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  • Pueblo, USA Transcript


    Stephen Smith: From American Public Media, this is an American RadioWorks documentary: Pueblo, USA. I'm Stephen Smith. Americans are beginning to realize that the nation's largest wave of immigration didn't happen a century ago. It's happening now. About 35 million of us were born in other countries. That's one in eight residents of the United States. Now immigrants come from all over the globe, but Latino immigration is remaking the country. And it's not just in big cities or in the Southwest.

    Eddie Greene: This neighborhood's a lot of old families. These people have been here since I guess the town's been here. This is one of the oldest families in town right here. I used to cut that lady's grass when I was ten years old. They've been there forever.

    Smith: That's Eddie Ambrose Greene. He's taking us on a drive through his hometown, Siler City, North Carolina. It's in the state's rolling Piedmont region. Siler City is a place where you sit out on the front porch, where there are a lot of churches, where the downtown is a few blocks long, and a place with closed up factory buildings.

    Any tour of Siler City is bound to wind up in front of a huge brick boxy building with no windows: The Townsend chicken processing plant. Townsend employs about 1300 workers who process about a million chickens a week.

    Greene: In Siler City we had two options: You either worked at the plant or you drove a truck. I knew I wasn't geared to work in a plant, so I started driving truck and hauling chickens from Siler City all over the country.

    Smith: Siler City, North Carolina used to be the kind of town where almost everyone, black and white, had roots going back a century or two. Characters on "The Andy Griffith Show" mentioned Siler City, and the actor who played Aunt Bee retired in Siler City because it reminded her of Mayberry. In other words, it was just about the last place a Spanish-speaking immigrant seemed likely to land.

    That started to change in the 1990s. Today, thanks to the chicken jobs that no one else wants, Siler City is about half Latino. And it's not an isolated case. North Carolina and other Southeastern states have some of the nation's fastest-growing Latino populations. Many longtime residents of Siler City say they're not so troubled that many of those Latino workers are undocumented. What makes them uneasy - some of them - is the way the new population is transforming the racial and cultural flavor of their community.

    John Biewen and Tennessee Watson of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University produced this portrait of a changing town in the Nuevo South.

    Greene: Siler City, unfortunately, has always been a racially divided town. Like out there where I live, from the airport, from where you turn on Airport Road, that's like a all black section. So when you go past down in the country, it's like all white. So all through here now, all these houses now, are all Mexicans. This is the beginnings of downtown as you come from west to east. They're old brick buildings. Look at the work force. This is a good time. They're changing shifts. On Friday afternoon, it's almost the end of the day. You're seeing the Hispanic population getting off work at one of the major poultry processing plants in town. I don't mean to say this in a racist kind of way, but if you ever seen a house overrun with roaches? And you can't stop them? And it's like you look and there's two, and you look again there's four, and when you look back there's seven? If you sit here, you notice you don't see a black person or a white person come out of this plant [pause] at all.

    Debra: I pretty much like here because it's I don't know, it's a different experience since I used to live in the countryside in Guatemala. I'm Debra, I'm in the twelfth grade and we live here since 2002. It wasn't like this before. I think there were four mobile homes. And then the lady that owns this land, she decided to bring more mobile homes. It's like only Hispanics living here, mostly from Mexico. I live with my parents and I have three sisters and two brothers. My parents are Francisco and Florinda.

    [Florinda in Spanish:...]

    Voiceover: I'm Debra's mom.

    [Florinda in Spanish:...]

    Voiceover: I've worked for seven years in the chicken plant. One year with Pilgrim's Pride and six years with Gold Kist. The packing areas where I work, you pack everything; what they call the breast, the tender, the leg. You throw it in the boxes, cover them up, and throw them on the line.

    Francisco: Mi nombre es Francisco.

    Voiceover: My name is Francisco. Right now, I work for a builder where we make walls for houses. I have to drive 40 minutes from here to where I work. But thanks to God for bringing us here. And we're here working. You come from one country to another not knowing about the culture, what life has been like in a place. We didn't know. I didn't know anything. What we have seen is that there are people, like in all places, who are good and there are people who look at others with disdain as if they're saying, "You aren't from here, get out of here." I don't pay attention to them because I know I came to this country to work and to watch over my family, to see to their future. I have a daughter who is about to graduate from high school. From what I see, she has always worked hard and gotten honors in her studies. And she likes soccer.

    [Sounds of soccer game]

    Paul Cuadros: Today is February 15th, and today's the first day of the team. We spent the entire week going through tryouts and so this morning we finalized the list. My name is Paul Cuadros and I am the head coach of the Jordan-Matthews High School soccer program in Siler City. And in addition to that, I'm a journalist, an author, and an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

    Cuadros [to team]: Let's have Maria and Debra...

    Debra: I play defense, stopper. You have to not let the forwards go in there and make us a goal. So I try to do my best.

    Cuadros: She is a lioness in the defensive line. I mean she is the tiniest person out here, but she brings the biggest game.

