Birmingham–the city too confused to hate

Mi Pueblo
Mi Pueblo

There’s no way my wife and I could have been prepared for our first visit to Mi Pueblo—the new 44,186-square-foot multicultural supermarket that recently opened on Green Springs Highway.

The store is bright, clean, and stacked high with fresh meats and poultry, fresh seafood and fish with products from all over the world.  My guess is that Mi Pueblo does more business in a day than the Food World it replaced did in a week.

Signage was primarily in Spanish and when we stopped to ask our first question, the response was, “No inglés.”  Someone quickly came to translate, but I felt like we had been transported to a foreign county.

I grew up in Birmingham in the ’50’s and this is not the world of my childhood.

Back then it seemed everyone was either “Colored” or “White.” There were signs that said “Colored” and “White” on the restrooms and on the water fountains.  There were movable placards on the buses instructing “Coloreds” to sit in the back.

In the 1950’s  Birmingham and Atlanta were about the same size.  While Birmingham chose church bombings, fire hoses, and dogs, Atlanta branded itself as the city too busy to hate.

I was recently told by someone who would know, that when the decision was made to locate a major airport to Atlanta in the early 1960’s, even though Birmingham was a better choice, we were eliminated because of our racial turmoil.

Birmingham and Alabama as well as the rest of the U.S. are going through a major transition.

According to the Census Bureau, it’s predicted that the majority of public school children in Alabama will be minorities by 2018.  And the majority of Americans will be minorities by 2043.

This is not a conversation about illegal immigration.  Legal or not–America has always been a melting pot and Birmingham’s demographics are changing with the rest of our country.

I regularly go to Costco on Sunday afternoons to eat one of their huge hot dogs and people watch. I’m amazed by the diversity of shoppers–Asians, Hispanics, Indians—people from all over the world.  The same is true when I walk around UAB.

It’s surprising that our Birmingham conversation often revolves around Black and White-when our population now is so diverse.

Joel Rivera
Joel Rivera, Owner Mi Pueblo

I told my wife when we left Mi Pueblo that I felt we had just returned to America–but didn’t have to go through customs.  And Mi Pueblo is just getting started.  They have another store in Pelham and are planning a new one on 280.  It doesn’t take a fortune teller to see that America and Birmingham are moving into a new world.  There should be no confusion about that.

Birmingham screwed  up in the ‘50’s and 60’s.

Now we have a chance to get it right.

Let’s turn Birmingham around.  Click here to sign up for our newsletter.  There’s power in numbers. (Opt out at any time)

David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12 Advertising Agency and co-CEO of AmSher Collection Agency.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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9 thoughts on “Birmingham–the city too confused to hate”

  1. Your experience at Mi Pueblo, David, is why locals don’t like the new immigrants. They show no desire or intention to fit in with their new community. “No inglés?” No problem . . . they really don’t care if gringos come in there anyway. That’s why none of the meats, produce, or dishes in the lunch buffet have English labels. Senior Rivera has several other Spanish language business ventures in the area, including his Spanish-only Pelham radio station. Why speak English? Who needs to? This refusal to blend into their new country forces communities to create bi-lingual services for commercial, legal, educational, and medical services when budgets are already strained. They didn’t immigrate here, they just moved their country here and created their own ghetto, albeit, a nice one.

  2. *I have had nice experiences in this business located in Pelham and look forward to the one on HWY280. However, I do agree that I am confused as to why a company of this size and obvious business acumen does not realize that English signage would just serve to grow their business. Most businesses now accommodate Spanish to some degree; it is truly odd and seems purposeful that this business is avoiding making the same accommodation.

    It is hard for me to believe that this company is opening three ‘Foodworld’ sized stores in the Birmingham metro and don’t see that as going more mainstream. The days of being the little market in Pelham with one or two English speaking customers would seem to no longer be their goal. So it does suggest the question of accommodation.

    Raj Kapoor

  3. *I am thrilled with the new Mi Pueblo and have been shopping there for some time beginning in the old store a bit south on Greensprings.  Among other things I usually get a dozen of the homemade tamales and freeze at home and use as needed.  I do not speak Spanish, but never had any problem finding someone to help and explain what an item is and how I could prepare.  I say that loosely because my husband does the cooking. 🙂 The word I use for shopping at Mi Pueblo is “Fun”.  It re-defines our shopping experience and provides us with produce and meat not available in most groceries with a cultural flair.  

  4. *David:

    Excellent post on Mi Pueblo! Pretty obvious that some of your responders are full of hatred about anyone of different color or language. THAT is the problem with Birmingham. Just returned from short visit to NASHVILLE. Whew! They get it! The Mayor is a Harvard grad and, because of their METRO government, they get tremendous EDUCATED LEADERSHIP….you know the rest of the story. So, keep pushing for ONE GREAT CITY! There,  just, might be a light at the end of the tunnel… 24 year old granddaughter & friends love Birmingham…they are our future.



  5. I LOVE Mi Pueblo, so much! For the most part, they’ve got great prices and the best variety of any produce department I’ve found in town! I’ve gotten great service there, too.

    I’m saddened, though not surprised, at some of the commentary on here. Yes, the first person David spoke to didn’t speak English, but as he says, someone came quickly to translate. That’s been my experience, too. Some of the workers might not be comfortable talking in English, but that doesn’t mean it was a hostile attitude. It’s easy enough to find someone who can translate. It takes time to learn a new language, and the produce stacker might not be there yet. I’ve worked with dozens of immigrant workers over the years, and for the most part (there are always exceptions) everyone I’ve ever worked with is working towards learning English, etc.

    I’ve never heard anyone complaining about the language barrier at Red Pearl, where I’ve had a lot more problem communicating, and is only half a mile down the road from the Green Springs Mi Pueblo. People tend to see the language issue there as proof of the store’s authenticity. Why not take the same attitude toward Mi Pueblo?

  6. *Wow! Jerome Leader — ad hominem attacks using the word “hatred” just because someone asks why English signs aren’t exploited. Try opening a grocery store in Mexico City and only using English signs. The exact same questions would be asked but I seriously doubt anyone would label it as “hatred” for asking. The USA is the only country in the world that bandies the word “hatred” around like that. It causes it to lose its meaning because you use it in such a ridiculous way.

  7. Thanks, Ron. Exactly what I thought. Hatred is a strong word – I never used it. My comments were about accommodation to the locals, Latino and Anglo. I do shop there and I would shop more often if I had English signage on the buffet, meat counter, and produce section.

    Jerome Leader not only has a mis-directed definition of hatred, he isn’t aware that capital letters in an email denotes screaming!

  8. Thanks, Ron. Exactly what I thought. Hatred is a strong word – I never used it. My comments were about accommodation to the locals, Latino and Anglo. I do shop there and I would shop more often if I had English signage on the buffet, meat counter, and produce section.

    Jerome Leader not only has a mis-directed definition of hatred, he isn’t aware that capital letters in an email denotes screaming!

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