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Melania Trump Holds Special Resonance For Cleveland's Slovene Community

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Donald Trump's wife, Melania, is one of tonight's speakers at the Republican convention. And she shares a connection with many Clevelanders. She is a native of Slovenia, and that is a point of pride in a city that has one of the world's largest Slovenian populations. From WCPN ideastream in Cleveland, David C. Barnett reports.

DAVID C BARNETT, BYLINE: Slovenia is a tiny Eastern European country of 2 million people - about the same population as Houston. But it looms large for Ursula Prosen, who was raised to know her Slovenian heritage in suburban Cleveland.

URSULA PROSEN: Around here, Slovenia is known, but I'm very confident that there are many places in the United States that you could go and you could say, my family is from Slovenia, and they'd go, where is that?

BARNETT: Cleveland is home to between 80,000 and 100,000 people with family ties to Slovenia. The local Slovenian consul general is the only foreign diplomat in the state of Ohio. Historian Joe Valencic says that heritage is supported by a solid infrastructure of churches, meeting halls, bakeries and meat markets.

JOE VALENCIC: The Cleveland area has always been the largest concentration of Slovenians outside of Europe, even as early as the World War I era.

BARNETT: Valencic's family came to Northeast Ohio in 1909 from Slovenia. Valencic says he's enjoyed watching a teenaged fashion model from Sevnica, Slovenia, become an international celebrity.

VALENCIC: I was aware of her as a successful model for Gentlemen's Quarterly and other publications. And next thing we know, she's having the wedding of the century with Donald Trump.

BARNETT: Ursula Prosen grew up as a performer in the 60-year-old folk dance ensemble called Kres and is now teaching a new generation of young dancers. It was through the dance troupe that she met her husband, Nevio, a Slovenian native.

NEVIO PROSEN: I would be proud, you know, to have, like, first lady that she's Slovenian in the White House, you know?

PROSEN: Regardless whether you're Republican, whether you're Democrat, the historical value of it all is just awesome.

BARNETT: In fact, it's been nearly 200 years since there's been a foreign-born first lady in the White House. Melania Trump's been invited to visit the local Slovenian community while she's in town. Joe Valencic says Clevelanders would love to give her a taste of the homeland.

VALENCIC: It would be fun to show her a good time Slovenian style in the Cleveland area. Certainly we have many opportunities for that.

BARNETT: Valencic adds, Melania Trump might enjoy the chance to hang out with people who speak her language. For NPR News, I'm David C. Barnett in Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.