Tag Archives: migrants

The First Haitian Restaurant in Tijuana

The first Haitian restaurant has opened in Tijuana.

It’s at Avenida Negrete near Avenida Juarez, not far from the city’s Revolucion tourist strip.

A couple years ago, Haitians began streaming into Tijuana to ask for asylum in the United States. They were coming all the way from Brazil. Their stories were stunning. They had left Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and migrated to Brazil where there was work building the facilities for the 2014 World Cup and the Rio Olympic Games two years later.

But even before the Games began, Brazil’s economy was collapsing. Now without work, many of the Haitian migrants – first hundreds, then thousands – embarked on a journey across nine countries, braving nasty cops and bad weather, climbing mountains and fording wild rivers, some drowning or falling to their deaths.

Those who trekked on connected meanwhile via WhatsApp with their families back home. They crossed Central America and into Mexico, then the full length of the country before ending up in Tijuana.

Their arrival was a new thing for the town, which was of course used to migrants coming from the south, just not black migrants who didn’t speak Spanish. (Here’s a report I did for KCRW in 2016, as Haitians were beginning to arrive.)

Many of the Haitians stayed, mired in bureaucratic limbo. Then the U.S. State Department said it would not grant the migrants asylum, but instead deport them home.

So, stranded in Tijuana, they have melted into the city’s economy. Three taxi drivers I met said the Haitians were well known for their work in the construction industry. I saw one guy working in a shop making tortillas.

“These guys work hard,” said one driver. “You see them everywhere, selling candy at the traffic lights.” (Sandra Dibble of the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote a great story about this.)

It was a matter of time before the Haitians began forming businesses, importing something from home. At the restaurant, where I had grilled chicken, rice, beans and salad, I spoke with a man named Ramon, who said he was the owner. The place had opened in November, he said. It still had the Tamales sign of the previous occupant. But outside and in, it was all Haitians.

Speaking in a mix of poor French, Spanish and English, I was able to glean that some 2500 Haitians now live in Tijuana. A young guy named Roselin told me he worked making furniture for a shop on Revolucion. This was a trade he either learned or perfected while in Brazil.

The restaurant, which appears not to have a name, also sells cosmetics from Haiti. Light-skinned face cream and Afro Marley Twist hair extensions. You can also call Haiti or Canada from the restaurant. Next door is a barber shop, which now appears to cater entirely to Haitian clientele.

But what else do you need to confront a new world like Tijuana more than the most intimate things from home – food you know, to look good, and to call the family every once in a while?

A few of them have Mexican girlfriends. So I suspect in a few years we’ll be seeing little Haitian-Mexicans running around Tijuana.

This is how community begins.

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The Hollywood Star of Los Tigres del Norte

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Los Tigres del Norte got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame today.

The only band that matters in Mexican pop music received their star on Hollywood Boulevard before hundreds of fans, Marco Antonio Solis – El Buki – and lots of glitzy Mexican TV reporters with impossibly tight and short skirts.

The boys got Star 2527, just outside the Buffalo Wings and Live Nation at Hollywood and La Brea. Not far from Lon Chaney and Ethel Merman, as it happens. So there’s that interesting juxtaposition for Hollywood, a district of the city that’s more about immigrants from Mexico and Central America (and Armenia and Thailand, for that matter) than it is about making movies these days, anyway.

The best way to understand Mexican immigrants, by the way, is to dissect the best Tigres’ corridos on the topic.

I recommend Pedro y Pablo, Ni Aqui Ni Alla, El Gringo y El Mexicano, Tres Veces Mojado, La Jaula de Oro, La Tumba del Mojado, El Mojado Acaudalado, A Quien Corresponda. Well, there are many.

Here’s a youtube video of La Jaula de Oro. “Whatcha talking about Dad? I don’t wanna go back to Mexico…”

And for machismo drenched in melodrama, nothing compares to El Tahur.

Some of the best drug ballads in Spanish have come from LTN: El Avion de la Muerte, Pacas de a Kilo, Camioneta Gris, and of course, the song with the first sound effects in Mexican music (gunshots), Contrabando y Traicion.

The first great political corrido in Mexican pop was theirs: El Circo, about ex-president of Mexico Carlos Salinas de Gortari and his brother, Raul.