    Girls: Hey, you guys!

    Cuadros: Count it!

    Girls [together]: One, two, three, let's go Lady Jets! Whoooo!

    Cuadros: One, two, three, four, five. We're about a little over half Latina girls. And the rest are white, and we have one African American. So it's a very diverse team.

    Jenny Pleasants: I'm Jenny Pleasants and I'm here at Jordan-Matthews, a little late for the soccer game. We appear to be winning by four goals now. I'm watching my child, Meredith Pleasants. She's number 18 and she's a right wing. But the funny thing is, when you go to the soccer games, none of their parents speak English. So they all sit on one side and we all sit on the other. I don't understand a thing they're saying. How do you say, "Your kid's playing really good," if half the time you can't even pronounce the name, you know, and they don't understand anything you're saying?

    [Pleasants: Go, Shannon! Ohhhh.]

    Pleasants: But the biggest change, I'd have to say, would be at my pediatrician's. I grew up being able to walk in and they all knew who I was and I saw the same doctor and now when you go in, there's twenty Hispanic families and kids everywhere and they have - the lady up front speaks Spanish. I feel like I'm the minority, and that does bother me in a town that I grew up and raised my children in. It's like, "Do you have Medicaid, do you have your papers?" I'm like, "I've been coming here for eighteen years." That frustrates me to sit in a room with, you know, all these Hispanic families, and I know their children need healthcare too. But the change in the environment in the pediatrician's office is not like it was when you could just walk up to the window and say, "Hey, so and so's sick." It's just not what it was, why we went there to begin with.

    Cuadros: Well I've always described what a town like Siler City, or now what the country is going through, as sort of the five stages of dealing with grief, or dealing with immigration or cultural change. And you know, initially there might be denial, people saying, "Well, you know it's not really gonna change, it's not happening to our town." And when I got here, I heard a lot of depression from longtime residents, you know a real sense of loss of the community and the culture and everything that Siler City was.

    [Female radio announcer: We do have a thirty percent chance of showers, drizzle. We're 67 now and cloudy here at WNCA.]

    [Barry Hayes: Hey, do you drive a cool vehicle with those big after-market rims? Well, Wayne's Alignment Service in Siler city...]

    Hayes: I am Barry Hayes. I'm the Bear o' the Air at WNCA Radio AM 1570. I'm also the president, general manager of the company and the janitor, and I mow the yards. I'm from this area. I'm from central North Carolina. You know, I've been in Siler City about 25 years. I came here to manage this radio station and just fell in love with the town. It was a rural town, a blue collar town. Maybe 70 percent white, 30 percent black. Typical makeup of a small North Carolina town.

    Ilana Dubester: This is Ilana Dubester and I'm the past Executive Director of a local Latino center called El Vinculo Hispano, or Hispanic Liaison, in English. And we provide all kinds of direct services and advocacy. The agency, I helped start the agency with a group of people in the county back in 1995. I moved to North Carolina from Chicago. We wanted to find a place in the country to do organic farming. But I remember coming here in '91 or early '92 and I came downtown and walked around these streets that we're walking right now, and it was a pretty, uh, how do I say this nicely? A depressing scene. [laughs]. I don't know if there's a nicer way to say that. There were a few businesses downtown, but most of the downtown area, which is these two streets on Chatham Avenue, were boarded up. There was nothing. And certainly you know, as you can see from downtown, although it's still working itself up, you know most shops are now open and you see a lot of Latino businesses as well.

    Hayes: Siler City was an industrial town, but it was a dying industrial town. We were seeing jobs falling by the waysides and we were seeing the textile industry downsizing. We were seeing our furniture industry downsizing, our cotton mill was downsizing, and they continued to downsize for the next twenty years.

    Dubester: So '91, there were already, we already started to see a Latino immigration. And certainly I would notice people in supermarkets and stores and trying to read labels or trying to talk to people. And I remember going home scratching my head saying, "How? Why? What's going on here? Why are people here? How are they getting here?"

    Hayes: Well as we were losing some of our mainstream industry, the poultry industry was growing here in Siler City. And so they began attracting the Hispanics into this region.

    Dubester: Very active recruitment, in Mexico in particular. And they would give bonuses for people bringing more people because they were really in shortage of workers. They had, you know, chewed through the white population, chewed through the black population. Everybody over the years got their children to be better educated than themselves and, you know, moving on to other work. The best guess now is that Siler City is 50 percent Latino, about 5000 people.

    Hayes: I think the broader community here has welcomed our newcomers with open arms. The only rub is we would just like for them to obey our laws and learn some of our cultures here and keep clean yards.

    Dubester: Then in '96, the town created a Hispanic task force. Well needless to say, there were no Hispanics on the task force. So they created two brochures. First, the Spanish was really poor. It was hard to understand, some of it didn't make any sense, but it was about junk in your yard, domestic violence, drugs. No. Like in this country it's not OK to beat your wife. It was a very offensive brochure and made a lot of assumptions about us, and who we are, and who we aren't, and what we are about. And it was all about we're a bunch of criminals and we've got to learn how to behave.

