborhood stay a neighborhood, with family … where we all know each other and we all get along.”
But, even though she doesn’t want the family focus of the neighborhood to go away, Lydia isn’t afraid of a little change. “I’m excited about everything that’s going up in the neighborhood — it’s really nice,” she says. “I walk down there (to 2nd Street) and I see all these new little businesses and I think, ‘Wow, this is so great, this is so nice.’ And, you see things that are built where other things used to be before and it’s just amazing.”
“I lived around here all my life,” she says. “I don’t know. Maybe one day I might move away but I don’t know. I’m happy being where I’m at.”
Did you find value in Lydia’s story? If so, please subscribe to our newsletter; we publish the story of a different Milwaukeean every week.
Milwaukee Stories is a nonprofit organization that works to bring you the real stories of regular people all across our city. This work is solely supported by individual contributions from people like you. Please consider becoming a sustaining member, or make a one-time donation, today.
Patron | $3 monthly (or $50 one-time) donation
Member | $7 monthly (or $100 one-time) donation
Partner | $25 monthly (or $500+ one-time) donation