Their first album in four years, La Bala, is ready to drop in October. The single from the album is the story of a family whose 18-year-old son is involved with cartels and whose rivals come looking for him and kill his 7 -year-old brother with a stray bullet.

Here’s a bunch of photos I took when traveling with the band many years ago.

 

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Faustino Diaz: Trombone master from Oaxaca in L.A.

Faustino Diaz, the Oaxacan trombone master, returns to Los Angeles this weekend for a concert at the Ukrainian Hall, 4315 Melrose Ave., this Sunday at 2 p.m.

Diaz thrilled Mexico last year when he won the International Trombone Competition in South Korea.1511733_908562385837387_4934257276349175473_n

A few days later he visited the Pico-Union District and the music school run by director Estanislao Maqueos, who has used his school to organize Oaxacan youth orchestras.

There, I had the chance to sit down and talk with him about his life, and having to venture out into the world to find his music like a migrant finds a future.

The interview is above and in Spanish.

Check out the concert. Should be good.

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Immigration reform probably dead along with Eric Cantor’s career

Eric Cantor, the Republican congressman and leader of the majority in the House of Representatives, was defeated by a tea party member, a college economics professor, in the Virginia primaries last night.

One effect will probably be to end any attempt at immigration reform for the foreseeable future, and possibly the end of any Republican ability to woo Latinos, as well. Thus perhaps also killing any chance they have to win the presidency in 2016. Who knows? It’s early, but these seem like plausible outcomes this morning of last night’s results.

Cantor had supported the idea of giving immigrant youths citizenship, which was a main reason why he lost in his district that was recently remapped to become even more conservative.

I can’t see how many House Republicans would line up behind any kind of immigration reform that the president and Senate would support. I’m no Washington pundit, but it seems to me that the idea will most likely die again.

Cantor’s defeat was a remarkable event given that he was a national party leader and that he was well-known for raising huge amounts of cash. It came in a political season when establishment Republicans beat several tea partyers – Sen. Mitch McConnell being the most notable example.

Meanwhile, I’ll be interested to see what this does to the Republican Party’s standing among Latinos.

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Good Friday in Los Angeles, a video

I was in downtown L.A. and encountered the Stations of the Cross near La Placita. So I made this short video.

Let me know what you think. I’m trying to put out one of these a week.

Share it if you like it … and feel free to subscribe to my Youtube station: True Tales Video.

 

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Barefoot Triqui Indian BB players in town

 

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The barefoot Triqui Indian basketball team, from the mountains of Oaxaca, is in Los Angeles for a couple weeks.

The team of 10 and 11-year-olds from the village of Rio Venado, Oaxaca was welcomed with a brass band and a press conference at Casa Oaxaca in Mid-City.

A full schedule awaits. A tournament next two Saturdays. Visits to UCLA, USC, Disneyland, and the Lakers. As well as meals at several of the many Oaxacan restaurants that have proliferated in Pico-Union and West LA in the last 10 years.

The team formed out of an academy set up three years ago in Rio Venado, with a focus on bringing education to the isolated Triquis in the mountains of Oaxaca.

Since then, the boys, playing barefoot, have become something of international stars. They won a tournament in Argentina. They’ve toured Orlando and played the San Antonio Spurs barefoot in Mexico City, winning 10-4.

IMG_5957The Triquis (Tree-Kees) are considered among the poorest indigenous ethnic groups in Mexico. (Los Angeles has few Triquis, but they form a large part of the Central Valley agricultural labor force.) For years, the Triqui region has seemed stuck “in the 18th Century,” said Sergio Zuniga, the coach. “Their dream before was to finish elementary school and go the U.S.”

The academy formed to change that, with Triqui teachers. It adopted the attitude of making do with what it had available, which in Rio Venado doesn’t include tennis shoes. One thing that was available was basketball, which is a huge sport across the mountains of Oaxaca.

“In Mexico, we don’t teach the culture of competitiveness,” Zuniga said. “What we’re doing with these kids is teaching them competitiveness — that they learn to win and lose.”

Since then, the image of shoeless four-foot Indian basketball players has captured the imagination and sympathy of people across the continent.

