Tag Archive | "Mexico"

From Street Vendor to Shop Owner

A green photo album rests on her open hands. Inside, there’s a collection of carefully photographed flower arrangements.

“I love plants, sometimes I feel like they’re talking to me,” said Carolina Bernal, 54, a Mexican immigrant who has been running her own flower shop in the southeast Bronx for two years. Surrounding herself with flowers has become a safe haven for her, having left everything she ever cherished behind.

Bernal is one of millions of Mexican immigrants who have risked their lives by crossing the border to the United States, trading their homes and families for an uncertain but promising future. Despite paying taxes and contributing to the U.S. economy, this group of undocumented immigrants lives in fear of deportation in an era of Donald Trump.

Flowers in the fridge


Life in the barrio

Bernal’s story as a hard worker starts when her life as a student came to an abrupt and unexpected end almost 40 years ago. Born and raised in Santa Cruz Meyehualco — a poor neighborhood in eastern Mexico City — she was the second daughter in a family of nine children.

Her mother kept pigs, geese, turkeys, and chickens to feed the family. Her stepfather provided for everything else.

When Bernal turned 17, her stepfather died, taking her childhood with him. He died of a liver disease. “He passed away from getting so terribly mad,” she said, holding her hands together, shifting her gaze to the floor.

As one of the oldest children, Bernal had to help her stay-at-home mother; she started looking for a job as an accountant’s assistant. The first man she interviewed with tried to sexually abuse her, so instead she took a low-paying shift in a plastic factory situated in the industrial belt that surrounds Mexico City.

Her life as a working high school student did not last; Bernal had to drop out of school to work both night and day shifts. She promised herself she’d only quit school for one year while things got back on track. But she ended up working for the company, Plásticos y Reparaciones de Monterrey, for the next 15 years.

Bernal began as a floor employee in a plastic injection plant. She had to work three shifts a day to buy one pair of shoes. It was 1982, she was barely 19, and Mexico was experiencing one of its most notorious economic crises.

As time went by, between one shift and the other, injecting plastic day in and day out, she slowly began to exercise leadership among the employees.

Ten years later, Bernal had worked her way up to quality control manager. She was in charge of making sure their main client, the rum manufacturer Bacardi, was happy with the product.

“At that time, I was negotiating millions of pesos. My signature carried weight,” said Bernal, as she sat on a plastic chair in the corner of her shop filled with flowers. “You know, engineers and businessmen would look at me and say ‘now, this woman is a motherfucker’ because I knew my business and delivered impeccable results”.

By this time, Bernal was 30 years old, and a single mother to a 5-year-old son. That’s when she married, had a daughter, and her life took a dark turn.

“A smart woman can go as far as she wants, until she falls in love,” said Bernal holding her now 23-year-old daughter’s hand behind the shop counter.

Her husband, she said, was jealous and possessive. She had a miscarriage and quit her job. Just like that, 15 years of her life came to another abrupt end.

Her daughter Gaby was born when she was still battling postpartum depression from her previous pregnancy. Soon after, she got a divorce. Bernal went back to work for Bacardi, but her responsibilities as a single mother of two children were overwhelming.

When she discovered the public school her children attended in Mexico City was illegally charging her a fee and putting her children to work mopping and scrubbing floors, she placed her kids in a private Catholic school.

In order to pay for the exorbitant tuition, Bernal moved in with her mother, went back to school, and started a business making school uniforms.

Five years later, her business collapsed when she lost her car in a crash and could no longer deliver the uniforms. With piling debts and no better options, she decided to cross the border into the U.S., making her way to 116th Street in Harlem. After sleeping in a church for a few nights, she moved to the Bronx.

That’s how, nine years ago, a 43-year-old Carolina Bernal crossed the Mexico-U.S. border through the dessert under a blazing sun. She was the oldest immigrant and only woman in the group of young men she was traveling with. Exhausted, one day she decided she couldn’t keep going, and asked to be left behind while lying on a hot black rock.Mexican flags

The boys wouldn’t have it. “Vámonos Doña Carolina”, said Bernal quoting her travel companions when they lifted her up from the rock. “That’s when people started calling me Doña”, she explained in Spanish, making it clear that her nickname was a sign of respect, due to her age.

Doña Carolina then became one of the 11.3 millions of immigrants without proper paperwork in the U.S. as of 2015, according to the PEW Research Center. Even if Mexican immigration has been decreasing since 2007, 49% of all undocumented immigrants are still Mexican; the majority of them work in service sector jobs, like flower design.


An unassuming entrepreneur

At age 43, and still without a high school degree, Doña Carolina found herself working as a nanny, a private cook, and a kitchen aid in several Mexican restaurants.

It was in 2007 after one of her long night shifts at the Pancho Villa restaurant that she took a cab home because she was too tired to navigate the subway. A drunk driver hit the taxi, and Doña Carolina was badly injured. She sued and was given a small settlement of $5,000, which she used to open Carolina Flower Shop.

Unable to work long shifts in the kitchen because of her new disabling column lesion, she looked for something that didn’t require as much physical work. Selling flowers was her solution.

