Appalachia has a booming Hispanic business and population — and its growing food scene is making an impact

Mic

"As Hispanic businesses and populations swell, and rural grocery stores begin to stock shelves with everything from queso fresco to bilingual lard containers."

From strip malls to historic downtown landmarks, buildings across Appalachia today are telling stories of a changing region. Former nail salons, once-stately banks and empty storefronts are beginning fresh chapters in their lifecycle as Hispanic business, groceries, Mexican restaurants and Latinx-operated small businesses.

“I never really thought I would be doing this — that I would be able to build my own business in America — but here I am, you know?” said Misael Nuñez, co-owner of Tres Hermanos Nuñez, a small chain of Mexican-Appalachian restaurants.

I spoke to Nuñez in Grayson, Kentucky, as he watched his daughter gallop around his restaurant, dressed to impress in a Cinderella costume. His restaurants are located in a tight corridor of the region where southeast Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky meet, and Nuñez is a prime example of the rise in Latinx entrepreneurship in the region. But he’s not only a businessman: Nuñez is among the leaders helping to construct a new narrative of Hispanic-Appalachian culture in places that are often portrayed by national media outlets as sweepingly white and homogenous.

The Hispanic population boom began in the 1980s, when the percentage of immigrants who moved into Appalachia between 1985-1990 made up a whopping 34% of the region’s total Hispanic population in the 1990 census. Between 2000 and 2010, the numbers continued to soar, with a 121% overall increase in the Hispanic population region-wide. And in some states like Tennessee, the numbers have been even more staggering: The number of Latinx-Appalachian residents there increased nearly 145% in the same time frame, compared to states like Ohio and New York, which showed roughly 52% and 53% increases, respectively.

READ MORE

Subscribe today!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Must Read

Running while brown: How Julián Castro is navigating white presidential politics

Victor Landa June 25, 2019

EAST LOS ANGELES — By the time his plane touched down in California at the end of a whirlwind week, Julián Castro had set an early political benchmark in the […]

Advocates wonder: Where’s the outreach from Democratic presidential candidates to Latino voters?

Victor Landa

MIAMI — There is outrage over Trump administration policies that have torn migrant families apart and left some children locked up. There is pervasive fear of immigration raids. And there […]

LatinX Voters Will be a Core 2020 Voting Bloc. Are Democrats Paying Enough Attention?

Victor Landa August 1, 2019

DEMOCRATS RUNNING FOR president are awakening to the reality that Latinx voters, poised to become the largest nonwhite eligible voting bloc in 2020, are crucial to their chances of winning the […]

Segregation of Latino Students From White Peers Increased Over a Generation, Study Finds

Victor Landa

In 1998, the average Latino student in elementary school attended a school where 40 percent of her classmates were white. But by 2015, the average young Latino student was attending a school […]

Castro stands up for issues that matter to Latinos

Victor Landa

Wednesday night’s Democratic debate is the last call for what Vox termed the “mega-debate.” By September, the standards to qualify for the big stage will be significantly higher, so tonight was […]

Ethnic Cleansing in El Paso, Texas is a Warning for the Nation

Victor Landa August 18, 2019

President Trump owes our border community and all Latinos in America an apology for encouraging ethnic cleansing. He must take back his hate-filled words toward Mexicans, immigrants and asylum seekers […]

Anti-Latino hate is not new

Victor Landa September 6, 2019

The 21-year-old who murdered 22 people in El Paso added another chapter to the long history of anti-Latino violence in the United States. He pulled the trigger alone, but acted […]