Katrina Causes Confusion, Fear for Hispanic Workers
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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Among those in the path of Hurricane Katrina in southern Mississippi is a growing Hispanic population. Based on US Census figures, there were an estimated 42,000 Hispanics known to be living in Mississippi. And there were untold thousands more, especially in rural areas, that are undocumented working in the poultry industry, on farms or in the construction industry. NPR's David Schaper was in Hattiesburg.
DAVID SCHAPER reporting:
Just outside of Hattiesburg, in a small triangular-shaped trailer park of about a dozen run-down mobile homes, a small enclave of Mexican immigrants is hanging out. They're relaxing a bit now, but they say the last week has been tough. First, many in the growing Hispanic community here didn't know Katrina was coming until a few hours before it hit. There's no local Spanish-language media. In the few heavily Hispanic apartment complexes, the city of Hattiesburg passed out flyers in Spanish warning of the storm Sunday afternoon before Katrina hit. But out here, away from the city, the warnings were only word of mouth and late. Though their trailers didn't sustain much damage, Enrique Hernandez says he and his neighbors were caught without essentials.
Mr. ENRIQUE HERNANDEZ (Hispanic Immigrant): You know, I stay here. I don't got enough to eat. I don't got water, you know.
SCHAPER: After a few days without food and water, Hernandez says help did arrive.
Mr. HERNANDEZ: Three people stay here. Ten people will stay here.
SCHAPER: Seven relief workers brought them some food and water. But, again, because public service announcements are only in English, as are the signs pointing hurricane survivors to where such supplies are being handed out, they didn't go for help themselves.
Mr. FUTADO SOLANO(ph): (Spanish spoken)
SCHAPER: In addition, Futado Solano says they've been without power for eight days, making it very hard to sleep at night because it's so hot. But just then an African-American neighbor, the source of the James Brown tunes in the background, tells them some good news.
Unidentified Man: Hey, the lights is on. It's OK now. We got lights. We got lights.
SCHAPER: Still, many challenges lie ahead. This group says they're running low on cash, as they send most of what they earn to family back home in Mexico. And now they're out of work and don't know how long it'll be before they can earn some money again.
(Soundbite of raking)
SCHAPER: A half-mile further out of town, set back 40 yards or so from the road and the houses along it, is a small lone trailer shared by 10 young Mexican immigrant men. Juan is raking up the remnants of their nightly fire. They've been burning garbage and the countless fallen tree limbs around them for light at night and to cook. They won't say whether they are here legally or not, but neighbor Ruben Viealong(ph) says most of the Hispanics in this area are illegal.
Mr. RUBEN VIEALONG (Neighbor): They are afraid of--to go get help because they are from Mexico, and they're from way down south Mexico, and they don't have no papers. Some of these guys do, but, I mean, they're all--like I said, they're just trying, man. They're just trying to live one step at a time.
SCHAPER: Viealong says these and the other small enclaves of Mexican immigrants in Mississippi are pulling together as a team to make it and to survive. And despite the hurricane, they won't go back to Mexico. Through Viealong, they said that they are much better off here, they're happy here and their families back home are counting on them for financial support. David Schaper, NPR News.
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