6/3/20 in response to questions on Instagram

Briana Valdez here. I am the owner of HomeState. I am also a resident and proud member of this community.

First of all, I apologize for any delay in responding — we are devoting ourselves to keeping our team safe and on finding the most impactful ways we can to support the movement, and the last thing we want to do is take any effort or airspace or attention away from this critically important moment to partake in back-and-forth on social media.

Second, I hesitated to respond because I am reluctant to provide any specific information whatsoever about any employee. Our company believes strongly that each and every one of our team members — both current and former — has a right to privacy, and we endeavor to protect that right to the extent allowed by law. Ask yourself: would you want a former employer of yours to respond to some off-hand accusation on Instagram and in the process reveal details about you or the reason you are no longer employed? We certainly wouldn’t, and we don’t think our employees do, either.

Nevertheless, the accusation you are leveling against HomeState (and, by extension, me) is extremely serious and distressing, and I am therefore compelled to respond.

Let me say it bluntly: what you are alleging regarding our termination of a former employee due to an ICE action is not true, plain and simple. As a company, we have never nor would we ever move to act against an employee due to anything related to ICE. On the contrary, we believe strongly that immigrants should have access to  social services and fair treatment regardless of their legal status, and we stand firmly in opposition to any attempts to deprive legal or undocumented immigrants of their fundamental human rights. I am the daughter of first generation Mexican American parents who worked as itinerant workers in the cotton fields of Texas, and the granddaughter of a grandmother and grandfather who immigrated to Texas from Mexico. I respect, value and will fight to protect the rights of immigrants today, tomorrow and forevermore, and I have done my level best to ensure that those values carry through to every level of my company. 

But this is a conversation that has seen me called a “white Latina,” and one in which not only my current actions but the very identity of my company and its place in our community is being questioned, undermined and attacked. Which is to say that my declaration above probably won’t be enough. And since you asked for details about this specific incident, here they are:

Last year, a member of our team took a lunch break and never returned. The following day, when we made contact with the employee we learned that their absence was due to a family emergency involving ICE. Absolutely no disciplinary action was taken in response. Instead, we stood in solidarity with the employee in question, offering our understanding and support and asking what we could do to help. They continued working with us, and though there were several issues with calling-out at the last minute and reporting late for work, we loved the energy and passion they brought to our space. We enjoyed working with them so much, in fact, that we offered them a promotion to management contingent on an improvement in their punctuality and attendance. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Though we heard nothing more about ICE actions involving their family, this employee continued to have trouble coming to work on-time and as-scheduled: their final seven-day period included three no-shows. At that point, despite everyone’s high hopes and best intentions, we were forced to terminate our relationship and move on.

That’s the entire story. And I hope you can see now that the allegation you leveled against HomeState earlier today is not only false and unfounded, but deeply misleading. I am a proud Mexican American, a believer in the rights and dignity of working people and an ally of oppressed people everywhere. To imply or allege outright that I or anyone who works alongside me is standing in the way of the progress this society so desperately needs and deserves is offensive…and even more so, it contributes to the distracting noise that undermines and destabilizes progressive movements of all kinds.

Lastly, I would like to briefly respond to the comments regarding our negative impact on the surrounding community. To the person who asked if I even knew the business I displaced by moving in, you’ll be happy to know that I most definitely do. Amigos Liquors used to occupy our space. And how do I know that? Because I didn’t sign my lease four years ago until I knew that Ali (the owner of Amigos) would not be displaced…in fact, he moved two doors down to a space that was freshly rebuilt by our shared landlord, and is still there to this day.

I live in Highland Park and am raising my family here. I strive to be an engaged, productive member of this community and I expect my business to do the same. And though we can always do better, I am confident that we have acted thus far in good faith, and endeavored to be responsible stewards of our space and decent employers of the people we are lucky enough to call team members. We have always hired directly from the neighborhood (many of our employees walk to work), we have always provided living wages and full benefits, we have always supported local organizations, and we have always been open to any and all. And, not for nothing, the sales tax our business generates supports local schools and many other neighborhood services.

Furthermore, throughout these past few months operating under the cloud of the pandemic, we have fought tooth and nail to keep our doors open and our teams employed and working in the safest possible conditions, so that they can continue to pay their bills and care for their loved ones. We have offered shuttle service to those who lived far, in order to keep them from using public transportation. We have donated food and time and profits to front-line organizations and hospitals in the area, and have marketed more outreach efforts that we can count.

In short, we are here, we are trying, and we will continue working to deepen and enrich our relationship to a community and a neighborhood we dearly love. To tell us to ‘GET OUT’ is divisive and misdirected. Closing HomeState Highland Park would mean that 40 beloved team members (again, many of whom live in the surrounding area) would be out of a decent, good-paying job. It would mean that yet another minority- and woman-owned small business would be closed. It would deprive the neighborhood of a place to get fresh food at relatively affordable prices. And for what? So that some other restaurant can move in? How does that count as a win in anyone’s book?

It doesn’t, obviously. Maligning me or my business doesn’t do a thing. Telling us that we are racist impostors or that we should pack up and leave doesn’t move progressive causes forward, or seriously address systemic racism, discrimination and poverty, or provide better living and working conditions for people in this community or anywhere else. Tearing each other down is exactly what our collective enemies want — and we shouldn’t give it to them so easily. Let’s join together and direct our frustration and anger and profound desire for real and long-overdue change at those things that are truly standing in our way.

And if anyone wants to come by the restaurant and talk further in person, I’ll be standing out in front of HomeState Highland Park from 10a-11a this week.