The team amounts to a public-relations strategy to call attention to the long-forgotten Triqui region, where average education is four years. The Indian-taught academy spent its first 18 months without any help at all. But as the team garnered attention in the Washington Post and CNN, the Mexican government has supported it, promised to build houses for the players’ parents and pay for the kids’ education, including college.

“The idea for the school wasn’t to place blame [for the Triqui situation], but simply to act,” Zuniga said. “With Indians, we’re forming winners. This has astonished people [across the Americas] — how Indians are changing their history.”

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Saudi Arabia expelling illegal immigrants

I’m fascinated by what’s going on in Saudi Arabia right now.Saudi Arabia map.png

The kingdom of Saud apparently is suffering from unemployment. Many immigrants from the region are there illegally, and working. Tons of folks — 300,000 Sudanese alone, and thousands of Yemenis.

So the Saudis are giving them the boot — 28,000 in three days. Police killed an Ethiopian fellow who resisted arrest.

I’m getting all this from al-bab.com, a blog billing itself as “an open door to the Arab world” — which is well worth reading. Terrific blog.

Yemen, SA’s neighbor and closest cheap labor source, is worrying that remittances will drop, according to al-bab.com.

Immigrant street sweepers in one Saudi town struck in protest and Saudi officials took up their brooms in a symbolic act. Meanwhile, sweepers have been issued IDs to avoid them getting scooped up and sent home.

Yemen, meanwhile, has been expelling northern Africans, Ethiopians mainly, al-bab.com reports. These folks apparently going through Yemen headed to Saudi Arabia but couldn’t get in, so they stayed. Now Yemen is sending them home.

It’s all so reminiscent.

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El Super workers are demanding…now that illegal immigration has slowed

Workers at the Southern California supermarket chain, El Super, are protesting conditions there — in what could be the beginning of an upheaval in the Southern California grocery industry.

Up to now, nonunion immigrant supermarkets have been a low-cost place to shop for food — with prices based at least partly, I’ve always suspected, on an especially compliant workforce.

I shop often at El Super, Northgate Gonzalez, El Tapatio, and many others — far more than I go to Ralph’s. I find the produce especially good quality and cheap.

All are owned by immigrants (or folks in Mexico, in El Super’s case). They are staffed by Latino immigrants and target the Latino immigrant consumer. They see cactus leaves (nopales), tortillas, dried black beans, chorizo and often feel just like supermarkets in Mexico.

Many are in spaces once occupied by Ralph’s, Von’s, Alpha Beta and other non-immigrant supermarket chains — buildings many of them moved into after the other businesses were burned out during the 1992 Rodney King riots.

For consumers who’ve known where to go and what to buy, these markets I’ve long thought were a benefit of living in Southern California — same as cheap flooring installation.

I’ve never heard of any of them being struck. But that was then — during years of seemingly unending flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America into the region.

I suspect the El Super protests have something to do with the dramatic slowing in the flow of illegal Mexican immigrants into the US in the last few years. Not to mention, the record numbers of  deportations in the last few years.

A smaller supply of workers means those who have jobs gain confidence in their ability to demand better treatment.

The gravest threat to an illegal immigrant without much education or English is a lot of immigrants with the same limited skill set.

That’s why so many Latino immigrants have left L.A. over the years for places like Kentucky, Tennessee, Minnesota, etc etc. They weren’t escaping the migra. They were escaping others just like themselves, who bid down wages and forced up rents.

Now there are fewer of them.

So … might we see immigrant workers at more companies objecting to their treatment by their immigrant owners? Perhaps in other industries — home improvement, for example?

I’d say chances are good.

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LOS ANGELES: Hell Restaurant

IMG_3062I was in Compton earlier today and came upon this restaurant on Long Beach Boulevard.

El Infierno Restaurant (English: Hell Restaurant), known for its excellent menudo, was named thus by its owner, a fellow named Andres, who comes from Apatzingan in the state of Michoacan, Mexico.

Apatzingan, you may know, is in a ferociously hot part of Mexico known as the Tierra Caliente, and known for its wild ways. Frankly, I was always afraid to visit and never did.

Andres said he named it for the heat of his native region, though Apatzingan lately has become a virtual war zone, as cartels fight each other and the military.

Anyway, El Infierno Restaurant has had some tumultuous times itself.

