A Conversation with Local El Paso Business Owners
July 6, 2018
This interview with John Reyes and Emmanuel was conducted and condensed by frank news. Both parties would like to remain anonymous for their safety.
Tatti: Would you introduce yourselves a bit?
Emmanuel: My name is Emmanuel. I’m an immigrant to the United States, first Generation. I hold residency papers and I’m working very hard to become a prosperous citizen in the United States.
Tatti: What does it mean to hold residency papers?
Emmanuel: It's pretty much being in limbo between being an illegal or even a tourist here legally, and citizenship. We do not have the right to vote locally or federally but we do have the burden of being positive influences in society and paying taxes. So, having good moral standing, paying taxes, and as long as you can do that you can maintain this limbo for as long as you live.
I personally see times are turbulent and I'm eager to become a citizen, not only just to have the security of always laying my head here but also to be able to vote. I think that's the most important part. Not where I'm gonna die, but what I'm gonna do between now and then. And I need to vote to change the current outcome of politics in the US.
Tatti: What's your relationship to immigration living in El Paso?
Emmanuel: Well, my parents worked in Juarez. I started my business in Juarez and was able to leverage myself here in the United States. That's the direct relationship to it, and, obviously, everybody has family and friends. We've all had those loved ones that have suffered greatly with the violence.
But indirectly, we have a very close relationship. Our economies are intertwined. Whatever happens in Juarez is literally felt here in El Paso and vice versa.
Both municipal governments are looking for federal investment into trade and both communities really work towards that. It's only recently that there's been a lot of talk about pulling out of NAFTA, and there's been a lot of turbulence in El Paso. That's made companies that had millions of dollars invested in Juarez shut down factories and pick up and go somewhere where their bets a little bit more secure. The fact that money disappears from this area desperately affects my business and other businesses around me.
Tatti: When you were growing up was the dynamic between the two cities the same?
Emmanuel: First and foremost, technology has changed. Not only have people become more effective and efficient, governments have too, from collecting taxes to watching their borders. In the past, the US was still very much a good old boy system. And when I say the past, this is pre 9/11. Mexico, at that time, had been under the same political party for eighty something years.
Now, the U.S. president’s been openly discriminatory and racist towards Latin Americans and Mexicans in particular. I see this right now, not just as him and his administration, but anybody that’s working under it. INS around the border, at the bridge, ICE around here, customs rolling around asking people at bus stops for their papers. The feeling is really creepy. Absolutely creepy.
I've mentioned it to my friends before that I don't wanna be around here. Up north in, let's say, Vail, nobody's asking anybody for immigration papers. There's no border patrol rolling around on a bike. You might, in some gas station in the middle of Colorado, run into a border patrol agent, but it's rare. It just seems like it's a posse of folk and they're out to get bandits. I feel like a bandit even though I'm here completely legally.
John: My name is John Reyes. I also live in El Paso, I work in El Paso, I was born in El Paso, but I was raised in Juarez. I came back to El Paso around 2002. I started going to school here.
Tatti: Do you feel comfortable going between the two cities still?
John Reyes: Right now, it depends.
Emmanuel: Don't let him kid you, he does it. He does. I tell him he's an idiot, and I'm like, “Why?” “Just to drink some lukewarm beers and hang out with the same dudes.” I was like, “You're an idiot.” But he does.
Tatti: So you do go back and forth?
John Reyes: No, no.
Tatti: Have you felt a large difference in crossing the border between administrations?
John Reyes: Yes.
Tatti: What’s the difference?
John Reyes: Every time I cross they ask more and more questions, or they randomly take me to the other room just to have me sit down and look at my passport, and then they will check me normally.
Emmanuel: It's everywhere. It's not just at the bridge. It happens 50 miles or 60 miles out of El Paso when you have to go through the checkpoint. It happens with the police department right now. It happens with the sheriff's department. It happens with any sense of authority. I've even seen military. It was rare that you would see border patrol asking people for information. Usually, they would just, I don’t know, be busy doing whatever they used to do. But now things are changing. It's given them a pedestal to stand on. It's winding them up to …
John Reyes: The rhetoric has power.
