“THE RISE OF LATINOS IN THE ‘BURG”
Written By: Roman Robles
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Edited By: Zach Champ
If you are reading this, then you must have enjoyed some bomb tacos at least once in your life, or even better you have chowed down on authentic pupusas.
Even if you haven’t (which I recommend you do because you’re missing out) you may have seen some of these items appearing across restaurant menus in our small town of Fredericksburg.
For those of you who have tried them, I’m sure it’s never crossed your mind to say “Wow, how did we get this far?” especially as you’re chowing down on a good taco de carne asada. For me however, that question has been popping up in my head a lot lately.
To understand the evolution of the Hispanic/Latino community in FXBG, I decided to dig deeper and conduct some research… Luckily I have some insight into this evolution within my own family!
FXBG LATINOS IN THE 80s
In the early 1980s my father arrived in Fredericksburg at the age of 17 to find work. Just like many of his fellow latinos, he was a hard-working immigrant determined to make a better life for himself by chasing “the American Dream”. He told me that when he first got here, he was only 1 of a few Latinos individuals within the community, and most of them were his coworkers in construction.
It was a different time back then. There was no Latino market, and the guys mostly lived on burgers and beer. They were all alone and by themselves up here, and since all their wives or girlfriends/mothers were back home, they didn’t eat handmade tortillas, as was the norm back in Mexico. Unlike today, nowhere in the state could you find bars bumping music in Spanish on a Friday or Saturday night after a hard week at work. It was all American-style dive bars and Rock n Roll.
Back in 1983, only 0.9% of Fredericksburg’s population was categorized under the ethnicity of “other” which was essentially the category for anyone that wasn’t black or white. However, by 1990, census officials categorized the growing population more accurately and by that time, the latino community had grown to represent 1.6% of the city.
FXBG LATINOS IN THE 90s
Flash-forward to the 1990s to around the time my Dad brought my mom here to the US.
When she first arrived she even noticed how few Hispanics there were. There was only one Latin-American market to shop at if she wanted authentic ingredients, and the only way anyone was eating street tacos would be if they traveled north on I-95 to Manassas or Woodbridge, where the Latino community was significantly larger.
While my mom was pleased to know there were growing options for food within her community, she was equally frustrated that there were almost no Latinos at important places like hospitals, public offices, and at local stores. She, like many others, often encountered difficulties communicating with non-Spanish speakers as she was still learning English. In fact, during this time at Mary Washington Hospital there was only one Spanish-speaking interpreter. It was a different time then. (Nowadays I could probably find around a dozen Spanish speaking nurses or receptionists capable of translating.)
However, it was these issues that led my Mom to the Central Rappahannock Regional Library where they hosted evening English classes. She was able to network and meet with other Hispanic women and they’d help each other out as a support group, whether it was with learning and mastering English or going out shopping as a group. To me it’s significant that the community hosted such events at the Library… For my Dad and his generation the idea of English classes for Latinos inside a library was a pipe dream!
To me this showed Fredericksburg’s true colors as a community- which has always been focused on the ideals of southern hospitality and a welcoming attitude towards people from various backgrounds! While Latinos have struggled elsewhere in the US and even in Virginia, they have seemed to prosper and thrive in Northern Virginia!
By the end of the 1990s, My Dad remarked that his friend circle included more Spanish-speaking friends than before, many who worked outside of construction which was more surprising! In fact, the population of Latinos in FXBG underwent a change and grew to 3.9% during this time!
Now I was born and raised here in FXBG and have lived here my whole life. What have I personally experienced? Well…
The growth I’ve seen in the community is astonishing! Not so long ago Fredericksburg was just a small rural town with more trees than stores and homes. Now our beautiful hometown has every store you could imagine, multiple new neighborhoods, and has grown into a diverse area with a large and sizable spanish-speaking community.
For instance, I never had the chance to try a real authentic street taco made with fresh ingredients and meat until I visited Mexico for the first time when I was 4, and if I wanted to eat more of them, I’d have to wait for summer vacation to visit Mexico. But nowadays I can just take a quick trip to Flavios Tacos or El Habanero Feliz and I will happily be crushing all of them down on the way home.
With pupusas, I wasn’t eating them unless I had a family friend from El Salvador inviting us over to eat some since she was the only person who knew how to make them. Now I could just go to Doña Tere or El Milagrito and enjoy them any time!
When I was a kid, I could only gather up enough of my friends for a small 4 team pickup soccer tournament. Now I could probably field an entire pickup league with all the local players!
I grew up eating tortillas but my mom couldn’t always make them from scratch since she was always busy with work… and there was no way the stores could compare to mom’s homemade recipe. However, these days we have Tortillería La Mixteca here in Fredericksburg where they sell authentic ribs and grilled chicken with tortillas made by hand.
I enjoy Mexican ice cream but I could only access that if I went to either Mexico or Richmond. Now I have that at a small driving distance with Happy Michoacana.
If I wanted to buy boots and a hat to go to the Jaripeos (Mexican style rodeo), I would have to visit Woodbridge or Manassas, now I can simply travel down Route 3 and shop at Leo’s Outlet and get my gear fitted up!
However, one of the biggest signs that the community is growing is the number of Hispanic families in my neighborhood. When we first moved here a decade ago, there were approximately six Latino families including ours. Most of the cars driving past were bumping either George Strait or Alan Jackson songs… but now there are chickens running around people’s front yards like it is nothing, and everyone’s car has a flag hanging from it.
Even crazier, all my neighbors listen to Bad Bunny or Vicente Fernández songs (even if they don’t speak Spanish!)
...Oddly enough, most of the older white families that used to live in the same neighborhood have moved and no longer live there (not sure why they left, but their loss not ours 😆😆😆)
It’s safe to say the tables have turned!
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
I am very proud of the sacrifices made by the previous generation of Fredericksburg latinos which have allowed us to grow as a community, and to achieve the American dream we have created for ourselves today.
Hopefully, the current generation of young Latinos in Fredericksburg become INSPIRED by this legacy and work towards preserving the authenticity of Hispanic and latino culture.
It is important that we strive to educate the next generation about their origins and roots, so that they never forget and keep the Latino community growing!
To all FXBG Latinos out there- thank you for your contribution to the community and good luck to you all!
Don’t forget to support these authentic local Latino restaurants and to grab some tacos today!