Mexicans are very loyal people. (They can also turn off the loyalty when pride gets in the way. But that’s a blog for Another Thousand Words.)
Last night, Alexis and I went to the Cinco de Mayo fiesta at the Hammond Civic Center. There were a lot of brown people. On the dance floor, I felt tall.
A lotta people in the pool of local Mexican-Americans evidently listen to my morning radio show. Part of it is that WJOB is actually owned by a Mexican-American. My wife owns the majority of it. I don’t. That’s because I crave risk and make dumb choices. It’s what led to me losing all of our money twice.
Alexis comes on the air with me on Friday mornings. Yesterday, on the morning of the Cinco de Mayo festival, we gave away a couple dozen tickets by simply asking listeners to call in and speak Spanish. It actually turned out kinda funny, especially when white guys called in and tried to speak Spanish.
At last night’s big Cinco de Mayo shindig, a Mexican woman came up to Alexis. She said it really quickly in Spanish so I had to ask Alexis later for an accurate translation.
“I was having a really bad morning, and then you and JED came on and had people trying to speak Spanish. I was laughing out loud. It brightened my day.”
You try different stuff on the air and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But what’s the difference? Because as the three or four of you know, all radio is good. Just some is better than others.
I really do appreciate the loyalty of the growing numbers of Mexican-Americans in the Region who listen to WJOB. Javier and Chucho do a Sunday morning music show in Spanish that is quite popular, especially amongst older Mexicans. Some of these older Mexicans and a few younger ones came up to me at the Civic Center last night. One woman works for the School City of East Chicago, which has been in the news lately.
“I want to call in so many times. I reach for the telefono, but I don’t call because I just can’t. There’s so much politics.”
Manny and his daughter came up to us. “My daughter’s been asking all night when you were gonna show up so she could get a picture with you.” So we took a picture with Manny’s daughter. It’s on Facebook. She’s in first grade now. You should have seen her face when I asked:
“So are you reading now?”
This little girl gave me a look she will no doubt give to anyone who doubts her for the rest of her life. It was part frown, part laugh, part are you freaking kidding me?
Sorry. I’m disylexic. I really didn’t start reading until I was six. Lo siento.
Many others came up to Alexis and me. It was really cool. And when we danced, a lot of people waved and smiled and no doubt silently laughed at how clumsily I dance while my wife saunters easily.
But what impressed me the most was the comments about Strack and Van Til grocery stores. As the three or four of you know, the parent company of Strack’s has been forced into involuntary bankruptcy. The jobs of 6,000 local workers are at stake. News reports don’t make it look too good.
Strack and Van Til’s is a local legend. Two families – the Stracks and the Van Tils – got together half a century ago and built a local powerhouse. The company plows millions into local charities, Little Leagues, florists, dairies, etc.
As a matter of fact, if you try to think of Region icons, one of your top three is Strack and Van Til grocery stores. It’s that big of a deal around here.
And now, with the bankruptcy, the future of 22 local grocery stores is, let’s be frank, in doubt. This is troubling, not just for the Region, but also for WJOB and all of the WJOB extended family, which you are a part of just by reading this blog.
Another Region icon is us. WJOB started in 1923 or 1924 – we can’t pinpoint it exactly – and has been the go-to local media source ever since. Alexis and I are honored to own this icon.
And we were honored last year when Jeff Strack came to us and wanted to be the naming sponsor of our new studios at Purdue. Jeff owns, as reported, 10 percent of SVT, but he was kind of on the sidelines in terms of leadership for several years as Central Grocers bought the majority of SVT and ran things.
Then, about 10 months ago – with Central Grocers, SVT, and the whole grocery industry struggling – they named Jeff as CEO of Strack and Van Til. This rejuvenated the whole Strack and Van Til company. You could see it in the stores. Employees and customers started to think once again of how cool it is to have Strack and Van Til’s in our lives.
So, as you can imagine, we, like tens of thousands of others in the Calumet Region, have a financial stake in the future of Strack and Van Til’s. But our financial interest isn’t what’s paramount here. What’s most important is that in this time of crisis that we support one of our own - Strack and Van Til grocery stores.
And here’s the funny thing. Yesterday, I just happened to mention a couple of times on the air:
“They’re one of us,” I said. “Let’s support our own.”
Now all day yesterday after the show I worked at the WJOB studios on the Purdue campus. I went to lunch at a customer’s – Theo’s in Highland – and I even went for a run and bumped into several people.
But nowhere, all day long, did anyone mention loyalty to Strack and Van Til’s until I walked into the Hammond Civic Center last night for Cinco de Mayo.
Then a ton of people did.
“Hey JED, I went to Strack and Van Til’s twice today,” said a commissioner on the Human Rights Commission in Hammond.
“JED, my parents don’t shop at Strack and Van Til’s. They go on Saturdays. So I called them up and told them to go to Strack and Van Til’s. They’re gonna do it in the morning.”
“Hey JED, you’re right, we have to support Strack and Van Til’s. That’s the first grocery store I walked into when I came to this country.”
It was an outpouring. And it was just comments on the radio I slipped in during conversation about something else. But that’s what Mexicans pick up on.
Loyalty. Family. Strack and Van Til’s.