About 25 people gathered in a circle in a meeting room Saturday at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Central Avenue in Charlotte.
Some wore cowboy boots and hats; others wore purple tights and hair. All cheered icons from the past, like César Chávez and Martin Luther King Jr.
They passed out papers that outlined 18 bills in the N.C. General Assembly that affect undocumented people and the businesses or educational institutions that work with them.
The meeting’s primary goal was to spread the word about the legislation and to support United 4 The Dream, a youth group connected with the Latin American Coalition.
Franco Ordonez wrote in The Charlotte Observer on April 1 about the youth group’s activities to mark the birth of Chávez.
The Saturday group plans another meeting from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on April 9, in Concord, at the Hispanic Learning Center 418 Kerr St., according to the Mi Gente newspaper.
While the St. Andrews group was relatively small, the 2010 census numbers show the growing strength of Hispanic residents in Charlotte and in North Carolina. Their economic strength can’t be ignored.
During the boom years in Charlotte, neighbors in places like Merry Oaks often dealt with houses in which it seemed six, eight, or 10 Hispanic construction workers lived, working to build the new towers in uptown or the split levels in the suburbs. That boom effect was national in scope, according to the New York Times.
Now, in the bust years, the Hispanic people that remain have small businesses and children in tow. They’re looking for safe schools and access to higher education, and some are moving to the suburbs when they can. They have growing economic strength, and perhaps soon, political strength.
And in Charlotte, their message is spreading, with an online campaign to loosen zoning restrictions that target taco trucks. An online petition, “Carne Asada is not a crime,” has gathered 272 signatures.
Hector Vaca, of Action NC, is one of the organizers of Saturday’s meeting. He also said he started the taco truck petition.
But Saturday’s meeting showed that this goes beyond just taco trucks.
One bill discussed in Saturday’s circle was "The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” or HB 343.
It rolls in several provisions that require the use of E-Verify by governments, educational institutions and those who contract with them to verify the immigration status of employees.
It prohibits any undocumented person from taking a class at a community college or in any part of the University of North Carolina system.
It places barriers for anyone doing business with undocumented people, or educating them beyond high school.
So this time, it’s about much more than taco trucks, and about much more than just Charlotte.
About the map:
This slice of a census map from the New York Times shows Charlotte’s Census Tract 12, which includes the Merry Oaks neighborhood.
Green dots stand for white residents; blue dots represent black residents, orange dots stand for Hispanic residents and red dots stand for Asians.
On a micro-scale, the locations of dots are approximate.
Tracts directly to the east and southeast show greater percentages of Hispanic residents. One area near Arrowood Boulevard and Interstate 85, Tract 3804, shows a population that is 59% Hispanic.