‘This is a country of immigrants’: Businesses, workers show their economic impact

Published 2:05 pm Thursday, February 16, 2017

By Mark Wineka


SALISBURY — Ruperto Estrada served a pair of U.S. Army tours of two years each in Iraq. He graduated from South Rowan High School. He considers himself a patriotic American.

But when some people look at him, they still see color first. They still wonder if he’s here legally. They assume he’s not paying taxes and maybe even holding down a job someone else should have.

In the country he considers home, Estrada hears leaders talk about building a wall along the Mexican border, rounding up and deporting illegal immigrants and criminals, and using extreme vetting practices on people trying to find a better life in America.

“The rhetoric being used today is dangerous for our community,” Estrada said Thursday.

For those kinds of reasons, Estrada, a China Grove resident who is self-employed in construction, attended a “Day Without Immigrants” gathering held Thursday morning at the Latin Mix store on South Fulton Street.

Several people, including Estrada, took turns expressing their support for a day when immigrants were encouraged to close their businesses, take off a day of work, resist shopping and spending money, keep their children out of schools, and overall show the economic impact immigrants have locally.

“This is a country of immigrants,” Estrada said in brief remarks to the crowd of about 60 people. “Don’t let them push you away.”

Local businesswomen Evelyn Medina and Liliana Spears, who are both immigrants from Guatemala, organized the local Day Without Immigrants initiative, which was repeated in many other cities in the state and country.

More than 20 businesses in Rowan County participated, including Medina’s two Mean Mug coffee shop and Medinia Construction and Spears’ Latin Mix store and salon.

“We have a very strong economic muscle,” Medina said of the immigrant population, “and we have to flex it. … We will not be pushed aside.”

Medina was smuggled into the United States when she was 7. Today, she and her husband, Rigo, run two businesses that employ seven people and pay their taxes, she said.

Spears said Thursday’s gathering was to show the passion immigrants have on current issues, what they mean to local economies, what they have built here, and how they are making better lives for themselves and their children.

Several speakers Thursday morning, including Spears, spoke in both English and Spanish.

Census figures put the Hispanic/Latino population in Rowan County at 8.3 percent.

Taking the economic importance of immigrants for granted is not something that started yesterday or with the current presidential administration, Spears said.

“We are a great impact to our community,” Spears said. “… We bring a richness that cannot be found (otherwise).”

Spears said that in sacrificing a day’s business and income, immigrant businesses and individuals were “putting their money where their mouth is.” The demonstrations elsewhere in North Carolina and the nation also “shows that we’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder with each other,” Spears added.

“Let us not stop today.”

Maritza Jaimes, who works as a medical assistant, did not go to work Thursday in support of Day Without Immigrants. She noted that she graduated with honors from a local school in 2009. She pays taxes, shops and spends her money locally.

On her job, she takes care of fellow human beings, and she considers herself as American as anyone else.

“This is my country,” she said, “… but we’re afraid.”

Geoffrey Hoy, chairman of the Rowan County Democratic Party, told the gathering he was “proud to stand with you today.”

Members of his family were immigrants, too, Hoy said. It just happened they came to America in the 1770s. Because they were from Germany and spoke a different language, Hoy said, they confronted people here who didn’t like them.

“There are others who stand with you,” said Kim Porter, a retired minister from Salisbury. He told the mostly Hispanic and Latino crowd to “keep raising our consciousness of your talents.”

“We love you,” he said.

Candy Torres and her husband, Jorge Diaz, brought their two children with them to Thursday’s gathering. The couple are longtime employees of the Monterrey Mexican restaurant off Statesville Boulevard, which was closed Thursday in support of Day Without Immigrants.

Diaz manages the restaurant, and he has been working there since 1999. The couple lost a day’s wages to support the one-day demonstration, but they noted how every other day they pay taxes, make major purchases and support the schools.

Candy addressed the crowd in Spanish. Later, she said attitudes definitely have changed toward immigrants with recent political developments.

“We have to do things like this,” said Torres, who came here long ago from Mexico. “… You can feel the hate everywhere.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.