Before owning her store, Doña Carolina sold flowers out of a bucket on the sidewalk. She stationed her mobile business in front of a small shop on Westchester Ave., in the shadow of the No. 6 line. But her life as a hawker only lasted a couple of months. Just when the flowers started freezing in the winter cold, the tenant of the shop moved out. Doña Carolina took the opportunity and used her savings as a down payment for the rent.

Doña Carolina had managed to secure a commercial space and open her own small business, but she didn’t know the first thing about actually arranging flowers. She taught herself quickly, using YouTube videos and practicing with fresh stems. Her customer service experience in Mexico prepared her for serving the clients.

Today, Carolina Flower Shop, a couple of blocks north of the St Lawrence Ave. subway station, brims with bamboo bunches in different-sized pots and multicolored alstroemerias resting in buckets of water inside the fridge. She has good-luck pink mini cactuses sitting sturdily next to elegant orchids.

The green plants with leaves reaching up next to the wall are believed to bring prosperity to new businesses. Inside the fridge, carnations look like pompons shoved against each other and gerberas explode in a rainbow of colors. In the corner, white lily buds are about to bloom.

Flower trade

Illustration by Alejandra Ibarra

Back in early 2014, when Doña Carolina’s enterprise was on the pavement, she used to get her flowers from warehouses like Select Roses in Hunts Point. Those big depots have container-sized refrigerators where the flowers are stacked in boxes. The warehouse owners import a bunch of 25 roses for $2.

Nowadays, Doña Carolina gets her flowers from a Korean deliveryman who goes directly to the airport customs office and delivers boxes of flowers twice a week to the doorstep of Carolina Flower Shop. The Korean middleman sells the same 25-rose bouquet for $17 to the florists.

Doña Carolina buys each rose at 60 cents more than its original value. She compensates for the cost of shipment and delivery by producing creative merchandise like flower arrangements and bouquets.

Each bouquet has about 12 roses, adorned with cheaper flowers used as filling, and various green leaves of different shades and shapes. She sells the bouquets — perkily poised in their cellophane wrapping — starting at $70.

Creating value is not the only challenge faced by Mexican shop owners like Doña Carolina. She’s also had to learn how to revive a flower that has been kept in refrigeration for months.

Withered flowers are easily identified; their twigs don’t snap when broken, their leaves are pale and opaque, and their buds are often stuck in the opening phase, like a teenager in arrested development. In order to bring them back to life, Carolina slices their stems diagonally, making it easier for the plant to absorb water.

According to the Department of Labor, there were 2,980 floral designers in New York in 2015, the second most in any state after California. Florists like Bernal earn an average hourly wage of $14.49 and an approximately $30,140 a year. Floral designers in New York are not among the best paid in the industry. In nearby Connecticut, florists make more than $36,000 a year, on average.

Soon after her business opened, Doña Carolina’s daughter joined the family in the Bronx. With a college degree and her mother’s earnings, Gaby came to New York City, and now helps her mom run the flower shop. Gaby is in charge of finances, social media accounts, English speaking costumers and theme party paraphernalia. Doña Carolina manages everything else.

“In spite of all the problems she had, my mom is an independent woman who never needed a man to succeed,” said her daughter, Gaby.

When her daughter finally made it to the U.S., she hadn’t seen her mother in seven years. “When she saw me here, she found a grown woman instead of the little her she had left behind.” The two make a good team, they say. Sometimes they fight, sometimes they laugh, but they always support each other.

“I have to rinse her tears and tell her that she’s wrong, just as she does with me,” Gaby said.

With no previous experience in the flower business, Doña Carolina’s biggest asset is customer service. She figures out ways to accommodate her clients, like when the employees of a deli off Grand Concourse needed a bouquet delivered on Sept. 29. Doña Carolina charged $15 for delivery and then paid for her daughter to take a cab to the deli, tucked behind Bronx Criminal Court. The flowers were for a woman who was forced to retire after nine years because of health problems. Holding the bouquet with her arthritic fingers, the woman said she loved the red and white arrangement.

In late September, Feliciana Danielle popped into Carolina Flower Shop with her husband. They were looking for a centerpiece for a black and gold themed party. Doña Carolina quickly sprayed a couple of green branches with gold and black spray paint and gave Danielle time to think.

After the $90 order was placed, Danielle said she was a returning customer. “I had been here years ago, when I bought the flower arrangements for my wedding.” She came back, knowing Bernal would know how to put together an arrangement that met all her needs.

Doña Carolina opens her shop every day at 8 a.m. After all her ordeals, she won’t stop working until she achieves her final dreams. Her next challenges are obtaining legal residency, getting a car to expand her business, and buying a small house in which she can spend her last days.

“I’ve been run over once and again,” Doña Carolina said. “But no matter what comes my way, I keep getting up.”

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Unofficial American: A Mexican Immigrant in the Bronx

“How can I help you?” asked Israel Sanchez, 20, at Ritchie Torres’ City Council office in the Bronx. He had a calm presence and professional tone, wore a button-down checkered shirt, and spoke with no accent. He was caught at the reception desk with no reference files in front of him but was still able to explain in detail the status of Latino immigrants in the neighborhood. He gave all reference contacts, including email addresses, accurately from memory.

