Minnesota's Hispanics know that 'making America great' doesn't include them


"They've gotten a lot more quiet, like they're withdrawing. They're circling the wagons. There's a lot of silence and the silence is coming from fear."

Between his day job heading a survey crew and his off-hours pursuit as a Hispanic Contractors Association of Minnesota board member, Mark Vargas talks to a lot of people.

Hispanic workers are well represented in the construction trades in Minnesota, including Mexican roofers and Ecuadorian and Salvadoran sheet rockers.

He surmises they've heard the stories, like everyone else, about the latest federal immigration operation in the five-state area, which included 26 arrests in Minnesota.

Vargas thinks the collective timbre of the people he encounters has changed over the past year. This despite the fact the economy continues to thrum helped in no small way by construction.

It's not what they're telling him that leads Vargas to the conclusion. It's what they aren't.

"Here I am approaching them and they know I'm an advocate," he says. "They've gotten a lot more quiet, like they're withdrawing. They're circling the wagons. There's a lot of silence and the silence is coming from fear. It's the fear of uncertainty. Like, what the hell is going on? Am I going to be next?"

It matters nil if they carry a Green Card or smuggled themselves across the border. The sentiment seems similar when it comes to President Donald Trump's plan to make America great again. And it doesn't include them. 

Minnesota's Hispanic population is estimated at around 300,000 people. Seven out of every ten are of Mexican origin, according to the Pew Research Center, and six in ten were born on U.S. soil.

The number of Hispanic kids in the state has quintupled since 1990. Today they compose 8 percent of the under-18 population, according to Minnesota Compass, which tracks trends in seven areas such as the economy and housing.

Vargas knows a few who've already headed back over the border. "But they already got one foot out the door, like a DWI or a domestic charge." He often sees a correlation between where the person immigrated from and their current level of unease.

Salvadorans tend to give off a more nervous vibe, he says, Ecuadorians sometimes, too.  

"The ones from El Salvador can be nervous about talking about anything," says Vargas. "When you come here, having fled a place where the government can call you down to their offices, and if you go you're dead, you understand why they're feeling the way they do about this government. They mostly all came here leaving behind some kind of political or economic menace." 

The menace in this country appears in the artwork and writings of elementary-aged kids at the Academia Cesar Chavez, a charter school in St. Paul. 

"I walk around the halls and I see and read the school work done by kids, nine and ten years old," he says. "They're shitting their pants about their parents getting deported. Can you imagine you're worried you go to school and come home and they're not there?

"Now the kids are legal. They were born here. But their parents were born in Guatemala or Mexico or wherever, and the kids just know, and they're scared. They're just scared."


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