Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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    La Mexicana offers a taste of diversity to the small town of Cobden

    Zitlalli+Tomas+stands+in+her+Quinceneara+dress+April+13%2C+2024%2C+in+Alto+Pass%2C+Illinois.+%28Deangelo+Handley+%7C+%40_deevisuals4%29%0A
    Deangelo Handley
    Zitlalli Tomas stands in her Quinceneara dress April 13, 2024, in Alto Pass, Illinois. (Deangelo Handley | @_deevisuals4)

    Cobden is a small town in Southern Illinois with a population of just more than 1,000 as of 2022. Despite a population of so few, Cobden boasts quite a bit of diversity, including a large percentage of Latinx. Serving the Latinx community in Cobden is Edith Tomas, the owner of La Mexicana, which is a local Mexican grocery store.  

     

    Many people in Cobden go to La Mexicana so that they don’t have to travel to Anna, Illinois where the next nearest Mexican grocery store is. In many ways, La Mexicana exhibits the diversity of the city of Cobden.  

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    The Tomas family is among many in this community that immigrated from Mexico. 

     

    A close family friend who taught junior high and high school,  J. L. Hargis, said, “There was a woman who started a migrant program to work with Spanish-speaking kids because the numbers were starting to really fill up here in Cobden. And it was at a time that would have been close to fruit picking time…Her name was Mary Monavon.”  

     

    Cobden  is especially known for its apples and peaches, and each year the city holds a Peach Festival.  One of the reasons that many of the people in the Latinx community came to Cobden was to find employment in the fruit-picking industry. 

     

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    “They followed the crops primarily,” Hargis said. “In fact, on the outskirts of town…there’s a migrant camp, and that’s where they went for just maybe a short, short time.”  

     

    But finding employment wasn’t the only reason that many immigrated to Cobden. La Mexicana’s owner moved from Cherán, Mexico, which is about 200 miles west of Mexico City.  She has five children: Santiago, Esmerelda, Noemi, Goreti, and Ricardo. Santiago and Ricardo were born in the United States, while her three daughters were born in Mexico.  

     

    One of Edith’s daughters, Noemi Cruz, said, “I came when I was like 7 or 8 years old.”  

     

    Hargis, who has known the family since they moved to Cobden, said, “Santiago was probably in 6th grade, but none of them could speak any English.  They had to learn that.  It took considerable time before you could communicate with the kids.” 

     

    Over time, Hargis formed a connection with the family.  “I used to come over early on and help them with their classes the first year they were here once they could understand enough English that I could talk to them…I never did learn to speak Spanish.” 

     

    Now, the five children have gone their separate ways, some moving as far away as Mayfield, Kentucky.  “Eventually, they all graduated from High School, obviously,” Hargis stated.  “And Noemi went to school: she enrolled in [the] Shawnee College program…and she was working with some type of a nursing program.  And she has enough education to be easily employed if she wasn’t raising a family, but she’s doing full-time family.” 

     

    Family is still very important to them. Edith Tomas said that she first came to the Cobden area because her aunt was here already, and their family has continued to be connected since.  

    Cobden High School’s ESL Dance Team practices a dance routine during their prep period April. 12, 2024 in Cobden, Illinois. (Amilia Estrada) (Enan Chediak)

    “Basically, all my family is here now,” Edith said. “There are no more relatives in Mexico.”  

     

    La Mexicana has been open for more than 20 years. Edith Thomas said she feels comfortable being part of this society, that she has met a lot of good people, and that she is happy to be here.

     

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