    Hayes: Housing was a problem, too. We had folks who were moving in to vacant houses and then they would be inviting their relatives to come and pretty soon we would have a house with ten, 15, who knows, maybe 20 people living in one house and they'd be parking their cars all in the front yard and hanging their laundry out in the bushes and so forth. We had to deal with that a little bit and trying to educate them as to our ways here in Siler City.

    Cuadros: So you've got the depression and then you've got this sort of sense of fear of they're taking over. And then, you know, you have anger. And that's what we saw in 1999 - 2000 in Siler City, a lot of anger that eventually bubbled forth and culminated in this anti-immigrant rally that I think the town still tries to live down: The David Duke rally.

    [Sounds of the crowd cheering David Duke rally]

    David Duke: The truth and the reason why we're here today, is because we have a deep and abiding love for our heritage for this town that your fathers and mothers, and grandfathers, and great grandfathers and mothers, they built with their sweat and their sacrifice and their vision.

    Dubester: It was on the top of Town Hall. They maybe had fifty or sixty people: a couple hundred people on the outside of the event, a lot of them police officers, some curious people, some Latinos. But not many people.

    Duke: Ladies and gentlemen, what are we supposed to do? Just be quiet? Just keep our mouths shut while our country and our community and our town and our schools and our heritage is taken away from us? Is that what we're supposed to do? I say no! I say never!

    [Crowd applause and shouting]

    Hayes: This was brought in by an extremist group. This was not representative of the mindset here in Siler City at all. And we kind of hung our heads you know when that happened and couldn't wait for it to go away.

    Dubester: My sense, my opinion, is if that rally had been organized by some upstanding citizen and not tied to KKK, to the Grand Wizard, there would have been a lot more people. But because they had the KKK in it, with David Duke, I mean, who wants to be seen with the KKK? I mean a few do. And we know who we are, we've got their pictures. But not many people are willing to do that our days.

    Cuadros: So there's been some, maybe some good things that have come out of that Duke rally. But mostly it made people kind of think, you know, where they stood on this issue. Were they going to stand down there with David Duke and the Klan against the Latino population or were they going to try and find some other kind of accommodation to be able to live in that town?

    [Sound of car doors opening, bells]

    Tim Riffe: OK. Somewhere on that pad there's a bunch of stuff in red. Anywhere you want to start.

    Marcia Espinola: South town? Anywhere.

    Riffe: We can go anywhere you want to go. All right.

    Riffe: My name is Tim Riffe and I'm the code enforcement officer for the town of Siler City. There's a set of guidelines in the town code, or laws, they're actually laws that deals somewhat with aesthetics and things like that of the town, and my job is to enforce. And I try to use kid's gloves to do that. I don't try to, you know, scare anybody into anything or anything else. I ask them politely.

    Espinola: Tim is doing a good job. The problem is he doesn't speak enough Spanish. My name is Marcia Espinola and I'm the Associate Director for the Hispanic Liaison, El Vinculo Hispano. We were agreed that the community was needing some help.

    [Sounds of car doors opening, slamming]

    Riffe: What's that house number? Can you see that house number there, Marcia?

    [Sounds of knocking on door, door creaks open]

    Riffe: Hey, how are you?

    Espinola: Hola. Como estas? [Continues in Spanish]

    Riffe: Obviously he wasn't English-speaking and she explained to him that he needed to remove the sofa from the porch, interior furniture on the outside, which is not allowed by the town code. And she told him that he could take it inside or he could take it to the curb. The town offers free curb pickup once a week.

    [Espinola speaking to home resident in Spanish]

    Riffe: He may have not done the graffiti - someone else....

    Espinola: I said that. [Laughs]

    Riffe: Oh okay. All right. I had no clue what you said. [Laughs]

    Espinola: You want to say something else?

    Riffe: Just thanks for your cooperation. Thank you. Gracias.

    [Espinola and resident in Spanish]

    Espinola [to Riffe]: And he's going to remove the carpet, too.

    Riffe: OK. Good. Gracias.

    [Espinola speaks to resident in Spanish]

    [Sounds back in the car]

    Riffe: You know that some of these people came from some incredibly wretched living conditions. And you know, you don't know the customs and stuff.

    Espinola: We think that this is a good, big, big help for the town and for Tim. But more important than that is help for the Hispanic community. So some people say, well the Hispanics don't clean their yards and everything, but maybe it's because they don't understand the language. Because after we went last year, talking to, I don't know, ten places, twenty places?

    Riffe: Yeah.

    Espinola: Everybody cleaned their houses.

    Riffe: I've been here almost eight years. It's not nearly as bad as it was when I first came here.

