Hit the Road, Juan

Why is Montgomery, Minnesota, dislocating Latino residents?

"What happened is the Twin Cities just kept getting closer and closer, like a glacier, and all of a sudden the glacier melted and it turned into a tidal wave," says City Attorney Tim Warnemunde. "We don't necessarily want to become more cosmopolitan, but it's been foisted upon us and we either react or we don't."

A central part of Montgomery's reaction is redeveloping the downtown area, which was virtually abandoned in the past two decades as the town's population withered. City officials want the downtown to serve primarily as a commercial corridor and to reduce residential density. "It's not a case of discrimination," maintains city administrator Michael Martin. "It's a case of too many people in too little space."

That may be the case. But along with the discrimination controversy, the city's purchase of the three buildings has also raised conflict of interest charges. Two of the apartment complexes are currently owned by Roger Heyda, a member of Montgomery's Economic Development Authority. Although merely an advisory board, the panel recommended that the city move forward on the purchase.

Given the boot: The city of Montgomery forced Maricruz Suarez and her family out of their apartment
Raoul Benavides
Given the boot: The city of Montgomery forced Maricruz Suarez and her family out of their apartment

Martin insists the city's on solid ethical ground. "[Heyda] has abstained from every vote regarding this and the discussions," he says. "It's a small town. We gotta take who we can get to serve on some of these boards."

But Montgomery's not as small as it used to be, and it's clear some new residents are finding their neighbors less than welcoming.

Juan Medina moved to Montgomery from Arkansas with his wife and daughter two months ago to become pastor of the Faribault Church of God, a Pentecostal Spanish-language church. He says that five families from his church have been displaced by Montgomery's redevelopment plans. Medina is now looking for housing in Faribault, which he's found to be more hospitable to Latinos.

Medina's experience in Montgomery has left him disgusted. "Is this Montgomery, Minnesota, or Montgomery, Alabama?" he asks. "I think I'm in 1961 in Alabama. It's a shame that we don't have Martin Luther King anymore."

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