The Latino South
One of the most notable migratory patterns in recent decades is Latino migration, settlement, and community formation in non-traditional destinations in the US South. In the 1990s, there was a Latino population boom driven by immigration and high fertility rates, and the dispersion of the population became evident in urban, suburban, and rural communities throughout the South. These settlements are much smaller than the communities that formed in traditional gateway cities; however, the rate of population growth and community formation is what sets these places apart. Hence, it is speed, not size, that is defining Latino population growth in southern states. An examination of the geography and demography of “new destinations” revealed that the initial population of immigrants tended to be foreign born, young, undocumented, Mexican, and attracted to the employment opportunities. In less than two decades, however, this migration transitioned “from a seasonal, agricultural migration of young mexicanos into Georgia and North Carolina to a regional settlement of Latino families from other US cities and towns, all parts of Mexico, and much of Central and South America.”[i] Between 2000 and 2010, Mississippi and Tennessee were among the top 10 states in the nation for Latino population growth.
There was little growth in Memphis’ small Latino population of 5,225 between 1980 and 1990; however, between 1990 and 2000 the population increased by an astounding 333.6%. In contrast, the non-Latino white population declined over the last four decades—from 331,779 in 1980, 266,490 in 1990, 216,174 in 2000, to 177,735 in 2010—while the number of Latinos continued to increase. Between 2000 and 2010 there was a 117.3% change when the population grew from 19,317 to 41,994. Some migrants were drawn to the employment opportunities in the construction industry or to jobs in the many warehouses. In Memphis, the communities of Berclair, Hickory Hilll and Nutbush became “receiving communities” where new immigrants began settling in the early 90s. Although Latinos were present throughout the South since at least the early twentieth century, these early Latino communities “have not lingered in the collective memories of these locales.”[ii] However, in the contemporary south the Latinization of communities demands attention and becomes evident through the concentration of Latino residents and Latino-owned businesses, like those that can be found on Memphis’ Summer Avenue.
[i] Jamie Winders and Barbara Ellen Smith, “Excepting/accepting the South: New geographies of Latino migration, new directions in Latino studies,” Latino Studies Journal, Volume 10, Issue 1-2 (2012): 222.
[ii] Ibid., 222-223.
From Memphis, TN to Oxford, MS
“I mean, like I say, I haven’t had a food business like this in my life. I started like three years ago. My grandma helped me out. We had to do this, had to do that. My sister-in-law helped me out with the salsas. And that is the secret, the salsas.”
Manuel Chavez was born in Mexico City on October 12, 1966. Twenty-two years ago he came to the United States, and worked in the construction industry. Three years ago he opened Taco Torro, but was only open on weekends to make extra money. The success of the business led Chavez to dedicate more time to Taco Torro, and involve his family. His mother-in-law taught him how to cook, and helped him for the first year and a half. The outdoor taco shop serves street tacos and quesadillas with the option of Chavez’ unique offerings, which include buche (pork stomach) and lengua (tongue). The secret, according to Chavez, is the sauces: tomatillo with jalapeno peppers or chile de arbol with tomatoes. Customers claim they feel like they are in the streets of Mexico when they come to Taco Torro. Both his daughter and wife help run the operation.
Mirna Garcia and Maryury Rodriguez,
Mi Tierra Restaurant
Business partners Mirna Lissette Garcia and Maryury Rodriguez opened Mi Tierra Restaurant on Memphis' Summer Avenue in October of 2003. Mirna Garcia was born in Guatemala City on November 17, 1964 and Maryury Rodriguez was born in Colombia on August 29, 1959. Mirna migrated to Chicago when she was fourteen years old and in 1995 decided to move to Memphis with her son. Maryury spent thirteen years living in Chicago before moving to Memphis, where she has lived for the past seventeen years. Mirna was a pre-school teacher in Illinois with no experience in the restaurant industry. After moving to Memphis, however, she found employment in one of the first Mexican restaurants opening in Memphis where she learned everything she knows, from dishwashing to cooking. Maryury's brother is the owner of a restaurant in Chicago, and helped the two women get their business started as they strive to give Memphis a little of Colombia, and preserve the culture. They later diversified their menu and added Mexican cuisine since their customers were not familiar with Colombian food. Their unique vision transformed the interior of the building to replicate the houses that can be found in Colombia. After 10pm the lights of the restaurant go down and the music of Latin America pulsates through the restaurant as customers enjoy the sounds of cumbia, salsa, merengue and reggaeton.