By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The next day, The Dallas Morning News reported that O'Hare "scoffed" at the threats. "I encourage every person in the DFW metroplex that is in support of the proposal to come shop in Farmers Branch to support our stance," he said.
In the week after they attended the first council meeting and their pictures were broadcast on the news, Enrique got a call at the restaurant. "Do you live in Farmers Branch?" a male voice asked. No, he replied. "If you don't live in Farmers Branch, you don't know what's going on," the man said. "If you don't support us, we won't support Cuquitas."
In the days that followed, the Villafrancas received about a half-dozen letters. One noted that English had been the official U.S. language "since the first white people set foot on U.S. soil" and concluded, "If Mrs. Villafranca and her family, or anyone else living in the U.S. don't want to adhere to our laws, ideal, customs, etc., they have the right to move elsewhere. The Villafranca family also has the right not to do business in the U.S., and I, for one, will NOT be doing business with them."
Another letter, this one published in the Morning News, ended, "Now we can no longer patronize Cuquitas because we do not want to support a racist business."
When Enrique told her about the letters, Elizabeth had a moment of doubt. What if he was right? What if it was a mistake to get herself and her family involved in all this? In the end, though, she convinced herself and her husband that they were doing the right thing, and that if people started busting out their windows, "they'd be shooting themselves in the foot." Her conviction was strengthened when employees and customers began to thank her.
As she ate breakfast at the restaurant one morning, a woman walked up to her and began to weep. "You don't know me," she said in Spanish, "but I want to thank you for what you're doing for us." Elizabeth was dumbstruck. After all, what had she done aside from attending a few meetings? "No," she began to respond, but the woman interjected. "No, really—you didn't have to get involved."
Among immigrants—undocumented and documented—the proposals and the debate that followed have given rise to fear, suspicion and even paranoia. When after Mass one Sunday at Mary Immaculate Church I approached Rogelio Sosa, he eyed me sternly and asked to see my driver's license. "They've been harassing Hispanics around here lately," Sosa said in Spanish. "They think that because we're Hispanic we're all drug dealers." Becoming increasingly agitated, he recalled that when his now grown son was a teenager, the police would stop him to ask where he got his brand-name clothes. "I worked hard to give my kids what they have," said Sosa, who's lived in Farmers Branch for 25 years. "Now our friends are afraid to come here—they say the police will stop and harass them."
In one conversation after another, Latinos complained that they were all being lumped into one category as dangerous criminals, regardless of their immigration status.
"It's unjust," said 23-year-old Emanuel at La Mejor, the Guatemalan bakery. He'd give only his first name. A year ago, he said, he paid to be smuggled across the border and through the desert from Mexico. He's now earning $8 an hour working for a moving company. "We're trying to get ahead in life honorably," he said. His reaction to the proposals? "It makes me feel discriminated against—like trash," he said.
On the other side of the bakery, Hilda Flores paused during lunch, fork poised in midair. "Hispanics are hard workers. OK, so maybe there's some drinking, some domestic violence, but not all are criminals," she said in Spanish. "Do you ever see Hispanic people begging? You see white Americans begging, you see black Americans begging, but do you ever see Hispanics? They're working hard jobs, construction..." Her words trailed off, and she shook her head and poked at her food. "I don't know how you can persecute a group of people for working so hard. A lot of people are fleeing poverty—why are people so bothered by them?"
Parada, the former Marine and father of three, says that after he appeared in news coverage of the controversy, people at the grocery store or the post office would look at him "different, like, 'I've seen you from somewhere and I really don't like you.'"
Meanwhile, on www.farmers-branch.net, one of two Web sites collecting signatures in support of O'Hare's proposals, a post read: "The illegal community is protesting and promising to sue the city. We need your support, time and money to protect our city and send the invaders away." O'Hare was lauded as a "hometown hero" for taking a "courageous stand on the illegal culture destruction that is taking place in our country."