    Espinola: So it's helped everybody. And hopefully he's going to speak Spanish next year. [Laughs]

    Riffe: Ha. I know about a hundred Spanish words, something like that, maybe two hundred now. I've been working on it.

    Calvin Dark: I just want to get a quesadilla de pollo.

    Waiter: Chicken? The regular or the-

    Dark: The regular. With arroz?

    Dark: My name is Calvin Dark. I'm 29. I was born and raised here in Siler City. I now live in Washington, D.C. So I've lived and studied abroad a lot, but I've always kind of kept the connection; I think because my family is here, all of my family on my mother's side and father's side. We're at probably one of my favorite restaurants in Siler City, San Felipe Mexican restaurant. In 2000, when I studied in Argentina, when I got back here I wanted to practice Spanish and everything, so the first thing I did was to tell my parents I wanted to eat Mexican food. They were not that excited about it at first because they'd never had Mexican food, they didn't know what it was. And my parents loved the food. That was a few years ago. Coming to the Mexican restaurant to get fajitas or quesadillas, it's not something, you know, exotic anymore. That's why I think this restaurant and several others have done a lot to just kind of like just open up the culture, to let people in Siler City know, you know, people eat just like we do here, you know?

    Waiter: Rice?

    Dark: Yeah.

    Waiter: Quesadilla?

    Dark: Gracias.

    Dark: Black people felt that we had a place here. Some parts of it were good and some parts of it were not good. My mother never went to an integrated high school. But it was a definite place. I've never felt anywhere - anything but at home here. But at the same time, having another group come in, it was very tense - very, very tense.

    [First Baptist Church band and congregation singing: God is real. Real in my soul.]

    Susan Alston: My name is Susan Alston and I'm a native of Siler city. I've been here life long and I'm Calvin Dark's aunt.

    [Alston singing: His love for me...is like pure gold...]

    Alston: Well my family history with First Baptist Church go back for, I guess, 70, 80 years with my grandmother being rooted there. In fact, the first minister there was our great uncle, uncle Doc Siler. And we have all just been there all our lives, just as a hand-me-down family. You're a Baptist, you go to First Baptist.

    [Alston and congregation singing: God is real and I can feel Him in my soul. Alston: Amen!]

    Dark: I'm Calvin Dark, and we're here on the Dark side because we have my Aunt Susie's house here. And then just over there is my grandmother's house. And then my Aunt Pookie's house is there. And next door to hers is my Aunt Betty's house.

    [Screen door creaks open, then slams]

    Calvin: This is my aunt Susie. You've probably already met. This is my aunt Pookie.

    Zylphia Dark: I'm Zylphia Dark. Zylphia. Z-y-l-p-h-i-a. They call me Pookie. I'm 63, be 64 on June the 4th. I retired from the government as a inspector in the plants last year, so I worked with the Latinos. But they are hardworking people, and I understand the reason why they are coming, because no work - and if they were poor like I was growing up, I can understand. Trying to feed your family, you'll about do anything. The work is really hard work in the poultry plant. And I think they treat them - well, to me, the Latinos are really taking place of the blacks, what we used to go through. But I'm a believer God made us and loves us all. And I try to treat people the way I want to be treated. Because you can find them, they'll do anything trying to make a living, you know. Help you out and do anything, where some people just on the back burner now, they think they're too good to work in the plants.

    Alston: I have a different point of view than my sister, which I love dearly, but we think differently. I mean, we look at the Hispanics as coming in because of their lack of necessities from Mexico. But then I ask myself, could we in turn do the same if we were to want to move to Mexico just by flood? And also I have to reflect upon the Haitians that they left out in the sea to drown. Do America want to answer why did we accept one race and just totally send one back? Was it by color? And yes, I believe that all of us are human. But to see the same things, the rights that I never had in high school, to just be able to go into a store without feeling the oppression of I'm taking something or I'm being watched. And that's just the way I feel. I don't hate the Hispanics. I just think they stepped into a place that we still haven't arrived at 2008.

    Cuadros: For white folks, you know it's kind of like a no-win situation for them. This is Paul Cuadros again, the soccer coach at Jordan-Matthews High School. If they've learned anything from the civil rights movement, from the history with African Americans, and then applying those things that they've learned to this new group of Latinos, then it feels like to African Americans that they're being stepped over, that you didn't treat us that way and now you're treating them that way. Why? So what are whites and Latinos supposed to do? Recreate this history all over again of oppression and misunderstanding? Or really learn from the history that's happened, of race relations in the U.S. and the South?

    [Sound of crowd chanting: Si, se puede! Si, se puede!]

    Cuadros: In 2006, we had the marches that happened all across the U.S. where immigrants decided that they needed to express their opposition to what was happening in Congress at the time; that was the same march that happened in Siler City as well.

    Dubester [speaking over loudspeaker]: Good afternoon and welcome to Siler City. For years I have been dreaming of this day!

