Posted by Leah Meyer, LITTLE MEXICO, GAINSVILLE, GA – I know from my Sociology classes that there are supposedly two types of segregation: dejure and defacto. Dejure (meaning lawfully enforced segregation) has dwindled since the Civil Rights Movement. What this implies is that most of today’s segregation is defacto (not lawfully enforced, just a matter of fact). Little Mexico epitomizes defacto segregation, and it is particularly apparent during the endless summer sunshine when foot traffic within the community’s business district swells because of increased job opportunities. Of course, this may soon change because Governor Nathan Deal recently signed the Arizona-like immigration bill requiring businesses to certify that all employees have a legal right to be in the United States.
Little Mexico hasn’t been around all that long. Construction projects preparing for the 1996 Olympics took advantage of the cheap labor offered by Mexican immigrants. When those projects were finished, many of the workers ventured north for employment in the chicken factories surrounding Gainesville. Little Mexico emerged because it is in close proximity to these factories. But this small community is both culturally and economically separate from greater Gainsville, and certainly not equal. Though most in the community work, their wages remain low.
Spanish-speaking businesses such as taco stands, hair dressers, and most importantly taxi companies serve and thrive in the community, perpetuating the lively and industrious Mexican culture within it. Some might write off Little Mexico's segregation as being a matter of residential choice. But, institutional influences such as access to transportation, real estate practices, and a limited job market for Little Mexico’s residents restrict their housing options. Non-Catholic native Christians from nearby Gainsville neighborhoods attempt to assimilate Little Mexico’s inhabitants into their own culture and brand of Christianity by running thrift stores and offering charity within the community, albeit in a rather patronizing way. They even placed a large billboard painting of Jesus with the word “eternity” across the top. This billboard is on the side of a building where gang members from the highly organized Surenos 13 have left their tags. Ironically, the billboard faces a sign for a local tarot card reader named Jesus David. I can’t be sure, but my guess is that Jesus David gets a lot more business than the nearby non-Hispanic evangelists.