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La Cabaña has been making its mark for over a decade

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MARINETTE—Walk into the restaurant La Cabaña Mexican Cuisine at any time of the day and you will think someone is throwing a party. Bright colors, festive music and the mouthwatering smell of grilled steak tacos with lime, sweet horchata and pork enchiladas smothered in green sauce will make you want to join in.

There isn’t a large Hispanic community in the cities of Marinette or Menominee—individuals of Hispanic origin make up only 2% of the population in both cities, according to the Census Bureau. But La Cabaña Owner Humberto Espinosa and his family-run restaurant have nevertheless left an indelible mark on the community. The EagleHerald interviewed Espinosa to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month and learn about his path from his home in Mexico to the City of Marinette.

Espinosa is from San Cristóbal de las Casas, a municipality in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico that borders Guatemala and is the home of the ancient Mayan ruins of Palenque, Yaxchilán, Bonampak, Chinkultic and Toniná.

After graduating from high school, Espinosa worked as an elementary school instructor in the small village of Venecia, Chiapas, through the Consejo Nacional de Fomento Educativo, a government program that later paid for his college education.

After teaching in Venecia, Espinosa studied architecture at the Universidad Autónoma de Chiapas and held down two jobs on the side—one as a taxi driver and another as a guide for Europeans, Israelis, Americans and Canadians touring the Mayan ruins of Palenque.

Working as a tour guide improved his English. “I spoke English before, but not too much,” Espinosa said. “But I needed to learn in order to show people around.”

Espinoza decided to leave his architecture program after five semesters of study. In 2003, he moved with his wife Ana to the United States, where they lived for four years in Jasper, Indiana.

“I said to myself when I moved to Indiana that I wanted to be my own boss,” he said. “I decided that when I started a family I would start my own business.”

He relocated with Ana in 2007 to Hibbing, Minnesota, where his first child, Nicte-Ha, was born (Nicte-Ha, Espinosa said, is a Mayan name that means “water flower”).

But “Minnesota was too cold” for them. He thought Wisconsin would be a good place for their new home because it was farther south and slightly warmer. “I was thinking Marinette would be warmer, but I think it’s better than Hibbing,” he said. “Hibbing is very, very cold.”

He also wanted to find a small community with lower competition where he could start a business of his own and thought the City of Marinette would be the ideal place for this venture.

Unable initially to find a suitable place in Marinette, however, he and his family first moved to the City of Menominee in 2010 and opened the original branch of La Cabaña off of U.S. 41 where it continues business to this day.

Espinosa said it took three years before people began coming regularly to the Menominee restaurant.

“As someone from another country, work is very important, it’s how I support my family,” he said. “We worked so hard in Menominee before people started getting used to us. We didn’t know anyone when we started. People didn’t know about Mexican food.”

Espinosa said the top search result when he looked up Mexican food at the time was Taco Bell.

“Our food is exactly how we do it in Mexico. If you order three tacos, it’s meat, cilantro, onions, salsa and lime, it’s not like Taco Bell,” he said. “But after some time, people started trying our food and we became more a part of the community, so I think that’s why our business grew.”

Espinosa and his family moved to the City of Marinette in 2013 and opened a Marinette branch of La Cabaña on Marinette Avenue (U.S. 41) in 2017.

Espinosa said the dishes on La Cabaña’s menu come from all over Mexico and even include some influences from places in the United States where he has lived and traveled.

Both of the restaurants are painted in bright yellows and reds that Espinosa said hold specific significance in Mayan culture. The decorations adorning the walls of his restaurants—Aztec calendars, tableaus depicting scenes from Mayan folklore, multi-colored lizards, elaborate skirts and sombreros—come from Mexico. There are also black and white paintings and photographs of Mexican revolutionaries like Emiliano Zapata hanging above the tables.

“I have these decorations here because then people in this country can see some of the history of Mexico,” Espinosa said. “We don’t want to lose or forget our history, where we come from, what Mexico is like.”

Espinosa said community members continued to support La Cabaña during the pandemic when the restaurant closed and was only doing take-out and delivery for about seven months.

“When we closed, a lot of people would say they wanted to support us and didn’t want us to go away,” Espinosa said. “So thank you everyone for making sure La Cabaña didn’t close permanently because of the pandemic.

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Menominee shooting victim wanted longer sentence for 18-year-old

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—Craig Walcher, the 55-year-old Menominee man shot and injured by Logan Race of Menominee, said Monday he “got lucky’” he wasn’t more seriously injured last December and said Race should have received at least 20 years in prison.

On Friday, Race, 18, received a reduced sentence of five to 20 years in prison, including 270 days of time served for the Dec. 28 shooting at Walcher’s Menominee residence, 1315 30th Ave.

“I was hoping for at least 20 years,” Walcher said. “I thought he was getting off a little light.”

“I was shot in the back. It just went through my armpit and out my back,” Walcher said. “If the bullet went an inch in different, it could have been worse. It was just one of those things. I got lucky,” he told the EagleHerald Monday. “He pretty much pointed a gun at my face and said I’m going to kill you.”

