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Mexican store offers taste of home for growing Hispanic community

By Staff
SHOPPING AT LA MEXICANA Israel Ortiz looks over some CDs by Mexican artists Monday at La Mexicana. The store, owned by Alex Espino, has been open for a week and features Mexican foods, music and movie rentals. PHOTO BY KYLE CARTER / THE MERIDIAN STAR
By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
April 27, 2004
Alex Espino stood proudly Monday as he watched a few patrons seated at scattered tables inside his new La Mexicana Store in Meridian, one week after it opened.
One Hispanic man sipped a lemon-lime flavored Jarritos, a popular carbonated soft drink in Mexico, while another munched on a stick of chocolate covered marshmallow and watched soccer on a nearby television.
Espino and his brothers also own El Norte Restaurant in North Hills and Tres Hermanos in Livingston, Ala. Espino said they decided to open the store last year because of the growing Hispanic community in East Mississippi.
La Mexicana Store is open every day from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. and features such Mexican-brand items as chips, soap, cigars, toilet paper, compact discs, videos, piatas, hats and other items. It is one of only a few such stores in East Mississippi and the most recent to open in Meridian.
Espino said the Hispanic population has nearly tripled over the past five years. Although the 2000 census showed Lauderdale County was home to only 500 Hispanics, Espino and others say the number is much higher.
Marion Surles, who heads the Hispanic Mission Center at Central United Methodist Church, said the number is "at least four times that."
Surles said the number has grown over the past few years as some Hispanics have found work in the timber industry, planting pine trees. Some have also found work in one of Meridian's six Mexican restaurants.
Surles said the biggest change over the past few years in the Hispanic community is that many are choosing to stay here.
Espino said Meridian has become home to his family. And, he said, he hopes his new store will help other Hispanics better enjoy their new home.