Monday, April 26, 2004

Those ubiquitous Guanacos

On my recent trip to the U.S., I kept running into Salvadorans and other Central Americans--even in Maine, the most northeastern of any state. Salvadorans supplied the labor to rebuild the fallen wall on my friends' John and Sarah's neighbor's wall that had fallen in D.C.; Guatemalans manned the Starbucks at the Woodrow Wilson rest stop on the New Jersey turnpike; and generally speaking Latin Americans seem to staff nearly every fast-food place all up and down the East Coast.

There's a story in today's Portland Press Herald that starts off with an anecdote about the Salvadoran restaurant Tu Casa, which I visited on my trip. Run by a Salvadoran family from Chalatenango, I was told that migration to that area had picked up in the last five years.

Maine, by the way, in a three-way tie with Arkansas and Mississippi, is the state with the fastest growing poverty rate in the country, according to the 2000 Census.

In Maine, which has only a few thousand Latin Americans statewide, there's a new executive order from the Governor that prohibits state employees who provide public services from asking about a person's immigration status, except under limited circumstances. The order is similar to those created by cities around the country, including Portland. But it appears to be the first of its kind affecting an entire state.

That's a good thing, because after a recent immigration sweep, people appeared to be afraid to ask for even minimal services related to health, education and work issues. The action came after a controversial sweep by federal agents of a homeless shelter in January in Portland, and as a result of lobbying by social service agencies, advocacy groups and community action organizations.

No comments: