Teresa Puente drove across the U.S. this summer blogging about diverse people and places and capturing day-to-day life in America. Here are three dispatches from the South, where the Latino population is growing. Read about all the people she met at her Chicanísima blog at Chicago Now.
Rosaura Lima, 40, played with her children in the parking lot of a budget hotel in Morristown, Tenn., the boyhood home of Davy Crockett.
She lives in Bowling Green, Ky., with her husband, Roman Martinez, 43, who travelled 250 miles to Morristown for a construction job.
She was trying to keep the kids busy, as her husband was sick in a local hospital. He woke up with a giant welt on his arm that doctors told her may have come from a bug bite.
But he couldn’t drive back home until the swelling stopped.
“The doctor said it was serious,” she said.
Complicating matters, the couple does not have health insurance and they are undocumented.
Rosa is from Guatemala and her husband is from Mexico. Even though she has lived in the U.S. more than 10 years and her husband more than 20 years, there is no way for them to gain legal status without immigration reform. They don’t have a family member or an employer who can sponsor them.
They are among the growing Latino population in southern states. In Bowling Green, the Hispanic population grew by 89 percent from 2000 to 2010. Today, there are 3,749 Hispanics in the town—6.5 percent of the population. Latinos make up around 3 percent of Kentucky’s population.
In Tennessee, Latinos are around 5 percent of the population, double what it was in 2000.
Rosa’s family tried to gain legal status and paid $8,000 to a lawyer last year.
“He cheated us,” she said.
So they work under the table. She works at a fast food restaurant.
Rosa has hopes for her children, all born in this country.
“They are U.S. citizens so they will do better than us,” she said.
Sussy Huskey, 36, moved from Costa Rica to North Carolina 15 years ago.
She was recruited by Harrah’s to work at a casino on an Indian reservation in Cherokee.
“The Cherokee people gave me a nice welcome because of my dark skin and hair,” Huskey said. “At first they thought I was Cherokee too.”
But many of the whites in the town where she lived, Whittier, had never met a person from Costa Rica before. They asked her questions like, “Do you wear clothes?” and “Do you have electricity?”
Hispanics are around 9 percent of the population in North Carolina, an increase of more than 111 percent since 2000.
Huskey shares her culture with the people in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Two years ago she decided she wanted to teach salsa and other Latin dance classes, including Zumba, in her community.
At her Studio Rumba, as many as 60 people take her classes each day. Some of them are the same people who held stereotypes about Latin America.
“People have opened up their heart to my culture,” Huskey said. “It’s amazing to see black, white and Indian people all dancing together in one room.”
Huskey was married to a Cherokee man and she has a 9-year-old son, Ian.
“I want him to be proud of his cultures,” she said of his dual heritage.
She divorced and now has a boyfriend of Chilean and Spanish heritage. They work together at the dance studio and the Fusion Café, which they opened two months ago near the reservation. She is doing so well that she left her job at the casino.
At the café, they serve everything from empanadas to chicken salad and Costa Rican coffee.
“We really are a fusion,” she said.
Manuel Casados, 50, came to the U.S. 10 years ago with a guest worker visa to pick tobacco in North Carolina.
“It was really hard work, a hard life,” Casados said. “There are no breaks and you are hunched over all day.”
He left that job after one season and moved to the Atlanta area, where he started doing odd jobs and construction.
On weekends, he works at a flea market north of Athens, Ga. Around half the vendors there are Latino and they sell everything from dried chiles and other spices to caged chickens and CDs of mariachi music. It’s called “Georgia’s largest flea market” but it resembled a tianguis, or open air market in Mexico.
In Georgia, Hispanics are now 9 percent of the population, around 850,000, an increase of more than 96 percent since 2000.
Casados sells soccer shirts representing teams from Mexico, England, France and Italy, as well as shot glasses and Mexican trinkets.
“In one week I can make $80 in Mexico. But here I can make as much as $120 a day,” he said. “It’s not easy but enough to live on and send something back home.”
His visa expired and he has stayed in the U.S. despite the threat of deportation.
His home state of Veracruz lives with warring drug cartels and the federal government has sent police to try and control the situation. Nine journalists also have been killed in that state over the last three years for reporting on the drug war.
“In Mexico, there is too much violence right now,” he said. “I can’t go back.”