Every year our family – our entire family migrates in groups to Covert and South Haven, MI. along the shores of Lake Michigan. My grandfather grew up in South Haven – a town that has been a resort for Chicago's privileged classes since the late 1800s. My grandmother's family 'summered' here. My parents and aunts and uncles and cousins and I have come here almost every summer of our lives. And in the combined eighty-plus years we've been living in and visiting southwestern Michigan, we have seen many changes.
Some changes – like the introduction of big box stores and the evolution of the town's storefronts from purveyors of the practical to the collections of beach-inspired kitsch – are obvious, and not always good ones. Others, are more subtle but enrich our appreciation of our adopted home town in completely unexpected ways.
Away from the beach towns and yacht clubs, South Haven and its environs are mostly small town or rural. Many of the old small businesses I knew as a child have folded in the wake of 'progress', but modest homes and farms still define much of the landscape. This is the world my grandfather knew, and it is disappearing, but there is a small place in Covert that is not just keeping this spirit alive, it's breathing new life into it.
We still go into South Haven for groceries, but my parents' place – passed down from great-grandparents to grandparents to parents – is in the smaller, less touristy town of Covert. We go there to use the library. A few years ago, however, a mexican immigrant bought some of the land there from a retiring farmer and started a farm stand. This is not exactly novel in a farming community, but what was novel was the restaurant he quickly installed there.
Arrellanos, as the place is known, is a mecca for the town's mexican immigrants – they can buy imported food there and catch up. But it has also become the go-to place for fantastic mexican food for people in the area. With colorful, plastic-protected tablecloths decorating tables surrounded by a deli, Arellano has given the place color – an integral piece of small-town character.
By becoming the proverbial American success story this farm stand is feeding the optimism in all of us. It is helping to make a previously almost-invisible part of the population – the people who pick the food around here – visible. It has introduced non-mexican-Americans to another view of Mexican culture. And for us – our entire family has grown addicted to the place – it has become another taste of home.