    Dubester: This is Ilana Dubester. It wasn't an angry event. It was really about immigration reform and solidarity. And a lot of people spoke, a lot of African American leaders spoke, and a lot of people walked up to the mike and asked to speak. And so we filled up this whole block and the entire church parking lot with people and on top of Town Hall as well.

    Hayes: I'm Barry Hayes. This was a much larger turnout. The David Duke march maybe had two hundred people there. This one had over a thousand people, maybe fifteen hundred people.

    Dubester: We figured there were probably in total about five, six, seven thousand people.

    Hayes: I think the town just felt like that this was the wrong way to go about getting something. If you wanted to ask for something or gain the favor of the community that they were just going about it in totally the wrong way.

    Dubester: Tough shit. I mean, that's what it was about. It's OK if we're invisible, it's OK if we're silent, it's OK if we hide in our houses, it's OK if we break our backs and twist our hands cutting your fricking chicken. But for us to stand in front of your Town Hall demanding better services, demanding a better life and a better future, that's too much. You brown people stepped out of your place. Yeah. We want a new place. Look how many of us are here. We have power in this town. We don't actually have power, in terms of representation or anything, we don't have, right? But look at what's happening and look at what we can do.

    Cuadros: When I talk about those five stages, you know, this is really dealing with the loss of the culture. The culture's changing. And that's what makes this issue so volatile. The last stage of course, is acceptance. And I don't necessarily think that Siler City is totally there, but it's certainly not as angry as it used to be.

    [Sounds of soccer game. Virginia Tobar yells: Good job, Debra!]

    Virginia Tobar: Well my name is Virginia Tobar. I'm the interpreter here at the high school which - my friends call me Vicky and you'll find some students calling me Vicki, too. And I do a little bit of everything, not just interpreting but slash secretary, slash nurse, slash counselor, slash - [Laughs].

    [Sound of stadium announcer introducing players: "Meredith Pleasants."]

    Tobar: All right, Meredith!

    Pleasants: OK, I'm Jenny Pleasants, and I have a daughter that's a senior. And Miss Tobar has been at Jordan-Matthews for the last four years. And she's just one that kind of knows everybody.

    Tobar: Everybody.

    Pleasants: Everybody, no matter who they are, what grade they're in, where they go to church, whatever. And she can speak Spanish one second and then turn around and speak English to me when I walk in the door. I don't know a thing she said five minutes before, but it's like, whatever. It works! [Tobar laughing] She really is a gem to Jordan-Matthews.

    Tobar: Aw, well thank you.

    Pleasants: She is a gem. We're very lucky.

    Tobar: Well thanks.

    Tobar: As far as a coach, I mean awesome coach, too, Coach Cuadros. I think he's been just a positive impact on this school, too, 'cause I mean we just started our soccer team. It's been just a few years, which we didn't have a soccer team as far as the boys and the girls.

    Cuadros: A small town's identity is usually wrapped up with its high school, its schools. The most visible part of that school is on its athletic fields.

    [Sound of drums, band, and crowd at Jordan-Matthews football game]

    Cuadros: Now Siler City's a real football town, a very traditional sports town. There was a lot of resistance to the soccer program at the high school, initially - late nineties, early turn of the century. I had never really brought it up as being an outlet for Hispanic students. It was always to be a program open to anyone who could play. But it was quickly seen as something for the Latino students at the school.

    John Pleasants: Paul had a hard time getting, really, the access to the fields. And he came to our Rotary and some more people got involved and they decided to go ahead and start a soccer team and let the field be used. John Pleasants from Siler City, I grew up here and I've traveled around and I'm back here raising my kids. I love this town and I love the area. 'Course now you've got a great involvement. They won the state championships with the boys and the girls team, as you can see, it's got great camaraderie out there. They don't really care where their background is. They're all great kids that enjoy each other.

    [Sound of crowd roaring. Jenny Pleasants screams: Whoooooo!]

    John Pleasants: My daughter just scored! [John and Jenny laugh]

    Cuadros: What the Jets did, it was real big. It got the long-term residents to look at these kids as one of their own. These kids were not just Latino kids; they were Jets.

    [Francisco in Spanish: Soy Francisco....]

    Voiceover: I am Francisco. I'm here watching the game with my two daughters, Helen and Madeline, and all the other fans that are here watching. It's beautiful. We're here supporting our girls.

    [Sound of fan: Debra!]

    Debra: I think it's good to have different people in the team, especially white girls, 'cause you get to know them better and you realize that it's not how others say that sometimes they are being racist. But like, the girls on my soccer team they like invite us to their house and have like food and play out there. And that's cool. I think it's great to have friends that they're from different countries because you learn from them and they learn from you.

    Cuadros: When people talk about this immigration question, it's not about immigration. It's about demographic change. You can deport all 12 million undocumented immigrants - I don't know how many of them are Hispanic, the majority might be - but the demographic change is still going to happen. It's all about when the country becomes majority-minority, it becomes all mixed up. And that loss of power, numbers, whatever, that frightens a lot of people. But change is inevitable. It's one of the physical laws of the universe. Nothing stays the same, everything changes. And that's a good thing.

