St. Paul to Iowa City

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The weather forecast for Thursday was severe thunderstorms so I delayed my start until Friday morning. Marianne took me to St. Paul’s westside so I could make a video tribute for my friend raulrsalinas. I took Hwy. 52 south to Rochester and arrived late afternoon to this pristine city of about 100,000 where the Zumbro River flows into Silver Lake.

It’s clear within minutes that the renowned Mayo clinic is the driving economic force of the city as it dominates the downtown area and it is immediately evident that the economic base and well-manicured infrastructure of the city thrives on the money generated by this medical giant.

To be sure, a strong service sector is needed to support the well-heeled employees of Mayo and its supporting industries. The downtown area is peppered with ethnic / international stores the to suit the international and/or cosmopolitan interests of doctors and scientists.

If you walk down 4th st. one will encounter evidence of a thriving Latino population–such as the local Catholic church’s announcement of a noon Spanish language mass and El Texano, a modest tiendita that serves the local Chicano/mexicano community. I spoke briefly with the proprietor and learned he had moved from Eagle Pass about 7 years ago. He said business was so-so, enough for him to keep busy and do ok. I told him I was from Houston but now living in Minneapolis and that being in stores like his made me homesick. We talked briefly about the Latino populations in each city and wished each other well.

From there I went eat dinner at Dos Amigos, which seemed to cater to mostly non-Latinos though it had an almost all Latino staff. I sat at the bar and watched customers enjoy the ambiance. One of the waiters changed the t.v. for me to a soccer match. On the way back to my motel I came across a 24 hour taqueria. I was impressed that it could sustain business and snapped a photo. One of the employees came out and asked me why I took a picture. She seemed satisfied when I explained that I was traveling around the country and taking note of Latino businesses. I assume that there is an underlying concern by some Latinos that makes them worry about my intentions and whether or not I’m affiliated with ICE or some other government agency.

The next morning I went to Rico’s for breakfast and then stopped by the beautiful Veteran’s Memorial on my way out of town. In the roster of soldiers who were commemorated there, those who had lived within 50 miles of Rochester from the Civil War to the present, I found 3 Latino surnames.

Later that afternoon as I headed towards the Iowa state line a friend picked me up to spend some b-day time with me. We went to Postville and were surprised that almost all the people walking the streets in the downtown center were Latinos. There were numerous restaurants and stores. We visited one store and bought a few items. Not wanting to eat just yet, I decided that I would return to Postville at a later time to more closely investigate the local dynamics that have led Postville residents to join the ranks of small towns that have passed local anti-immigrant ordinances. At the local church we noticed that a Spanish language mass wars only held every other week.

The next day some friends met us in Waterloo for breakfast. Omar, a seasoned cyclist, brought his bike and we rode from there to Iowa City. Well, almost. We ran out of daylight and the shoulders were made of soft gravel, so when it became dark, we decided rather than risk the narrow roads to call Cathy for a ride. In any case, we had a beautiful 85 mile ride to Solon. much on it on a great bike trail.

I spent Monday in Iowa City meeting people and visiting surrounding communities. I’ll update more on that next entry.

This morning as we watched the news and word of Alberto Gonzales’ resignation was being reported, we listened to his statement in horror as he spoke of how much he loved this country and that even his worst days in office (presumably the more recent ones when he’s been under scrutiny for misleading Congress) were better than his father’s best days [in Mexico]. I hope his father and others explain to him how insulting that statement is. His scheduled departure date of Sept. 16th will give new meaning to Mexican independence–or should I say, our freedom from this tyrannical Mexican American?