Norcross, Ga.—In some ways, the traveling taco stand has become a symbol of the rise of Hispanics in the US. Here in Gwinnett County, Ga., it wasn’t any different—until lawmakers outlawed the $1 street-corner taco vendor last month.
Hispanic purveyors of the workingman’s lunch represent an immigration policy many Americans feel has gone haywire. In many interior states where the Hispanic immigration had been minimal until recently, residents are encountering more new faces speaking an incomprehensible language and infiltrating street corners with their cilantro-spiced fare.
In resisting the sudden and growing influence of Latino culture, some cities and towns across America are requiring the use of English and restricting culinary mores and even the Hispanic tradition of sitting on the front porch.
“People are … realizing how much [illegal immigration] is costing them, they watched the May 1 demonstrations, and they are mad,” says Richard Lamm, a former Colorado governor, who codirects the Institute for Public Policy Studies in Denver. “They’re reaching for whatever tool is available, and some of those tools are harsh and not very sophisticated.”
More Hispanics—legal and illegal—live in Gwinnett County than anywhere else in Georgia. The Hispanic population in the county has swelled to more than 105,000, expanding from 10 to 15 percent of the total since 2000, according to the US Census. Displays of Hispanic culture—from used tire shops to carnicerías or butcher shops—dot the Buford Highway in Norcross, Ga., a bustling outpost of Atlanta.
The influx of immigrants in states outside the Big Six immigration states—California, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Texas, and Florida—has changed the landscape so dramatically, so quickly, that the voting constituency has hardly been able to keep up, experts say. In 2002, illegal immigrants living in the US used $2,700 worth of government services per person more than they paid in taxes, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, an organization that advocates curtailing immigration levels.
Powerless to seal or control the US borders themselves, locals are taking their own action.
Last month, the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners became one of the first in the country to ban mobile taco stands, which officials said were cluttering street corners. One Gwinnett politician described the proliferation of rolling taco stands as “gypsy-fication.”
In Ohio, Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones has put up a yellow sign saying “Illegal Aliens Here,” with an arrow pointing to the county jail.
“What we’re seeing is little towns in Kansas trying to ban people from sitting on their front porch, because that’s what [Hispanics] do,” says Gabriela Lemus, of the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington. “On the other hand, there is a real challenge in places like Little Rock, Ark., and Cicero, Ill., where [towns] aren’t prepared for a community they didn’t expect to have.”