Wendy and I spent several days last week in Chicago. Specifically, we stayed in a neighborhood southwest of downtown called Brighton Park. We didn't mean to. It was cheap, and clean, and that works for us.
Our host was a Mexican immigrant named José. He was kind, thoughtful, helpful, and hard-working. José rents out half his house on airbnb, and drives for Lyft.
I think that's the definition of hustling.
While in Brighton Park we felt safe. We had great food. We were shown wonderful hospitality. We had a great experience.
And Brighton Park is majority Latino, based on my visit. I only saw a handful of other white folks while we were there.
We fear what we don't understand. We fear what we don't expose ourselves to.
Being afraid is natural. It's ok to be afraid. I would suggest it's not ok to stay there, because often you can do something about it, especially if you're like me.
When you're afraid of a group of people, I always recommend starting with food.
Learn to make some great, authentic tacos at home (google Rick Bayless, get some books from the library, and have at it). Or pozole. Or chilaquiles. Then, go find the best tacos in the part of town where immigrants live. The. Best.
Go have a Halal burger at Taystee's Burgers in Dearborn, outside of Detroit. I haven't been there yet, but it's on my list for the near future. Muslims eat burgers too. Just like you. I promise.
When we have limited experiences with a whole group of people (immigrants) and then powerful people tell us to be afraid of them, we too often choose to be afraid, because we don't know any better.
My reporting tells me that in at least one immigrant neighborhood I visited last week on the southwest side of Chicago, you would be welcomed, treated with dignity and respect, and have some of the best tacos in the Midwest.
Does that mean there are still violent gangs made up of Latinos out there - well, sure. But that doesn't make every Latino a violent gang member, anymore than having white skin makes you a violent murderer, like Timothy McVeigh.
Go to Paco's Tacos on Archer Ave. Order the carnitas, the barbacoa, and the lengua (for me, next time) - you won't be disappointed.
Give a thumbs up to the guy at the griddle who made your food and say "muy bueno" when you're done because you're a dork and you don't really know any Spanish. But hey, you're trying.
If you're afraid of people from Mexico, maybe rent an airbnb in a neighborhood where the people don't look or talk like you. Get some good food. Speak in terribly broken Spanish. People watch. Enjoy the company.
Choose to engage, not to be afraid.
We'll all be better for it.