“Mi Pueblo no es del pueblo” : buying and boycotting culture and politics in a Latino supermarket
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Taking Mi Pueblo Food Center, a nineteen-store chain in Northern California, as a case study, this report will examine Latino supermarkets as sites of both cultural preservation and community building and of legal vulnerability and instability, particularly for undocumented individuals and their families. Mi Pueblo is family-owned and founded by Juvenal Chavez, once undocumented, whose model minority narrative has become central to the store’s public image. It offers a shopping environment that transplants an archetype of a traditional Mexican village marketplace into a contemporary American supermarket, resulting in a combination of cultural nostalgia and modern convenience. Mi Pueblo has successfully engaged crossover markets, and has become a significant resource to Latino/a communities. However, its success has also attracted government suspicion and scrutiny: in 2012, following a mandatory Immigration and Customs Enforcement audit, Mi Pueblo voluntarily participated in the E-Verify program, requiring employees to confirm their employment eligibility and resulting in the loss of 80% of the franchise’s employees. This massive turnover spurred widespread protests, and the switch to fair-wages and documented labor standards led Chavez to file for bankruptcy in 2013. Focusing on media discourses surrounding the food, theming, and politics of the stores, this report examines Mi Pueblo as a stage for dialogue between the management and protestors about the potential for Latino/a activism, sovereignty, and citizenship within a broader context of contemporary immigration politics and undocumented labor economies. Throughout this research, I draw from news articles, blog posts, protest ephemera, and video footage in order to explore Mi Pueblo as site for politics of consumption, cultural preservation, and reform.