    Jenny Pleasants: Go, Yadira! Good job! Way to hustle!

    Smith: This is Stephen Smith. In the summer of 2008, one of Siler City's two major chicken processing plants, Pilgrim's Pride, closed. It cost the town more than 800 jobs. Some of the Latinos who'd held those jobs left but there was no mass exodus. Many Latinos have family members working in other local industries. They say they've put down roots in Siler City and hope to stay.

    Smith: You're listening to Pueblo USA, an American RadioWorks documentary from American Public Media. I'm Stephen Smith. Coming up: Chief Economics Correspondent Chris Farrell on immigration and money.

    Chris Farrell: This rundown street has turned into a thriving neighborhood and it's all because of immigrants.

    Smith: To see photos of Siler City, North Carolina, visit our Web site at American RadioWorks.org. There you can download this and other American RadioWorks programs by signing up for our podcast. That's all at American RadioWorks.org.

    Pueblo USA is part of our project: "The Real Face of Poverty," sustained coverage of poverty and opportunity in the United States. Support for the series comes from Northwest Area Foundation. Major funding for American RadioWorks comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Stay with us, our program continues in just a moment from American Public Media.


    Part 2

    Woman: Me das uno de pollo, no cebolla y no tomate...

    Smith: You're listening to Pueblo, USA, an American RadioWorks documentary from American Public Media. I'm Stephen Smith. We're spending the hour hearing how immigration is changing American society - not in the predictable places like Los Angeles or New York - but in towns like Siler City, North Carolina and Minneapolis, Minnesota.

    Farrell: I'll have a torta and an orange soda.

    Woman: Torta y carnitas or...

    Smith: This sprawling indoor market on Lake Street in Minneapolis is a sign of how much things have changed. Lake Street used to be full of peep shows and liquor stores, boarded-up shops. Now the place is alive with Latino businesses like this noisy food court and marketplace.

    Voice: Treinta-nueve! Diet coke or Coke regular? Diet coke.

    Farrell: This is a great example of how immigrants can give a boost to a community.

    Smith: That's Economics Correspondent Chris Farrell, who has spent a lot of time on Lake Street. Chris, you and I have lived here in the Twin Cities for many years, why particularly focus on this neighborhood?

    Farrell: Lake Street's transformation is a good illustration of why many economists believe immigrants are good for the economy. We hear a lot of negative stories about immigrants: rising crime, unemployment. But I think there's a much more positive story to tell. Even though many of the immigrants we met live on the edge.

    [Sound of whistling, garage sounds, power tools, drilling, banging]

    Smith: You see a lot of car repair shop on Lake Street and Chris Farrell has been visiting one of them for months. A guy named Alfredo runs the place. Alfredo got hired 11 years ago to fix flats and change the oil. But soon he may own the garage.

    Alfredo: I'm the store manager. But I'm buying the business, just the business, not the property.

    Smith: Alfredo is an illegal immigrant from Mexico. He's got phony work papers. But it didn't take long for him to get promoted to assistant manager. Alfredo was good with customers and hungry to learn English.

    Alfredo: So I started watching movies, a lot of movies, listening to the radio. Let's say I don't know what the word means, and I always ask, how do you say this in present, past, and future. That's how I learned it.

    Farrell: Your English is good.

    Alfredo: Thank you.

    Smith: Alfredo came to Minneapolis with his girlfriend, Norma. Now they have two children. They're all down at the garage one Saturday afternoon after closing time with a half dozen employees. In an empty repair bay, Alfredo is cooking pork ribs on a gas grill.

    Alfredo: We put lime, salt and we put the beer on top of it. That's the secret.

    Farrell: And you don't take swigs while you're-

    Alfredo: Well that's kind of like, ha! - we do that too! [laughter]

    Smith: At Alfredo's garage no one talks about legal status because here, it doesn't matter.

    Alfredo: They present papers, that's all that matters. They have to show us they are legal. Maybe they are not but it's not my job to find out if they are or not. You know, there's a lot of people they make documents and we buy them. That's the only way you can work. It's not legal, but what can you do?

    Smith: So Chris Farrell, Alfredo's garage seems to me like a great example of why some Americans fear they're losing their jobs to immigrants. I mean aren't Alfredo and his workers taking jobs that Americans could have?

    Farrell: They're probably taking some. But overall, I don't think so. I need an analogy to explain this. Let's go buy a pie.

    Smith: A pie?

    Farrell: Humor me.

    [Sound of door chimes ringing]

    Smith: This is Guayaquil, which is a restaurant on Lake Street in Minneapolis and this place offers postres, which means dessert.

    Waitress: Can I help you?

    Farrell: I'd like a pie.

    Waitress: We don't have any but we have flan and piņa colada cake.

    Farrell: I'll have flan.