When it was in its original spot, in a strip mall elsewhere in Compton, it was burned down during the riots of 1992. Andres rebuilt. Then earlier this year, his restaurant was shot up and then someone crashed a car into it, gutting it with fire (see photo, right).IMG_3056

Andres blamed gang members who wanted to sell drugs and didn’t like his surveillance cameras (there to protect his business). A neighboring business owner said he didn’t treat customers well and some got mad. That seems hard to believe, but whatever the case, Andres moved to the newer, bigger, better location on Long Beach, which he shares with a cleaners. (See photo above)

(Reminds me of the time when, from a bus, I spotted a taqueria in Los Mochis, Sinaloa — Tacos Hitler — no lie).

The stories you hear in L.A. if you stop and ask….

Great menudo, too.

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PHOTOGRAPHY: More photos at Kaldi in South Pas

I have some more photos on display at Kaldi, the cafe in South Pasadena.

These shots are from Jaripo, a small town in Michoacan, which taught me a lot about immigration from Mexico. It was a big part of the introduction I wrote to my second book, Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream: True Tales of Mexican Migration.

Check them out next time you’re in the area.

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LOS ANGELES: Warren Oates and migrants to L.A.

Lately, I’ve been struck by how the folks who come here looking for movie or music stardom from all over the US are part of what keeps Los Angeles vibrant.

These are wannabe actors, singers, musicians, dancers, writers — folks who’ve been told by their high school drama or choir teacher in Nebraska or Louisiana that they have talent and ought to test themselves out in Hollywood.

These folks add as much dynamism and energy to the LA economy, I’d bet, as do immigrants from Mexico or Korea or somewhere, here willing to do what it takes to piece together a new life.  They just don’t stand out the way immigrants do.

I wonder what would happen to LA’s restaurant industry if they stopped coming. Probably the same as would happen if all the Oaxacans left. (Just at a Westwood restaurant where our busboy was a man from Abasolo, Oaxaca.)

I was reminded of this just now after seeing a movie with one such fellow — Warren Oates, who for my money is nearly the greatest character actor of American movies. Anyway, I can’t think of any better at the moment.

He made a bunch of great westerns, and Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. I just saw The Brink’s Job, which has a couple of fantastic scenes with Oates. Starred as John Dillinger and was in In the Heat of the Night.

You know it’s gonna be good if Warren Oates is in the thing.

Came from a burg to LA, like so many. A town in western Kentucky that apparently doesn’t even exist any more. He’d entered a drama troupe in college in Kentucky then made his way out west.

Seems to me his career was made possible by a late 1960s/early 1970s’ ethos of casting rugged, authentic-looking guys in westerns and as outlaws and the like. A revisiting of the Western movie, and a revision of the history of the American West in film that took place in those years.

Otherwise, he might well have faced a bunch of Gomer Pyle roles.

As his star rose, he became part of a Hollywood counterculture rat pack that included Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson and did a lot of things that aged him quickly.

Died too young — at 53, I was surprised to learn. I have to say he looked a lot older than that when he passed in 1982.

Warren Oates — an American original, no doubt.

Here’s a conversation with his biographer, Susan Compo.

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STORYTELLING: Amazing Global Kidnapping story from Joel Millman at WSJ

images-2My homeboy from years in Mexico, Joel Millman, at the Wall Street Journal, has written a fantastic story of kidnapping of Eritreans, who are then traded by networks of kidnapping gangs, sometimes several times and across several borders.

The Eritreans are migrants/refugees fleeing their country and looking for work in nearby countries and are kidnapped by Bedouins.

The kidnapping gangs have blossomed in the vacuum of political supervision in Egypt’s Sinai desert as Egypt has been dealing with its many other issues in the last year.

Remarkable story about the global economy and the vast lagoons of impunity that exist due to political borders and agencies that have faltered or have not changed with the same velocity as economics — which might be exactly the prescription for what spawns criminal gangs and mafias.

Screen Shot 2013-03-04 at 6.12.50 AMCheck out the video of Joel talking with one kidnapping victim, and explaining the genesis of his story.

By the way, Joel’s been doing these kinds of stories about migrants and the borderless world for many years now and he’s one of the best around.

His book, The Other Americans, is a great series of vignettes about folks from around the world changing our country. His chapter on the Patel motel clan is worth the price of the book.

