Kevin Bae

Non-Social in a Socially Networked World

Fomenting racism from an American success story

Episode 24



An American success story in a small town in Illinois should have been reported as an American success story. But instead, Chicago Tribune writer Bill Ruthhart, used this American success story to foment racism. It was unnecessary and jarring. The town is Arcola, Illinois and the man with the success story is Jesus Garza.

He left Mexico 28 years ago to come to the United States. His story in a nutshell is he worked hard, opened up his own business, and eventually was elected mayor of his town.

What get’s highlighted instead? Here’s the headline. “How a Mexican immigrant became mayor in Illinois’ Trump country. ‘People here just get along.’” Trump has nothing to do with this man’s story. Six paragraphs in we get this gem.

Garza’s rise from immigrant factory worker and car mechanic to mayor is a remarkable story, and his election in a predominantly white and conservative Midwestern town illustrates a level of disconnect between local attitudes on immigration and the national political narrative on the divisive issue.

Mexican immigrant becomes mayor in Illinois’ Trump country – Chicago Tribune

The disconnect lies in the writer’s head. How can it make sense that a small Midwestern town of mostly white people can elect a Mexican immigrant to be mayor? How is that possible? When I read it I was thinking, “you got to be kidding me!” It gets worse.

Garza, 51, took office in May as a Mexican American political novice in a city filled with supporters of former Republican President Donald Trump, a nativist politician well known for his vitriol toward immigrants, from allowing children to be separated from their parents at the southern border to broadly portraying Mexican immigrants as criminals.

Mexican immigrant becomes mayor in Illinois’ Trump country – Chicago Tribune

That paragraph right there is just dishonest. It’s misinformation. And it’s a lie. I was no fan of Trump. I didn’t vote for him in the first election in 2016. But I voted for him in 2020 because I thought the job he did was actually pretty good for the country. I always say pay attention to what people do not to what they say. It may be cliché but actions always speak louder than words. I don’t believe Trump is a nativist. He is an Americanist. I have no problem with putting our country before others and I don’t recall any vitriol toward legal immigrants. He definitely had a sharp tongue for illegal immigration and illegal aliens but he did not portray Mexican immigrants as criminals. He portrayed some illegal aliens as criminal and some illegal Mexican immigrants as criminals. Not all but some.

In interviews along the parade route last month, Arcola voters time and again pledged allegiance to Trump’s tough-on-immigration rhetoric while also lavishing praise on Garza. Some had difficulty reconciling the two positions, as if it were OK to support a Mexican immigrant who had done well by their town, but it was a step too far to support policies that would allow others unknown to them to pursue similar American dreams.

Mexican immigrant becomes mayor in Illinois’ Trump country – Chicago Tribune

The writer again has difficulty reconciling how white people, in a small midwestern town, could be against illegal immigration but yet vote for a Mexican immigrant for mayor. Different citizens of the town express their reverence for Mr. Garza and how he worked to make something of himself and help the town.

Anderson chuckled when he was asked why so many older, white conservative voters like himself embraced Trump’s anti-immigration policies but also voted for an immigrant to become the city’s first Latino mayor.

“Well, I’m not sure I can explain that without scratching my head,” said Anderson, 77. “Way down here in Arcola, you never would have thought of the idea of a Hispanic mayor. For many years, it never would have happened. But Jesus has proven he’s a go-getter, and I’m just tickled pink he got elected.”

Mexican immigrant becomes mayor in Illinois’ Trump country – Chicago Tribune

Does that sound like an anti immigrant racist to you? It sounds to me like a citizen of a small town who has tremendous respect for a person that came to the United States with next to nothing, made something of himself, and became a pillar of the community. That’s what it sounds like to me. It has nothing to do with illegal immigration. It has nothing to do with being against illegal immigration. It has absolutely nothing to do with Trump.

The article goes on to detail how Mr. Garza’s employer helped him, how he started his own business, how he becomes a U.S. citizen, and how grateful he is to the people that made it possible.

He got a $4.25-an-hour job at Libman packing brooms in boxes. But for someone used to working on cars in the open air in Mexico, the confined spaces and monotonous work of the factory floor weren’t appealing.

“I told my dad, ‘I don’t think I’m a factory guy,’” Garza recalled. “I told him I was going to go back to Mexico.”

Garza’s dad convinced a friend who owned a transmission shop to give his son a part-time job. Garza worked 16-hour days, four hours at the auto shop and a 12-hour overnight shift at Libman.

After six months, the shop’s owner, Jerry Beals, hired Garza full time and paid for him to take English classes and receivevarious mechanic certifications.

