Immigrant grocer sheds his roots

In Opinion

Fans of ethnic grocery stores may recognize the name “Mi Pueblo,” a Mexican-themed supermarket with stores peppered throughout California. The chain was founded by an illegal immigrant who strived to make immigrants feel at home when they went to get their groceries.

At least, that’s how it used to be. The 21-store chain that became known for blasting Ranchera music and proudly displaying hometowns on its employee’s name tags is now subjecting future hires to an immigration status screening.

Interestingly enough, the move to participate in the screening program, E-Verify, was wholly voluntary. Even more interestingly, the founder, Juvenal Chavez, is now a legal resident of this country.

Chavez managed to create a $300 million business from scratch in 20 years, and now that he’s got his papers, he’s turning around and sticking a knife in the backs of those who helped him get where he is.

What happened?

It’s as if The Brothers Grimm wrote a fairy tale about the American Dream. Sure, the hero ends up accomplishing his goals through hard work and determination, but at the end of the day his ambition ultimately crushes all the people who helped him get there, leaving him to enjoy his profits in solitude.

Though it’s easy to want to view this as an average story of corporate greed poisoning an average Joe, the reality is likely a bit more complicated. Specifically, the immigration angle adds a layer to this story that many people won’t stop at first to consider.

People who are familiar with the one-season-wonder TV show The Oblongs may remember a scene that lines right up with this story.

In the scene, a truck carrying the frame of a house goes out of control and crashes, sending the house sliding into an empty lot where a homeless man is begging. The homeless man joyfully throws away his begging sign and goes inside, after which another homeless man knocks on the door and asks for spare change.

The new homeowner coldly says “get a job,” and slams the door.

Obviously in this case, the situation is played up for comedy, but it’s not an entirely unrealistic scenario. The first homeless man found himself suddenly thrust into a new social class and was, to our amusement, remarkably quick to take up its ideals and mannerisms.

When it happens in real life, though, it’s somewhat less funny. Chavez may have not done a heel turn like the homeless man did, but he did make essentially the same move over a much more realistic period of time.

Chavez managed to go from an illegal immigrant to a legal, successful business owner.

That’s a considerably radical shift, and it’s not surprising that at some point in his two decades of business he began to take on the behavior of his new social position.

A friendly “suggestion” from immigration officials simply served to speed up the process.

Many politicians have switched parties in the past to gain popularity with the voters, or even just to guarantee a position in primary elections. People who were Republican for their entire life could abandon their base in a heartbeat if it guaranteed them some headway in the next election. Something like this could also be at play in this case.

Mi Pueblo’s representatives are quick to point out that they felt great pressure from immigration officials, although the fact remains that their participation in E-Verify is voluntary.

Perhaps Chavez and his associates felt that taking this chance to get on the government’s good side has more benefits for their new business-oriented mindset than helping out their loyal base.

The Hispanic community is planning a boycott next month if Mi Pueblo doesn’t agree to sit down to discuss its stance on the issue.

Here’s hoping the Mi Pueblo executives can recognize that having a chain aimed at a certain community doesn’t mean much when you turn your back on the members of that community that made your business possible in the first place.

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One commentOn Immigrant grocer sheds his roots

  • This is the comprehensive reform that should be enacted.

    Mandatory sentences for employers of illegal workers should be 15,000 dollars and 2 years in jail per illegal. That and deportation of the illegal workers would put an immediate end to 99% of the problem.

    For corporations, that should include all the officers and the entire board of directors.

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