Abdul Taleb has run Mi Carnal market for 12 years. It’s a corner grocery store on busy Foothill Boulevard in East Oakland. People in this low-income neighborhood, known as the San Antonio district, stop in to buy fresh mangoes or cuts of meat.
In this neighborhood, where 42 percent of the residents are foreign-born according to the latest available Census estimates, customers might come from Mexico, Guatemala or Cambodia. East Oakland, the 94601 zip code, is nearly half Latino, 20 percent black and 20 percent Asian. One of Taleb’s customers is Dan Schmitz, who for nearly 30 years has lived in the Oak Park apartments, just a five-minute walk from Mi Carnal.
“I’ve known and shared meals with Abdul for a long time,” says Schmitz. “That’s just part of the nature of the neighborhood.”
The two men often engage in the kind of chitchat that usually takes place between a shopkeeper and a customer: the weather or the price of milk. And it might have stayed that way, had it not been for Donald Trump winning the presidential election last November. Only after the election did both Schmitz and Taleb realize how much immigration policy factored into their spiritual callings.
Taleb himself is an immigrant; he came to America at age five. His grandfather was the trailblazer of the family, leaving Yemen for the US in the 1970s. The older Taleb first worked as a farmhand in Fresno, and eventually moved to Oakland where he opened a pair of Mi Carnal grocery stores. These are the stores Abdul Taleb now runs.
“I grew up in the neighborhood,” Taleb explains. “I have managed to learn the Spanish language very well so I can communicate with a lot of my customers and friends.”
Schmitz watched Taleb grow up. He came to the neighborhood in 1989 to volunteer with a Christian charity. Now, Schmitz is the lead pastor of the New Hope Covenant Church, located just a few blocks away from Mi Carnal market.
After the election of President Trump, anxiety was high. The Public Policy Institute of California estimates 10 percent of people in the city of Oakland are undocumented.
By Christmas, Schmitz and his congregation — mostly college educated whites and Asians — felt they had to offer their neighbors more than holiday goodwill. So they set up a table in front of one of Taleb’s Mi Carnal markets, handing out gift bags and “know your rights” flyers in both English and Spanish about what to do if you are questioned by immigration agents.