Race had been charged with several felony counts that were dropped, including assault with intent to murder, assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, assault with a dangerous weapon, and four felony weapons counts. Due to a plea bargain, those counts were dropped. Race was convicted of assault with intent to rob while armed, which without the plea agreement might have brought a punishment of five to 50 years, said Menominee County Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Rogg.

In determining a sentence, the judge considers the defendant’s prior record and the seriousness of the offense. The four purposes of a sentence, Rogg said, are punishment for the perpetrator, protection of society, rehabilitation and deterrence for others.

Menominee County Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Gerald Karafa said the fact Walcher allegedly was selling marijuana to underage people was a factor in the plea agreement. Walcher hasn’t been charged.

During the sentencing, Judge Mary Barglind spoke of the new Michigan “Raise the Age” law, which raises to 18 from 17 the age at which a teen offender is tried as an adult and ensures teens under 18 in juvenile court receive rehabilitative services. The law doesn’t necessarily apply in violent crime cases and Barglind said it didn’t apply in this case because Race was 18. But it could be a factor in the scheduled Oct. 4 sentencing of Moxie Barke, 15, who allegedly was involved in the Dec. 28 incident described in more detail in a Sept. 27 EagleHerald story. Barke was 14 at the time of the incident.

Walcher said he was shot after he refused to give marijuana to the young men who showed up at his home. “They said they were looking to buy weed and they wanted to check some stuff out. They wanted to see it,” Walcher said. “I wouldn’t give it to them because they weren’t giving me no money.”

Then Race pulled a gun on Walcher. “They said if you don’t give us the weed, we’re going to shoot you,” Walcher said. They had “no intent to buy. They just wanted to rob,” he said. He said he was “in and out of the hospital” and the gunshot injuries have since healed. He is more worried about people coming to his house since the incident. “I’m not doing it anymore anyway,” he said.

While Walcher’s father Willis told a reporter Friday his son was “about 30,” Walcher said he is actually 55. Craig’s 63-year-old brother Dale Walcher called the paper Monday to say Willis Walcher is 90 and has dementia. “We’re just not too happy about you talking to Dad,” Dale Walcher said. Willis Walcher said Friday Craig wasn’t available and he didn’t have his number.

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MAPS temporarily moving to universal masking

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—Beginning Thursday, Menominee Area Public Schools will be temporarily moving to universal masking at all buildings

Interim Superintendent Steve Martin said student attendance across the district has been hovering around 80%. “Last week, most of the week we were at around 86%; Friday was the lowest at 80%. Just to give you an idea, when we’re at 88% that means there’s about 150 students gone. When we’re at 80%, that’s about 250 students,” he said.

“Our number of positive cases is very low,” said Board President Derek Butler. “It’s mostly close contact that’s really making the bulk of the absences.”

Martin said shifting to universal masking allows the school to change the definition of a close contact from someone within six feet for over 15 minutes to three feet, which he said would eliminate most of the current close-contact situations in the district. It would also allow students who are close contacts to continue coming to school, provided they are tested daily for a length of time determined by the school. Students who do test positive would still be required to quarantine. Martin said that the tests would have to be done at the school, and only those students who are considered close contacts would need to be tested.

Butler said the district has around 500 to 1,000 tests at the moment, and more have been ordered and are on the way. Martin said the most recent order of tests coming in would be about 10,000, and there is no cost to the district for them.

Martin said the junior/senior high school building has a registered nurse teaching health classes who is trained to administer COVID tests, but Central Elementary and Blesch Intermediate schools currently do not have someone trained to do that. However, he said the Intermediate School District has approved a job description for a health resource advocate, and he said he has a few candidates who would be willing to take that position. He said this person would be able to perform tests at all area schools once they are hired. “But until then, we wouldn’t have someone at Central or Blesch, so we’d have to figure that out. I truly think the number of tests are going to be less since there’ll be less close contacts,” he said.

However, Martin said the tests are relatively simple, and training a staff member to do it in the short-term would not be too difficult.

According to Martin, students would not be required to wear masks while outside or while participating in athletics. “Whether it’s practice or a game, you’re still considered doing universal masking (by the Menominee County Health Department) if the students are allowed to take them off for athletics. That may change as more sports move indoors,” he said.

He said this would also be the case for the cafeteria. Students would not be required to wear masks while eating lunch.

Board Member Nikki Myszak asked what would happen if a student refuses to take a COVID test. Martin said the goal is not to send students home. “I’ve even had these conversations with Derek and John (John Mans, former superintendent) where we had students who refused to wear masks. The whole point of doing this is to keep kids in the building, so we should have a space set aside where we can bring them their work until we have a chance to contact parents and work with them,” he said.

“This is a fluid plan; we can come in and out of masking,” Butler said, “and we don’t want our building principals to be the COVID police. But we have to understand that numbers are slipping. Our initial discussion was 88%, and it’s been under that for almost a week. We’re at a point where, for the short term, we have to consider universal masking and watch the numbers, and as it climbs above that 88% we can move out of that. When we’re looking at 200 students a day missing school, that’s a lot.”

The board voted to implement universal masking beginning Thursday, and Butler said the district should look at a five-day trend after implementing universal masking, and if the trend goes back above 88% attendance, then they can go back to optional masking.