Photo: Sinai Desert; Photo Credit: Wall Street Journal

Map: Middle East; Credit: Google Maps

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LOS ANGELES: How Hamburger Hamlet created a Oaxacan kitchen dynasty

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My story is today’s paper is about how the Hamburger Hamlet restaurant chain helped create a Oaxacan kitchen workforce that is now essential to upscale dining in Los Angeles.

I found this out as I began interviewing Zapotec Indians from Oaxaca, Mexico about why there were so many of them in the kitchens of Los Angeles’ best restaurants. I ran into many who told me they started at El Hamlet.

One thing led to another and I discovered that one guy, Asael Gonzalez (pictured above with his wife, Emma, who also worked at El Hamlet), was responsible for grabbing a beachhead there in 1968 and over the next 30 years hiring hundreds upon hundreds of men from Oaxaca’s Sierra Juarez mountains who got their first jobs washing dishes or busing tables at Hamburger Hamlet.

One thing that didn’t make it into the story is that Gonzalez converted to evangelical Christianity in the mid-1970s. When he did this, he changed the religious life of many Zapotecs in L.A. Many converted as well. In the 1970s and 1980s, at least a dozen churches were formed, in Pico-Union and Mid-City, with congregations of Zapotecs who worked at Hamburger Hamlet.

These churches acted as reception centers for arriving immigrants for Oaxaca, where they knew they could find kind words, help finding work, maybe some food and coffee and possible lodging.Emma and Asael Gonzalez

All of which makes Gonzalez an enormously influential figure in LA during this time for the way he transformed his own community and parts of the city. I interviewed him and his wife, but family illness kept me from pursuing his story with sufficient depth.

So the story focuses on Marcelino Martinez, who was hired by Gonzalez in 1970 and later became supervisor of kitchens as the chain expanded, training in the kitchens the hundreds of men Gonzalez hired.

When they were amnestied in 1986, they left the Hamlet and spread out to other restaurants, some leaving food preparation entirely.

As the story says, Martinez is still at it, 43 years later. Amazing….

Today, in LA, there are so many Oaxacans with so much skill and experience that they keep restaurant costs low by allowing owners to dig into the vast Zapotec labor pool to quickly replace workers who are leaving, and with almost no training costs.

Zapotec Indians, from a peasant culture where only women prepared food, now make up some of the best chefs and kitchen workers in Los Angeles.

It’s all in the panorama of today’s L.A.

Photos: Emma and Asael Gonzalez

 

 

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MEXICO: More Oaxaca photos

Oaxaca is such a colorful place. I’m getting very absorbed in photography lately.

Hope you like these.

Meanwhile, you can see more of my photos up at Kaldi’s — a South Pasadena cafe. I’ve mounted shots from Los Angeles, Colombia and Mexico.

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LOS ANGELES: Oaxacan Indians, the bonds & binds of tradition

In the background to the lives of many Oaxacan Indian migrants is the system of usos y costumbres, a system of Indian local governance in Mexico which requires them to fulfill unpaid service jobs in their village.

This story ran in the LA Times and was fascinating to do. I went to Santa Ana del Valle, a village where migrants had been trying to change the centuries-old system. (Many thanks to the French-American Foundation for its grant funding.)

The system of unpaid municipal service jobs goes back, in some form, for centuries. But it was a system that functioned because everyone lived in town, and it helped the town remain unified, if also poor.

Now, with so many migrants in LA, the system doesn’t work as it did. It fractures towns often, rather than unifying them. It continues to create poverty by both forcing government to be done by people who don’t really know how to run a modern city government and by not paying workers, forcing those who take on these jobs to go into debt or sell land or animals.

There was a lot more to the system that wasn’t possible to include — such as its role in religious persecution. Some villages have used UyC to run out Protestants who’ve decided they don’t want to participate in the annual religious rites and festivals that are also part of the system.

Isaias Garcia (photos above, with wife Angelica Morales), by the way, was, in his day, one of the great Oaxacan Indian basketball players — basketball being a kind of second religion for Oaxacan Indians.

I wrote about his brother, Zeus, and his attempt to restore the purity of amateur basketball to the sport in America in my first book, True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino and the Bronx.

 

 

 

 

 

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