A little over a week ago, our fair town made the Today show in a segment called Immigration In America. The reason our town made the news, is that in 1990, we had little diversity in our town and now 23 years later, we have the fastest growing Hispanic population in our country. Most of it can be contributed to a large meat packing plant that actively began recruiting them but once the core population was established, it became self substaining and then some. In fact, where every town in a 100 mile radius is losing population to large urban centers, our town has remained steady and even gained a little here and there.
One of the benefits for me is that for the first time since high school, I actually have an excuse to practice my three years of studying the Spanish language. Boy am I rusty. Part of it is because I learned Spain Spanish and not Mexico Spanish but the biggest reason for being rusty is that somehow 20 years passed between then and now.
Another good thing is that we have more Mexican restaurants in this town than you can shake a stick at. Even better, they are authentic Mexican food and not the Americanized version that you find everywhere else. Just the other day my wife and I ate at a new to us restaurant and my wife had tongue tacos and I must say after nibbling a bit of hers, they were to die for. Before that, we ate at a burrito show that can best be described as Mexican burritos meets Subway. You start at one end choosing your tortilla, mine being a jalepeno tortilla that was awesome. You then move down the line choosing your ingredients of meat, veggies and sauces. By the time I was done, my burrito was about three inches in diameter and almost more than I could handle. It wasn't gourmet by any means but it was pretty delicious.
On the way back from the taco place, we decided to stop by a Mexican grocery store ran by an acquaintance of mine that I had recently met. Like most Filipino stores that I am familiar with, his store was small and had a little bit of everything. I've been on the hunt to make the perfect Arroz Con Pollo (vegetables with chicken) since I ate the tastiest version I've had in my life at yet another Mexican restaurant here in town. Last time my version of Spanish rice needed lots of work and though I bought some Mexican type cheese, it didn't melt smoothly and came out in clumps and strings. I found some new cheese at the Mexican grocery store that was almost reduced to a fine powder. I hope it works out better. We were also looking for a local source for rice and though this store did carry our type of rice, they only had five pound bags. We go through a 50 pound bag every nine months or so they didn't have enough in stock to meet our needs.
I belong to a fraternal order which every other chapter I have visited, is poorly attended and mostly old white men. When I switched my membership over to this town, it did have a few more younger white men but has recently seen an explosion of young Hispanic men. Unlike their older white counterparts, they are ambitious and truly want to do good deeds through the order. Since many of them don't have driver's licenses, I took a van load up to a larger town north of here a few weekends ago to get their second and third degrees out of the possible four. I had a great time trying out my limited Spanish and they were probably relieved since only one of the five spoke enough English to get by. The others only knew maybe a handful of two word sentences and that was it.
A few of the ones I have met, were born here in the U.S. to Mexican immigrants or brought here as babies. A few were more recent arrivals. Not knowing legal status and not really wanting to know at this point, I was hesitant to talk immigration politics with this group but the one that spoke the most English brought it up and we talked for a bit about it. I look forward to expanding my knowledge on the subject from their point of view in the upcoming months or years but I think from our brief discussion that we both feel the current system is broke and needs to be fixed for modern times.
So to sum things up, I grew up in a white community without exposure to other cultures and that continued for most of the first 30 years of my life. Then I moved to a town that held a cult university with people from all over the globe that comprised almost 20% of the population. After getting used to the cult, it was nice to enjoy the diversity that they brought. Then I moved to this town just featured on the Today Show, which has an 11% population of Hispanics and growing. Although I miss the Indian, Middle East, French and Asian influences seen around the other town, it is nice to see the Hispanic influence taking root here. And besides, the other town is only 20 miles away so I can visit it as needed to get my other ethnic fixes.