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

The worst Latino racial slur is still a mystery for some

Victor Landa February 13, 2019

Many people of Mexican descent can vividly describe the moment they heard the Latino racial slur “beaner.” As a child or a young adult, it stung. To them, it said: […]

Denver Public Schools threatened to report striking teachers to immigration

Victor Landa January 25, 2019

DENVER — Denver Public Schools apologized Thursday for telling teachers working on immigration visas that they would be reported to immigration officials if they went on strike. The letter to […]

Sandra Cisneros to receive PEN/Nabokov Award for international literature

Victor Landa February 5, 2019

Sandra Cisneros, the Mexican American novelist whose books “The House on Mango Street” and “Woman Hollering Creek” are widely considered contemporary classics of American literature, has won the PEN/Nabokov Award for […]

Latino voting bloc could be the second most important in 2020

Victor Landa

The Hispanic population’s exponential growth in the U.S. that has long been expected, is now fully upon the country. Totaling an approximate 58 million people, the Latino community has become one of the […]

In Julián Castro’s presidential bid, Latinos see one of their own, defying stereotypes

Victor Landa January 28, 2019

SAN ANTONIO — Musician Juan Tejeda sees something very familiar in Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro. “He is very indigenous and Chicano,” said Tejeda, a conjuntoaccordionist who has roots in the […]

Latino voters will make up largest minority group by 2020 election, study says

Victor Landa February 4, 2019

By the 2020 presidential election Latino voters will make up the largest share of non-white eligible voters, according to a Pew Research Center study published Wednesday (Jan. 30). The study takes an […]

Recipe: Poblano Potatoes, Papas con Rajas

Victor Landa January 30, 2019

Papas Con Rajas, Poblano Potatoes, are creamy because of the waxy potatoes and lush because, well, roasted chiles Poblanos are always lush.  This recipe, brings together the traditions of Peru […]

Kushner floats deal of permanent protections for 1.8 million dreamers, LULAC chief says

Victor Landa January 25, 2019

WASHINGTON – Top White House adviser Jared Kushner told members of Latino advocacy organizations on Thursday that President Donald Trump was willing to give 1.8 million Dreamers permanent protections from deportation […]