In 2000, Garza nervously traveled to Chicago to take the test to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. Busy with work, Garza only gave himself the three-hour drive to prepare, but said he impressed the test’s administrator when he recited the original 13 U.S. colonies in the exact order they appeared in the study manual. He passed.

Five years later, Beals moved his shop out of town, and Garza started his own business in Arcola.

Mexican immigrant becomes mayor in Illinois’ Trump country – Chicago Tribune

The town hates immigrants so much that the population of the town is now about 40% Latino.

In 1990, 243 Latinos made up 9% of Arcola’s population. Recent census data shows that number likely is more than 1,000, or just under 40% of the city’s residents.

Mexican immigrant becomes mayor in Illinois’ Trump country – Chicago Tribune

The cultures have been merging over the decades as white people marry Latinos. It’s a natural thing to occur. But how is it possible if the people there are so anti-immigrant? Hint… they’re not.

Wagoner, the city administrator who grew up in the town, said some immigrants have married locals, further enriching Arcola’s diversity.

“The first generation or two of Hispanics were pretty insular, but now they’re coaching Little League, they’re running our soccer program and their kids are playing high school football and basketball,” Wagoner said.

“I’m not gonna lie: We still have 5% racist redneck idiots in the area, and you’re never going to fix that,” he said. “But overall, it’s pretty much to the point where no even notices anymore. They’re just part of the community.”

Mexican immigrant becomes mayor in Illinois’ Trump country – Chicago Tribune

The writer highlights a few life long locals. Most are senior citizens and he tries to pit the lie of them being opposed to immigration against their support of Mr. Garza. When you read the passage below it’s obvious the man doesn’t care where Garza is from. All he cares about is that he’s a decent honest person who takes care of his family, his business, and his town. The bigotry is projected from the Tribune’s writer.

Phil Anderson tended to his neatly manicured lawn and recalled how Garza first worked on his car 16 years ago. He proudly voted for him in April.

“Jesus is a hard worker,” said Anderson, 78, a Republican with a “J.B. Pritzker Sucks” sign planted in his front yard. “He started that business up from nothing, really improved the property down there and works on just about everybody’s car. I really like him.”

Anderson also noted that he has a two-bedroom house down the street that he rents exclusively to immigrants.

“The Mexicans we get in there, they take care of the place,” Anderson explained. “They put pictures on the wall, decorate it real nice and will paint it for you.”

Despite those positive personal experiences, Anderson said he’s a big fan of Trump’s crackdown on immigration. He is among the 66% of Arcola voters who voted for the Republican last year.

Anderson drew a distinction between Garza’s arrival in the early 1990s and the migrant crisis currently unfolding at the border that has led to a record number of illegal crossings. Like Trump, Anderson widely condemned today’s immigrants as having bad intentions.

“I don’t have a problem with all the Spanish coming up here, but they need to do it right,” Anderson said, referring to people of Latino descent. “When Jesus came, we had a good immigration process that worked. Now, everyone is just coming in unchecked.”

Mexican immigrant becomes mayor in Illinois’ Trump country – Chicago Tribune

Where does Jesus Garza stand on the issue of Trump?

For the record, Garza considers himself an independent voter, and at times a disaffected one. In 2008, he voted for Democrat Barack Obama, but he did not vote in 2012, saying that Obama didn’t deliver on his promises for change and Republican Mitt Romney didn’t instill much confidence.

In 2016, Garza looked past Trump’s frequent condemnation of immigrants to vote for him, citing his status as a political outsider and high-profile business owner. But last year, Garza said he again chose not to vote, pointing to Trump’s corruption and a lack of faith in now-President Joe Biden.

Mexican immigrant becomes mayor in Illinois’ Trump country – Chicago Tribune

A Latino that voted for both Obama and Trump? Wow. Who would have believed it could be true.

I’m sure everybody in Arcola read this story. We wonder why we’re so divided. With people like this Tribune writer it’s a wonder why we’re not more divided. And this is the problem. We have a media that cannot understand that people can respect legal immigrants, that come here, work hard, become part of the community, and become American citizens, and still be against illegal immigration. The media cannot understand why people are against Illegal immigrants that take resources from legal immigrants, permanent residents, and citizens. Maybe the immigration laws need to be changed. If the problem is in the law then it’s something that can be fixed through legislation. But we should not ignore the laws currently in place.

It really pisses me off that the writer for the Tribune is trying to drive a wedge between the people in this town. I hope they don’t fall into the trap. It’s disgusting. We need better media.

That’s all I got.


Mexican immigrant becomes mayor in Illinois’ Trump country – Chicago Tribune

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