Living in America

Meet the neighbors

Then, in 1965, I got involved in social work. Not long after, there was the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act. Working in conjunction with the program, I was able to go to some of the migrant farms and get some of the kids to enroll in the training program. That was my job for about three years. At that time we had a halfway house, where people who were settling out of the migrant stream were allowed to stay there. The optimal time was 30 days--sometimes 60, sometimes 90 in the most severe cases.

Then along came an opportunity to work for Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services. My job was to go out and investigate any claims made against the farmers by migrant workers and find out what their beef was against the company. During that time there were companies that would recruit--in San Antonio, El Paso, and other border towns--say, 300 people for each area. The workers would come up here looking for a job, and what happened was, the farmer would take bids to see who would do the job for a lesser amount. After traveling that far, the migrant workers had no choice but to bid low for that job, which eliminated a lot of their wages.

And then the farmers also did this: In the contract, the farm would be sized at 300 acres. It was in the contract. But sometimes it would say "about 300." I'd go investigate. Did that mean 350 acres? What did that mean? So they would have fewer workers for more land. That was always our dilemma.

I have three kids and a wife, and I'm 56 years old, born in 1947. I do new-home warranty and furnish homes now, and remodeling and building. I'm in the construction business, for about 12 years. Before that, I was building cabinets and elevator panels. My family lives here, but I'm up by the Macalester area. We left the neighborhood about eight years ago.

It's changed a lot. When my wife lived here, about three blocks from where we are now, every parent knew everybody else's kid. There was nothing a kid could do without a parent finding out, because everybody was so close. We could walk around on weekends at 11:00 o'clock at night, all the lights worked, nothing was broken, and none of the kids would do anything wrong. At one point, the families wanted to get out of a crime-ridden area. The families changed, and didn't follow that tradition of knowing each other. There are still some of the old families here, but it's not like it was before.

Because we are primarily a Hispanic neighborhood, people who come from other countries feel comfortable staying here. But they come with what I assume would be a short stay. The Hispanics come in for five, six months, but what makes it such a short stay is the winters. And the type of work, of course, it's seasonal.

Racism is easier when it's more exposed than when it's hidden. It's more hidden now, but it's still there. I remember going to the [town square] in San Antonio at five or six years old, and seeing the two water fountains, with the signs, for coloreds only and for whites only. And I always wondered, being in the middle, which was for me. Which one do I drink out of? To me, at that time, it wasn't something that I really dwelled on.

For example, we always had slingshots. I had one too. I didn't know it at the time, I had no idea what the name of that thing was, because everybody down there called it a "nigger-shooter." And I had no idea that was some kind of racist thing, because I was a kid. It wasn't until years later that I realized this thing was not named for what it really was. That was something that really amazed me, that I practiced those kinds of racism unknowingly.

It's not so widespread anymore. People have learned that, because of the laws, there are certain things you can't say in public. But there are still certain things that people will say in private. The laws keep it out of the public, but that doesn't do anything for the normal minority person in private. They still have that racism they have to face.

 

Jemar Taylor

I've been here six months. I'm from Chicago originally, the south side. I'm just tryin' to change up. It's pretty violent in Chicago. I got two kids here and I'm tryin' to get them a different environment, you know. We're right over there in 199C.

It's pretty cool here. But we got a car here that somebody wrote "Fuck black people" on it. I don't even like saying it. You know, somebody was scratching up the paint job on it. So, I have real mixed feelings about it. I really can't say who did it, because I don't like to point fingers, but somebody in the neighborhood's been doing it. It happens when I'm at home. I do feel violated.

My son is nine, my daughter's five, I'm 25. I was working at Prospect Foundries, but I got laid off because they kind of caught up with the work. It's a seasonal kind of job, and if they're behind they call up. I'm a grinder and a welder now. Never done it before, that was my first time doin' it.

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