A growing Latino population is slowly shifting the demographics of US dairyland – and keeping the industry going
roducts spring out from the walls of Veracruz Mexican market in Monroe, Wisconsin: packets of cinnamon sticks, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, tiny rainbow-colored sprinkles, chicle; a wall of healthcare like anxiety pills and vitamins for energy, and a shelf devoted entirely to various forms of muscle pain relief. A large meat case full of Mexican specialties, such as longaniza. Piñatas. Maíz. Jarritos. Chicharrones. And rosquillas, a treat in between a cracker and a cookie which is what newly arrived immigrants ask for most often, says Maribel Lobato. She and her husband Santos Tinoco have owned the store for 13 years in Monroe, a small city in Green county about 40 miles south of Madison.
The couple are often first contact for an increasing number of Latinos who immigrate to Monroe – which is 95% white – to work on dairy farms. “We can see the new faces because we know all the Latinos in Monroe,” says Lobato. She offers them donated furniture, clothes, a way to connect to home. An InterCambio Express telephone for sending money sits beneath an advertisement for a $19/hour job at a cheese factory, “but this place requires good papers”, customers in the store say in Spanish.
“I. Am. So. Busy,” says Lobato, who switches between speaking fast English and even faster Spanish.
When a family skidded off the road during their first winter in Monroe and the dad broke his arm in three places, Lobato took care of the kids. The store served as a Covid vaccination center. People bring traffic citations into the store they need help filling out; profiling is so common that after a certain number of tickets, many Latinos here just get a new car. Still, customers will risk the 40-minute drive from Beloit, a city in a neighboring county with a growing Latino population, to get the products they miss. About once a month, someone calls Lobato in the middle of the night to pick them up from the side of the road after their car is confiscated because they don’t have a license.