Some Hispanics feel villainized, but these are the hands building our cities

Hispanic Heritage Month

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Some Latinos we spoke to for this special report said they felt villainized because of political conversations happening across the United States.

We took this to the top politician in Knoxville. The mayor said immigrants have been villainized.

“That is a tough question and it’s unfortunate that we have some of these negative clouds of misperceptions,” Mayor Indya Kincannon said. “But I would say ‘bienvenidos’ — all are welcome here in Knoxville.”

Each of you has your own beliefs about immigration policy. Take those out of the equation for just a few minutes. This story is not about politics. It’s about members of our community.

No politics. No opinion. Just a story.

For a big project in a booming city it takes a whole lot of materials, tools, and hands to get it done right. Behind the construction sign “keep out” there are many workers some people in this country never wanted to let in..

“I mean you can feel that some people does not accept you as a neighbor and I mean that, that’s just one of the things that you just have to tough it out,” Antonio Reyes, an immigrant, said.

Consider this story a handshake. You’re getting to know your neighbors.

We’re all building something. Reyes’ daughter is working on her spelling. Mom is working on her patience.

“Sound it out,” Talisha Reyes said as she worked on homework with her daughter.

It’s work that brought this mother from Puerto Rico and her husband from Mexico in 2008. From “hola” to “hey y’all,” these Spanish speakers are building a life here.

“The culture, it was, very very different and the most important thing is that I couldn’t understand people very well because of the southern accent,” Talisha laughed. “My kids seem happy. My family seem happy. We made a family here.”

They’re not the only ones. There are more than 33,000 immigrants in Knoxville.

“Twelve years ago you wouldn’t see that many hispanic in this area, but I think the Hispanic population is growing a little bit more,” Talisha said.

The city is growing, too. Real estate is booming in Knoxville and new construction can be found throughout the city.

Hispanics make up nearly 30% of the construction workforce in America. When what you’re building crumbles the team at Antonio Renovations LLC will fix it.

“Not just in Knoxville, but throughout America, Hispanics are the ones that are building the homes, building the businesses,” Antonio said.

Eighty percent of his employees are immigrants.

“Most of the immigrants are going to be good for the community and I think most of the people get that. I hope,” he said.

He hopes because he’s building a future for three very important clients.

“Yeah, my kids are pretty high maintenance,” he laughed.

He also hopes because he has to because not everybody thinks he’s good. Not everybody builds up neighbors like these, but these are the hands building Knoxville.

“We have a pretty good repuation,” Antonio mentioned.

He cares a lot about his reputation. It’s another something that can be built and torn down.

When we first talked to him on the phone he said three times, “we are not criminals.”

We never asked a question that would render that reponse. Still, he felt he had to introduce himself that way.

“Mainly politics will get into criminalizing immigrants, Hispanics, or immigrants,” he said.

Antonio said he’s in America legally.

Though he is married to an American citizen, owns a business, and has US-born children, he has not gotten his citizenship yet.

“There’s always going to be people that see us like that we’re not good people, but I think there’s a lot more people that is good,” he said.

We’re all a work in progress, so if this story is a handshake, consider this a hand extended.

“I just love it. I don’t think there are many places where you can walk on the street and people that you don’t know wave at you,” he said.

Around here we shake back.

“Most of us have a dream. You know? We’re lookin’ for the American dream,” he said.

That’s quite the project. The American dream. We’re all trying to build that.

Antonio is creating jobs with his company. Immigrants are 45% more likely to be entrepreneurs than those born in the US.

About one in five Americans identifies as Latino. That’s 20% of the US population. With the presidential election coming up in a matter of weeks, Claudia Caballero with Centro Hispano de East Tennessee is very passionate about this. She calls voting empowering.

“There are days where I feel like my vote doesn’t count. I will be honest and then I remember that there are so many people that can’t use their voice and I remember my own privilege to be able to do that,” Caballero said.

In Knoxville, there are more than 12,000 registered immigrant voters. She said your vote represents your entire community.

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