Rosa Chunchi, a hardworking immigrant, was confronted by a knife-wielding man in a Minneapolis park earlier this month.
It badly shook the 50-year-old mother, who was selling frozen treats to customers with her daughter, Gina, from their city-permitted van during soccer games at Northeast Park.
“I tried to talk to him to calm him,” recalled Gina, 13, who attends a Columbia Heights middle school. “The guy was getting more and more upset and he was swearing at us” and saying they shouldn’t park where they were.
There’s a pretty good resolution to this story, thanks to kind neighbors, friends and people Rosa Chunchi doesn’t even know, who rallied in support.
It’s also a vivid embodiment of the increase in anti-immigrant harassment, noted by local authorities to the American Bar Association, that seems emboldened by the coarse talk from the White House.
Chunchi lives with her daughter in a mobile-home park adjacent to Columbia Heights. She works full time, laundering and pressing clothes at a Blaine dry cleaner for $16 an hour.
“I can do all the jobs, but I specialize in pressing,” she said.
“She’s a very hard worker,” said Perry Chapman, the owner of Martinizing cleaners in Blaine. “She’s one of those people who shows up at 5 a.m. every day. I can’t remember if she has ever called in sick. I was heartbroken to learn of this incident in the park. She came in the next morning to tell me and she was shaking. We have only seven employees and we’re like a family.
“And I’m concerned that the harsh language toward immigrants from President Donald Trump is filtering down into violent acts against hardworking immigrants. This guy who attacked them is calling her illegal and telling her to go back. It shook her up. Especially with her daughter there.”
Chunchi immigrated to the United States in 1993 from Ecuador.
She abhors violence. She lost her first child to miscarriage after she was beaten by her then-husband. She came to America for a fresh start. She lived a few years in New York City, and then moved to Minneapolis.
She’s long worked at dry-cleaning operations.
Chunchi invested $5,000 in savings this spring in a used van, painted brightly with ice cream bars and other cold confections on a stick, and outfitted to store and peddle frozen treats. It was a way for her and Gina to make extra money and work together.
On Aug. 2, they were selling frozen novelties during evening soccer games at Northeast Park.
They were approached by a young man, who first complained they were parked too close to the edge of an asphalt driveway used by pedestrians and bicyclists entering the park. He called the police and a park patrol cruiser rolled by a few moments later. The officer declined to do anything. The van was parked appropriately and Chunchi had the proper permit.
“The guy came back and kept complaining and said we were illegal and didn’t belong here and he started swearing at us,” Gina Chunchi recalled. “This went on for 10 or 12 minutes. My mom was crying. He took out a knife. And he stabbed the tire. And then he jumped on his skateboard and took off.”
The police were called and a courteous officer took the description. He said he was sorry, and that he and his partner would look for the perpetrator.
Meanwhile, word spread. A few passersby witnessed the verbal assault and vandalism. They comforted a shaken Rosa.
One couple walking home from the park encountered Mayor Jacob Frey, a Northeast resident, who was bicycling in the neighborhood.
He rode several few blocks to Northeast Park.
“This was heartbreaking,” Frey said. “They are selling ice cream to help pay rent. They are legally permitted. A man skateboarding by tells them they are incorrectly parked and then accuses them of being undocumented. It shouldn’t matter. The cops said they were fine where they were parked. The guy slashes their tire. I found them at the back of their truck crying.
“It was heartbreaking. I work on the budget and big-ticket developments, but this is one of those things that tugs at the heartstrings most.”
Here comes the redeeming part of the story.
Frey asked an aide to help set up a “GoFundMe” account, which has now raised more than $4,000 from nearly 150 donors. That covers more than the cost of the tow, the repairs and lost business for a working-poor family.
“Please know there are people who welcome your contributions,” wrote one local donor.
“So tired of seeing this country filled with hate,” wrote a Florida woman. “Good luck, ladies.”
“People have helped us a lot,” reported Gina Chunchi. “Teachers from my school, friends and people we don’t know. The comments [on the funding page] made us feel happy and grateful.”
All success to you, Rosa and Gina. Vaya con Dios.
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.