Emmanuel: Not just the rhetoric but the actions. I mean, we're talking about executive orders and we’re talking about things that are being voted into law that directly are crazy. The travel ban, it's fucking nuts. How many people ended up being banned from the United States that were doing well here, were maybe doctors or business people that happen to be on the other side of earth at the moment that this happened that now can't enter the United States because of their religious orientation or where they’re from.
I understand there's bad things going on, but let's be real. How many people have died from terrorism in the United States? We are looking at the wrong fight. We're concentrating on the wrong idea. We can't keep treating Mexicans this way, and actions need to be taken in defense of what's recently been happening. It can't go on. This is ridiculous.
Tatti: At the moment there’s a lot of attention here, but you’ve been here forever. Do you feel like it's your responsibility to the rest of the country to talk about it?
Emmanuel: I can't explain myself. Right now, it's all about me. When I see all this happening around me, what I wanna personally do is drop my shit, fill up a van full of immigrants and drive them clear across the desert to somewhere where they're not gonna be harassed.
I foresee people starting to do this shit. If you push back on someone hard enough, they're gonna push back on you. We're going to start seeing people doing stupid shit, and it doesn't have to happen.
And what sucks is that the government's always gonna win. The US government's always going to win in this, and there's gonna be a lot of people that are going to be jailed for trafficking people, maybe protesting, whatever the case is.
We shouldn't even be having this conversation. I'm too busy to be thinking about this. I'm not a prosperous enough person where I have time to protest. I have to just think about myself and people closest to me, and I hate being in this position.
If I could, I would want the rest of the world, the United States, in particular, to see what we're living with here. It's peaceful, it's beautiful. There's absolutely no nonsense going on, no terrorism, even within our youth. But the Trump administration and Republicans are painting it out to be a war zone here. They're wanting the rest of the United States to have this passion against Mexico and Immigration coming from Mexico, and it's not the case.
Tatti: When people who don't have experience living on the southern border of the United State, imagine what it is to live here, it's obviously very different than your actual experience. We were in Juarez last night and walking back saw three people get deported and it was so unexciting. I didn't even notice. I didn’t even notice. Somebody had to be like, “Hey, did you just see that?”
Emmanuel: They were being escorted, right?
Emmanuel: Did you see a marriage halfway at the bridge too? No, I'm not kidding. They happen all the fucking time. They happen every fucking day, all day long.
Emmanuel: A marriage. Somebody will be getting deported, we’ll be skateboarding by, and then two people will be getting married …
Tatti: In the middle of the bridge.
Emmanuel: … in the middle of the bridge.
Emmanuel: A lot of people obtain residency, and then citizenship through marriage.
Tatti: What do you want to ask the elected officials capable of making policy change?
Emmanuel: The main question is what's the problem? Show us the statistics. What are you running from? What violence are you running from? What 9/11 happened in El Paso and Laredo that you need to spend this type of money on the border? All of the violence in Mexico is contained within Mexico. I'm not saying we should go try to fix Mexico's problems. That is a beast in itself.
I've seen the border slowly get militarized. We’ll be driving on a desolate road, and there's just all sorts of armor and equipment and people moving here. I feel uncomfortable.
Tatti: Do you feel uncomfortable or unsafe to the point you would consider living somewhere else?
John Reyes: Not unsafe, just not comfortable with the whole Trump thing, the law, also the fact that you come down here and get harassed. I’m a US citizen but there’s not one day that I don’t get stopped.
Emmanuel: It's strange. Something's happening. It's strange to make a lot of people uncomfortable. I grew up in the late eighties, early nineties, and it was such a peaceful and great time to live, Reagan years, even Bush, all the Bushes. Everybody was about equality. It seemed like we were setting the example all around the world. What the fuck happened? Were we blind the whole time? Was this racism existing the whole time when we were just having too good of a time to realize it? It’s crazy. It’s crazy.