    Waitress: All right.

    Smith: So here's the flan. It is not a pie, it's a kind of egg custard.

    Farrell: Right, but at least it's round. So to my analogy, if I cut myself a big piece, there's less flan for you, right? Well this is how a lot of people think about the job market; there are only so many jobs. If Latino immigrants take a big slice, there's less for American citizens.

    Smith: There's only so much flan. But cheap Mexican labor is taking away jobs and driving down wages.

    Farrell: Not exactly. The flan metaphor or the pie metaphor is wrong. The economy is not a flan, where the more you take the less I get. Now immigrants do affect wages, especially at the unskilled end of the market. But the impact is relatively minor and there are other important considerations.

    Smith: Such as...

    Farrell: Well the language barrier, for example. Since many Latinos aren't fluent in English they don't compete for the same jobs as native-born Americans. You don't necessarily need English to be a janitor or a housekeeper.

    Smith: So to strain your metaphor, we're not eating the same flan. I'm eating a flan you don't want anyway.

    Farrell: Right. Also some businesses take advantage of immigrant labor to expand, and that investment creates new jobs. And last, the Hispanic workers and entrepreneurs on Lake Street, they're also consumers. And all that shopping creates demand for everything from cleaning crews to store cashiers.

    Smith: Well in fact we see that at the grocery store on Lake Street where Alfredo's family shops every week.

    Norma: You found it? Oh thank you! This is one good cheese cotilla cheese. You can use for everything you want.

    Alfredo: Chiles. Chiles rellenos.

    Alfredo's son: Even this one.

    Norma: Oaxaca. This product is good.

    Smith: Alfredo and his family are loyal customers here at Cub Foods. It's the first major grocery store along Lake Street to stock its aisles with Mexican products.

    Cashier: Hello, how you guys doing?

    Alfredo: Good, how you doing?

    Cashier: I'm good, thank you.

    Alfredo: When you're in the neighborhood you gotta do business right with the neighbors.

    Cashier: Yes exactly. Exactly.

    Alfredo: We used to live on Minnehaha and 35th so we've been shopping here for almost 11 years.

    Cashier: Oh really? Good experiences I hope.

    Alfredo: Yeah.

    Smith: Alfredo and Norma load their groceries into a minivan, the kind with leather seats and two drop-down DVD players. They've prospered in Minneapolis. Alfredo's done so well at the garage that Norma doesn't have to work. She stays home with their two children, and she learns English from them.

    Norma: I have my private teacher, Alfred. He teach me a lot.

    Alfred: Yeah, I charge her.

    Alfredo: And Adally, she's the Spanish teacher.

    Alfred: No she isn't.

    Adally: Yes I am!

    Alfred: She's just a girl.

    Adally: Nah ah! Como se dice, hello?

    Smith: Three years ago, the family paid $100,000 for a house in a rundown neighborhood close to Lake Street. They planted a neat lawn, they put up a white picket fence, and inside, the house is completely redone.

    Alfredo: While she's finish cooking, let's go downstairs.

    Alfredo: This is my - our Jacuzzi. We got a Jacuzzi here. All those right here are my ideas. They way it is, all came right out of my mind. I didn't need any architect or something. You kind of picture what I want. I said, I want that thing up there, I want a Jacuzzi here and I want all the tile right behind and they said well you pay the way you want it.

    Smith: So Alfredo's put a lot of money into his place.

    Farrell: That's money that supports local business and stores. Immigrants like Alfredo are consumers, workers, entrepreneurs, and in all those roles they provide more jobs and opportunities.

    Smith: So Chris Farrell, they help the economy grow but don't they also cost something? I mean, taxpayers end up supporting them, right?

    Farrell: Immigrants are taxpayers too. Even illegal immigrants, many of them file income taxes. And if they're on a payroll, they're paying into Medicare and Social Security, even though they'll never collect benefits. What else? State sales taxes, property taxes, too.

    Smith: But don't they take out more than they put in?

    Farrell: It's a complicated equation. In the short run in terms of education, health care, other public services, they use more services than they pay taxes for; but over a longer period of time, probably not.

    Smith: But I would assume that say, for example, that it costs more to educate the kids of immigrants in public schools.

    Farrell: No question. And poor Hispanic students are behind on test scores. The dropout rate - it's way too high. But the really important point is how much better are U.S.-born children of immigrants doing compared to their parents? There are more high school graduates, there are more college graduates, and in the long run they become contributors to the economy.

    Smith: Actually I think we can see what you're talking about with Alfredo's kids. They were born here. They're doing really well. His seventh grader just won a national leadership award.

    Farrell: And if the family can raise the money, he'll head to Washington, D.C. to meet President Bush.

    Smith: Yeah that was the plan before the Minneapolis police raided Alfredo's garage.

    Alfredo: This used to be the place where I storaged my files. They took it all.

    Smith: The police also broke down the door of Alfredo's home. Norma was hiding in a basement closet.

