The first time Santiago Funes visited a doctor in his 25 years as a migrant farm worker was after he suffered a heart attack and had to undergo open-heart surgery at the Johnson City Medical Center. Funes said he does not know what caused his heart attack, and the reason he had never visited a doctor was because he did not have transportation.
Before his surgery, Funes did not have any kind of medical record, and the medical record he now has in East Tennessee will remain there while he travels back home to Mexico. Since Funes will not have his medical record, any doctor he sees in the future will have a hard time learning his medical history.
Eva Becerra and her husband, Raul Rendon, have followed their dream. They are the owners of Doña Eva Meat Market & Mexican Deli in Johnson City.
On a quiet Tuesday afternoon, Becerra, Rendon and one or two assistants work in the kitchen preparing Mexican dishes of all sorts, but mostly tamales. The front door chimes once or twice as customers arrive. They swiftly pick up their order and head on their way, Eva returning to the kitchen once again.
Rendon mans the kitchen and occasionally cracks a joke in Spanish, drawing the smiles and laughs of those working around him. This is what life looks like for them. This is what the American Dream looks like for many like Becerra and Rendon. This is what they aim for.
It hasn’t always been this way. They, like everyone else in life, have had to adjust and sometimes make the best of their situation, but they persevered and now have much to show for it.
Yesenia Cruz Pascual only knew about three other Hispanics on campus before joining the Hispanic American Student Community Alliance. She felt that not being able to interact with other Latino students was affecting her ability to keep in touch with her Spanish heritage.
“Since I only get to go home every three months or so, and I call my mom like once a week, I didn’t get to practice my Spanish very often,” said Pascual, president of HASCA at East Tennessee State University.
Daniela Mena Dau, a 34-year-old Chilean native, is bringing the art of salsa dancing to Johnson City. Once a month, Dau and her dancing partner BJ Goliday host salsa lessons at Bodega 105, a local Latin American restaurant. Before the class starts, Dau takes time to mingle with her students. Dressed in a fiery red dancing costume, it’s apparent that she’s the instructor.
The band starts up and fills the cozy restaurant with the hypnotic beat of the Latin music. Students of the class eagerly make their way towards the front of the venue. Dau and Goliday, sensing that it’s time to begin, head for the stage. From 8 to 11 o’clock, Dau and Goliday will lead the restaurant’s patrons in various dance steps.
The tortilla is such a ubiquitous part of Mexican cuisine that, sometimes, it can get taken for granted. While a steaming portion of grilled chicken or steak steals center stage, the noble tortilla provides the perfect, understated backdrop. One man who hasn't forgotten about the importance of a fine tortilla is José Velasco, the owner of Tortilleria Familiar El Arriero. When Velasco opened the tortilleria's doors five years ago, he wanted to fill Johnson City's consistent demand for tortillas, and he wanted them made right.
“We really only have authentic, Mexican tacos,” says Ricardo, Velasco's 16-year-old son. “A lot of restaurants don't do that, but we have just basic, authentic food.”