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Sept. 11 aftershock reaches Minnesota's Hispanics
By Mary Stucky
Minnesota Public Radio
November 14, 2001
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Since Sept. 11, the U.S. economy has weakened. Layoffs and job cutbacks hit Hispanic workers especially hard. That's because so many immigrants work in the industries most affected - food service, hotels and airports. The Hispanic population has been growing dramatically in Minnesota. But with layoffs and other scares like anthrax, some Hispanic immigrants are going home.

The Resource Center of the Americas in Minneapolis provides a variety of programs and resources for Hispanic residents of the Twin Cities. Teresa Ortiz, director of the center's Worker's Rights Center, says many Hispanic immigrants have lost their jobs since Sept. 11. Listen to her comments.
(MPR Photo/Mary Stucky)

Rina Batres is lucky. She still has her job at a Twin Cities temp agency, recruiting Hispanic workers for jobs in food service and hotels. But Batres could lose her job - since Sept. 11, half the people she's found jobs for have been laid off.

"It's going to be hard and I know these people's feelings, because I start as a housekeeper. I started cleaning rooms at a hotel and I know it's tough," says Batres. "It's just really sad when people call and we have to say, 'No, we don't have anything now.'"

Hispanics, especially Mexicans, face the decision of whether to stay or leave. Traditionally many go to Mexico for Christmas and return. Now with fewer jobs or reduced hours, Hispanic immigrants say they're not sure if they'll come back.

It's making both legal and illegal workers feel uncertain, according to Teresa Ortiz, an organizer for the Resource Center of the Americas. Ortiz says Mexican workers in Minnesota fear they'll be caught in the immigration crackdown designed to catch terrorists.

"They are very frightened," says Ortiz. "If people are undocumented, they think immediately something is going to happen to them."

According to Ortiz, several Hispanic immigrants in the Twin Cities have already been caught in the post-Sept. 11 sweep to deport undocumented residents. There are some 80,000 undocumented Hispanic workers in Minnesota, according to Ortiz.

"There's less jobs here and so they go to Mexico, but there's no jobs in Mexico. They find themselves in a trap because then they can't come back. It's a little more difficult now to cross the border," says Ortiz.

The Mercado Central on Lake St. in Minneapolis is an important retail center for the Hispanic community. Many of the customers there work in the hotel and food service industries, and are losing their jobs in the post-Sept. 11 economy.
(MPR Photo/Mary Stucky)

At the Mercado Central on Lake St. in Minneapolis, Alex Cuate, his wife and young son shop at the meat market. Cuate, an immigrant from Mexico, still has his job in a restaurant kitchen. He told Silvia Ruano of the Mexican newspaper El Norte that he expects a cutback.

"Work is thinning out for everyone. People aren't coming to restaurants anymore."

The money people like Alex Cuate send home is vital to the Mexican economy. In fact, it's expected to replace tourism as the nation's second largest source of foreign revenue. So, when Mexican workers lose their jobs in the Twin Cities, the effect is perhaps more dramatic south of the border. That point is not lost on Marcela Martinez, a Mexican immigrant who was shopping at the candy store in the Mercado on Lake St. She says the type of workers losing jobs here are also being laid off in Mexico.

"I know a lot of people who were doing well working in hotels and at the airport. And now all of them are feeling lost because of what happened," Martinez says.

Those Mexicans who are moving home are doing it quietly, according to Jose Flores, a community organizer at the Resource Center of the Americas. Flores says that after Sept. 11, Minnesota politicians have shown little interest in issues like immigration reform.

"Now the priority is national security. We are not a priority. It's a hard moment for immigrant workers," Flores says.

Workers are facing the economic downturn, fear of terrorism and a crackdown on immigration. Many Mexicans may be going home. The question is when - or if - they'll be back.

Silvia Ruano, a reporter for the Mexican newspaper El Norte, contributed to this report.

More Information
  • Resource Center of the Americas The center's staff sponsors a discussion on November 17 about the impact of the Sept. 11 attacks on the Hispanic community.
  • El Norte A newspaper based in Monterrey, Mexico. El Norte reporter Silvia Ruano worked with MPR's Mary Stucky on this report.