    [Sound of door creaking]

    Alfredo: She closed this door right here and she was in here. They came with the gun like this. She was scared to death. She was hiding here.

    Smith: A criminal investigation is underway. But no one's been arrested yet. The search warrants say Alfredo may be guilty of identity theft.

    Alfredo: They didn't came and look for me, they came and looked for information.

    Smith: Following the raid, Alfredo spends days in his van, driving to law offices, weighing his options. He's been using someone else's Social Security number. He bought it years ago back in California, when he and Norma first crossed the border illegally from Mexico.

    Alfredo: One guy approached me and said, "You need papers?" And I said, "Sure. How much?" $50 for the Social Security card and $100 for the green card. We bought both because we need something to start working. We don't know who the Social Security numbers belong to. I'm going to the bank [cell phone rings] to try and see if I can refinance my house.

    Alfredo: [on the phone] Orjan! How you doing? I'm doing good. What can I do for you, sir?

    Smith: Alfredo stays cheerful for his customers, but really he's worried about safeguarding his property and his reputation.

    Alfredo: It's really bad because one day I was the happiest guy in the world and now I'm one really sad person because they made me feel like I'm a criminal when I'm not.

    Smith: Chris Farrell, Alfredo was able to hire both a criminal defense lawyer and an immigration attorney but most illegal immigrants can't afford to do that. And he still may get deported even though he has built a successful business in the United States, has a solid family life, he might even face criminal penalties.

    Farrell: Well he did break the law. He used a Social Security number that belongs to someone else.

    Smith: A lot of illegal immigrants are in the same position though, Chris. They use false Social Security numbers to get work.

    Farrell: And that makes them vulnerable. It makes it easier for employers to exploit them. And they're afraid to complain because then the authorities might notice them and they'll get deported.

    Smith: Alfredo isn't afraid. He said he wants his story told even if he and his family aren't sure what will happen to them. The last time we see Alfredo, he's playing volleyball here in a Minneapolis park with family and friends. Pork ribs and corn are stacked beside the grill. Teenaged boys are flaunting their moves with a soccer ball. Women cluster around the little kids. Alfredo's first grader and her cousin sing a song they learned in school

    Girls : [singing] A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P....

    Smith: If Alfredo is deported he'll leave this community behind. His daughter Adally and son Alfred will leave the only country they've ever known.

    Farrell: How's it affecting Alfred?

    Alfredo: He's really upset. He's saying, "I wish I can be the president." I said, "You can be president, you're an American citizen." He said, "I will do some changes," because he feels like the way they came to my house and broke the door, broke into it, he said that's not appropriate. We explained to him that you know that's their job, that's what they had to do.

    Smith: But even though Alfred, the son, was born in the United States and is a citizen, he may be moving to Mexico. If his father, Alfredo, gets deported, the rest of the family will go back too.

    Alfredo: When this happened to me, that kind of broke my heart, seriously. Once again, I can be in my house crying and say, "Oh why me? Why me? Why this happens to me?" Or I can be out and show that I can do better. I mean I love this country. That's why I want to stay here.

    Smith: Many illegal workers and their families aren't staying, however. They're going back because of the government crackdown. The raids seem to be working. Arrests at the border are down and deportations are up.

    Farrell: It's not just stronger law enforcement; the influx of Latinos ebbs and flows with the economy. When the economy is strong and employers are holding up 'help wanted' signs, illegal and legal immigrants come here. But when the economy contracts and employers are handing out pink slips, unauthorized workers leave.

    Smith: Or they don't come here in the first place.

    Farrell: That's right. But the economy will recover, and migrants will return, legally and illegally. Over the long haul, the evidence will come out the same: Immigrants, legal or not, benefit the nation's economy far more than they cost it.

    Smith: Even if immigration is good for the economy, it's controversial. Many Americans remain deeply uneasy about the new people moving into town, especially if those new people arrived here illegally. What to do about immigration remains one of the great divides this political season. But no matter what the politicians do, it's clear that this new wave of immigration is changing the United States. No group will have a bigger impact than Latinos. By the year 2050, Latinos will be nearly a third of the population; putting down roots in Pueblo, USA.

    Smith: Pueblo, USA was produced by John Biewen and Tennesse Watson of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and by Laurie Stern and Chris Farrell of American RadioWorks. It was edited by Catherine Winter. We had help from Ellen Guettler, Ochen Kaylan, Nancy Rosenbaum, Suzanne Pekow, Ariel Kitch, and Sam Keenan. I'm Stephen Smith.

    To find out how immigrants become citizens, visit our Web site, American RadioWorks.org. There you can also listen to this program again as well as hear our entire catalogue of nearly 100 documentaries. That's at American RadioWorks.org.

    Pueblo, USA is part of The Real Face of Poverty, sustained coverage of poverty and opportunity in the United States. Support for this series comes from the Northwest Area Foundation. Major funding for American RadioWorks comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


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