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WHAT COLUMBUS NEVER IMAGINED

by Ariel Dorfman *

Compare SupermarketThere is a store I visit from time to time, for convenience’s sake or to indulge in nostalgia, where I can find all of Latin America on display.

Under the roof of one vast supermarket I savor the presence of the continent where I was born, go back, so to speak, to my own plural origins. On one shelf, Nobleza Gaucha, the yerba mate my Argentine parents used to sip every morning in their New York exile -- my mother with sugar, my father in its more bitter version. Even to contemplate the bag that this grass herb comes in, allows me to recall how anxiously mi mamá y mi papá awaited shipments from the authoritarian Buenos Aires they had escaped in the forties. A bit further along in the store, I come upon leche condensada en una lata, the sort I would sip from a can on adolescent camping trips into the mountains of Chile, where my family moved when I was twelve. And nearby, a tin of Nido, the powdered milk my wife Angélica and I first fed our son Rodrigo as a baby, almost half a century ago in Santiago. Or Nesquik para niños, the chocolate we relied on to sweeten the existence of our younger son Joaquín, when he accompanied us back to Chile after many years of exile from Pinochet’s dictatorship.

Origins, however, are never merely personal, but deeply collective, and especially so for Latin Americans such as myself, who feel an entrañable fellowship with natives from other unfortunate countries of our region. A stubborn history of thwarted dreams has led to a shared sense of purpose and sorrow, hope and resilience,  which joins us all emotionally, beyond geographic destiny or national boundaries. To stroll up and down the grocery aisles of that store is to reconnect with the people and the lands and the tastebuds of those brothers and sisters and to partake, however vicariously, in meals being planned and prepared at that very moment in millions and millions of homes everywhere in the hemisphere. There is canela from Perú and queso crema from Costa Rica and café torrado e moido (O sabor do campo na sua casa) from Brasil. There is coconut juice from the Caribbean and frijoles of every possible and impossible variety and maíz tostado from Mexico and bunches of fresh apio/celery from the Dominican Republic (they look like tiny twisted idols) and hierbas medicinales para infusiones from who knows where, and albahaca and ajonjoli and linaza and yuca and malanga and chicharrones de cerdo and chicharrones de harina.

If you were to go to Sao Paolo or Caracas or Quito, if you were to try to shop for this assortment of staples or delicacies in San Salvador or La Paz or Bogotá, if you were to ask in any major or minor city of Latin America where you might be able to pick your way through such a plethora of culinary choices in one location, you would be told that a place like that does not exist anywhere in that country. There is no shop in Rio de Janeiro, for instance, that next to an array of carioca fare would allow you to select among eighteen multiplicities of chile peppers and buy Tampico punch and sample some casabe bread.

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MIGRANTS KEEP SMALL-BUSINESS FAITH

The study confirms that business ownership remains a favored way to earn a living among immigrants. The latest surge in immigrant business owners began in the 1980s, when the country experienced a large wave of newcomers from Latin America and Asia.

The study downplays the role of immigrant-founded technology titans, such as Yahoo Inc. and Google Inc. Like a century ago, immigrant firms remain more likely to be mom-and-pop stores, which thrive despite the predominance of big-box retailers and the growth of online shopping.

"A bigger part of the immigrant business story is still the bread-and-butter grocery store, restaurant and retail shop, as well as doctors' offices, taxi services and dry cleaners," said David Kallick, principal author of the FPI report.

Traditionally, immigrants established businesses in enclaves of big cities that boast large populations from the same country, making it possible to operate with little or no English.

But in the past decade or so, many Asian and Latin American newcomers have rooted ethnic eateries and grocery stores in small towns in the U.S. heartland. In Schuyler, Neb., a meatpacking town of just 6,211 people, Mexican and Guatemalan immigrants have flocked to B Street, transforming a neighborhood where storefronts had stood vacant for years

"Our downtown is mostly immigrant businesses now," said Mayor David Reinecke. "If they weren't here, we'd be dying."

Delfino Bello emigrated from Mexico unable to speak English. Now, he runs three popular Mexican restaurants about 40 miles from Chicago.

In 1995, Mr. Bello opened his first eatery, called "El Faro," in a shopping strip in Bartlett, Ill., that had fallen on hard times. As the taqueria flourished, it attracted other businesses. A few years later, he opened restaurants in Elgin and East Dundee, serving a clientele that includes both immigrants and Americans.

"I had nothing, nothing when I arrived in this country," said Mr. Bello, 55 years old. If the economy continues to recover, he says he plans to open a fourth restaurant.

National Supermarket Association represents independent supermarket owners, including many Dominican immigrants who started as small grocers in New York's Hispanic neighborhoods. Now, many have found a niche by moving into non-immigrant, low-income areas in the city and beyond.

"They're not small businesses anymore," said Ramona Hernandez, a professor at the City College of New York who studies Dominican entrepreneurship. "They're chains that move billions of dollars each year."

The FPI study found that immigrants concentrate in some industries, such as taxi services, dry cleaners and gas stations. They also have a large presence in lodging and restaurants.

Mexicans, the single largest group of immigrants, own the greatest number of immigrant-owned small firms. They are followed by immigrants from India, Korea, Cuba, China and Vietnam.

Immigrants from countries with relatively small numbers in the overall population, such as Greece, are disproportionately more likely to own businesses, while immigrant women are twice as likely as U.S.-born women to be business owners.

The FPI found that the largest number of Indian-born small-business owners are in education, health and social services, followed by leisure and hospitality and computers and technology.

In the medical field, Indians have helped offset a shortage of primary-care doctors and dentists in some parts of the U.S.

India-born dentist Savpreet S. Dhami and his family moved to Cortland, N.Y., 35 miles from Syracuse, in 2005, where he joined an Indian-owned practice. After six years, Dr. Dhami, 48, got a $600,000 bank loan and bought a practice from a retiring dentist in nearby Cicero. Since opening in December, he has more than doubled his staff and recently invested in a $30,000 digital x-ray machine

Dr. Dhami says he hopes to bring another dentist into the practice, and in three or four years he hopes to open another practice. "Only in America can you become owner of a business like this," he said.

The New York State Association of Black & Puerto Rican Legislators Recognizes Supermarket Owner Rodolfo Fuertes


ALBANY, NY--The New York State Association of Black & Puerto Rican Legislators honored Rodolfo Fuertes with the Louis Nine Award for his contributions to the advancement of the Latino community in the United States. A prominent entrepreneur and leader in the supermarket industry, Fuertes is a board member of the National Supermarket Association.

This award is presented to one who labors vigorously for expanded opportunities for Hispanics. This individual has upheld the dignity and has furthered the culture of Americans of Hispanic Heritage by promoting bilingual and multicultural programs as well as facilitating the greater integration of Hispanics into the mainstream of American society.

Senator Adriano Espaillat presented the award to Fuertes in February during the 2012 Annual Legislative Conference Weekend in Albany, NY. The theme of the conference was “Open Doors to Empowerment.”

“I am truly honored and humbled to receive this award on behalf of the many immigrants who come to this country to pursue a dream, work hard and open doors for those who come behind. The Latino community is a major force in this country, and as a Dominican I feel especially proud to represent my people with this recognition”, said Fuertes after receiving the award.

The Members of the NYS Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators, Inc., are united by a common interest in empowering and revitalizing peoples and communities, particularly African-American and Puerto Rican, and extended to also include Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans and other minorities.

 

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