Feature

Pinched

Greeley is at the center of the fight over immigration reform in the United States. Two men on the same street are trying to survive the battle.

August 2008

It's been a long morning at Jerry's Market. The phone's been ringing: People wanting to know how much crushed ice costs, whether fruit's on sale this week. Steve's walking the aisles now, straightening the cans of coffee, figuring a way to move the cat food and dog food onto one shelf. No use, he'll get to that later.

A customer he knows just brought in her cousin who'd been working the fields in Wyoming. Could Steve cash some checks? He studies them, then looks at the young man. He'll cash one, the largest, a few hundred dollars. The woman translates Steve's words to Spanish and the young man nods. Steve heads back to his office, behind the customer-service desk. He looks at a photo of his son, Merick, hanging from the wall. Ruffled hair, big smile on his face. Tucked into the corner of the frame is a Jerry's Market business card that his son scribbled on. In pencil, the 13-year-old crossed out his dad's name and replaced it with his chicken-scratch: Merick Mize, it reads, president and manager.

Steve wants to pass the market to his son, hopes that Merick wants to take over, too. Steve's son will sweep the floors, work the cash register, and then, well, who knows?

Up the street at the tortilla factory, two of Gerardo's employees are sitting on the sidewalk. Inside, Gerardo watches the tortillas fall from the chain belt onto another belt where they will be packaged and shipped that day. He's got big plans, maybe hire a few more people this year, buy some more equipment. He'll visit his newest tortilla site this morning, have his kids over to get a look at the new place. Maybe someday they'll inherit it like Steve inherited Jerry's.

And after lunch Gerardo will head to his restaurant inside Jerry's Market. He'll see Steve and the two will stand outside in the sun, talking about their sons and the heat and the parking lot that will get a coat of asphalt soon. They will wonder what things will be like on 14th Avenue when their newest 10-year lease expires in 2018.

By then, maybe the street will have changed again, a new wave of immigrants will have come to Greeley, Colorado, to find a job, a home, a place to eat, a place to pick up some milk and eggs for breakfast.

Maybe that's happening already: Gerardo has seen some black faces in his market. The immigration raid in 2006 created some job openings at the Swift meatpacking plant, and folks from Africa—Somalia, mostly—are now coming to town. They're getting work sawing cow and saving their money.

And they're asking for phone cards. Gerardo bought some, put them up front in his market so all those Somalis could see them. Five bucks for 50 minutes. They sold out in a week.

Robert Sanchez is staff writer at 5280. E-mail him at [email protected].

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