Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Scout the Journalist

I am working on an article for Small Town Newspaper about our local Latin stores, and we've got plenty. Small Town and Small Town Nextdoor have a combined population of not quite 30,000. And we have an estimated 1,000 Hispanic immigrants. That can only be an educated guess because no accurate census has been taken. During the last census, the census takers opted not to enter the homes of Spanish speaking residents, which was their right for some reason, so we don't know how many immigrants we've got for sure.

We do know they started coming here from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico because there was work in chicken processing plants. We have two of them that use immigrant labor because they're cheap, and they typically vote against unions.

Now that they're here, they have changed the market enough that local grocery stores and Wal-Mart now sell things Hispanics looks for like chorizo, specialty cheese, lots of rice, and votive candles. And now we have some Latin stores popping up that sell things like banana leaves, corn husks for tamales, more chorizo, more cheese, every dried chili you can name, and seasonings you probably can't find in a jar in the McCormick spice section.

So, yesterday I went to four of these shops with a friend who is fluent in Spanish and is a trusted advocate with the immigrants. She told them ahead of time that I would be stopping by, so they were ready. One store, actually closed before I got there, which was odd, but he'll be available later. His store looks really interesting from what I could see in the windows, and he sells homemade tacos at lunchtime.

I'm sorry I don't have pictures for you, but I was so moved at the first store, that I completely forgot I even had a camera in my bag. The store owner, a documented Guatemalan, was so proud of his store that he started giving me things. All I wanted to buy was a bag of plantain chips, but he gave them to me along with a bag of fresh bread and a can of juice. He would have given me more, but I stopped him with those three things. He sold amazing Guatemalan skirts that are handwoven wraps that go to the floor and are cinched up with a belt. He had a row of mock alligator skin boots, the ugliest fleece blankets you ever saw, and huge suitcases. And he sold Coke in a bottle. It seems everybody wants Coke in a bottle. As a Honduran woman who operates a Western Union explained to me, it's not because it's better but people have been conditioned to think it is.

I sat in the woman's parlor for 20 minutes or so and talked about the people who come to her business to wire money home to family—Nigerians, Chinese, Indians, Palestinians, Filipinos, and the Hispanic population. Who knew? Then she went on a rant about some local corruption, and my friend and I were clueless as to what she meant. She wanted to know what I could do about it with her perception of my connections with Small Town Newspaper. So, I did the only thing I could do—I gave her the contact information for My Favorite Small Town Editor to see what he could do for her, and she was elated. To this editor, I offer my most sincere apologies in advance of any letter he might receive from a disgruntled business owner. At least her letter will be in English minus a heavy accent.

Anyway, this has been one of the most interesting experiences I have ever had. This isn't like touring some spot on vacation or reading a book about someone else's experience. This is real and here in my own town. I am going back to the shops with a photographer, so I'll post pictures in a few days, because seriously these woven skirts are amazing.


dive said...

Good grief, Robyn; what on earth is the point of a census that ignores a section of the population. Quite apart from being racist, surely that's quite astonishingly dumb.

And doesn't the phrase "chicken processing plant" strike a chill into the heart of every true food lover?

This sounds like a great idea for a newspaper article and your volunteer work with your local Hispanic population makes you the ideal person to don the journalist's hat.

The shops sound amazing; I can't wait to see the photos. And I do hope your editor not only forgives you but can help this woman with her grievance.

Another great post, Robyn, tantalising and tempting. More, please!
And do let us see the article when it's done.

lynn said...

Sounds like she was giving you a good story there, Robyn. You should have interviewed her there and then, whipped out your camera and you'd have been able to present it to your Editor for a news piece - and get paid!

What sort of census is it that allows takers to enter people's homes? You imply it is only the Spanish speakers homes, too. Why? I think it seems outrageous.

Mrs. G. said...

These are my favorite kinds of stores. Little gems hiding in my own back yard. Can't wait to see the pictures.

Mark said...

Suddenly I feel closer to the Hispanics. At the last census, the guys with clipboards stopped at my house to ask me where to find one of the neighbors. But no questions for me. Apparently I don't count.

Oh, and I'm looking forward to the inside scoop on those Small Town shops.

Scout said...

Dive, I have not quite recovered from seeing the footage of the processing plant. More disturbing than how the meat is gotten from the bird is the way the employees are treated.

Lynn,I think census takers can enter homes if they are invited. It's not an intrusive process. I don't understand declining certain invitations, though.

Mrs. G, these are sort of hidden but general just look off-putting. It's too bad, though, because they're interesting inside.

Mark, I'll work on that inside scoop. I can't promise when it will be finished, though.

MmeBenaut said...

I can't wait to read your article either. Sounds like you had quite an amazing day, Robyn, roving journalist!

Rich said...

I'm all for small owned mom and pop stores but Walmart...hmmmm I'd like to burn em all down if I could.