It’s a topic Sanchez knows well. His family is not only part of the immigrant community in Fordham but among the most vulnerable.

“My parents and I live off the book. We pay taxes but the country doesn’t recognize us as legal residents,” he said. “On one hand, you love this country, but on the other, your life is really difficult.”

Meanwhile, a Latino family of ten crowded into the city council office, taking over the reception area that only tightly fits five chairs. Three adults and a flock of children, whose ages varied from toddler to early teen, all spoke Spanish to each other. The woman with the youngest on her lap shook her head with an awkward smile when she was asked if she spoke English. They needed Sanchez to help them communicate.

“People think things in elections won’t affect your lives. But it’s because of what Obama did, I was able to be here and do what I do,” he said, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – a presidential executive action that President Trump would rescind and President Clinton would defend. The Sanchez family, who cannot vote in the elections, hope the voters will make the right choice for them.

Protection against Deportation

Sanchez was brought to the United States from Mexico when he was two years old. His parents took him to climb over thorny fences at the Mexico-California border, and flew to New York. He qualifies for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the executive action initiated by President Obama in June 2012. The action has temporarily protected more than 700,000 immigrants from deportation, 66.6 percent of whom are Mexicans. These immigrants, who are eligible for the executive action and are called the Dreamers, were brought to the United States as children and have made the country their home. Although the executive action does not offer a legal path to citizenship, the Dreamers approved are given temporary work permits.

Immediately after the policy announcement by President Obama, Sanchez applied for the executive action, eager to be able to work legally. He researched the application process, gathered all the legal documents, and submitted the application himself.

Sanchez is temporarily relieved that there is finally a policy that protects immigrants without legal permission like him. “I guess I would be more concerned to meet you if I’m not protected by DACA,” Sanchez said. “The concern is always at the back of our heads.”

His concern does not come from nowhere. The Obama administration has deported more immigrants than any previous president, and the number has been steadily increasing year by year. Although New York City is not among the cities with the top number of deportations, Sanchez and his family are still at risk every day. He deliberately avoids any unlawful activity – things that would be destructive but less devastating for American citizens to be caught doing, such as possession marijuana or working at an illegal business. His uncle’s experience taught the family a lesson.

Hoping to work and earn his living, Sanchez’s uncle landed a job at a company that manufactured counterfeit Nike shoes, where many of the workers were undocumented. Later, the company was reported to the police and had to shut down. Sanchez’s uncle was arrested, and his status was exposed, along with the other immigrant workers who did not have work permit. As a result, he was deported and sent back to Mexico in 2012, after living 20 years in the United States.


The Identity

Although Sanchez’s parents have always told him to be extra careful, he was on TV once with Julissa Arce, an author and advocate for Mexican immigrants. In facing the topic, Sanchez never backs down, and his spine is always straight. After Sanchez received protection against deportation, he has become more active in speaking for immigrants like him. Margaret Calmer, Sanchez’s girlfriend since high school, recalled that their high school friends who used to joke about him being Mexican respected him more after knowing the hardships he has faced.

Without a second of hesitation, Sanchez identifies himself as an American. He enjoys Mexican food and music, but since his first memory, he has never stepped out of the country. He’s had an American education and upholds American values like independence and protection for human rights. He wants a career in government to make better policies for immigrants like him.

In order to achieve his goal, Sanchez interned at the city council office while he was a full-time college student and working at Staples for tuitions and expense. “He always works extra hard to prove that he deserves to be here,” Calmer said.

But he becomes frustrated when his identity clashes with how other people see him. “I think I’m an American, but it’s difficult to claim, since I’m not a citizen,” said Sanchez. He finds many people address him first in Spanish. He was once stopped on his way to Boston because his truck had a headlight out, but the police officers asked if he spoke English and searched his truck for drugs for half an hour. After private middle school, he was accepted to a private boarding high school in Virginia, but this dream school revoked the admission decision after the family visited the campus. The school told him that the revocation was a result of his legal status, but he speculated the real reason being that other students’ parents did not like his Mexican origin.

“I was the only Mexican kid. It was very difficult for people like me to go to a school with bunch of rich kids. You kinda feel you are out of the place” Sanchez said. “You kinda expected things like this to happen, but you didn’t think it would actually happen.”

The school admission office, on the other hand, stated that the school would verify the legal status of any applicant. The director of admission did not recall any incident of revocation of admission offer since 2006.

Sanchez’s road to the American Dream demands more efforts than his American peers. He says his Mexican parents hardly know how American society works, and, along with his two younger brothers, rely heavily on him to navigate their lives. Sanchez in many ways has become the third parent of the family. From credit cards to car insurance to college applications and internships, Sanchez has learned it all by himself.

“I have to explain little things like internships to my parents. Sometimes it’s frustrating,” he said.


Unseen Future

Because Sanchez’s temporary status comes from a presidential executive action, the next president, either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, could revoke the policy. People like Sanchez would no longer be able to work legally and would not be protected from deportations. It’s his worst nightmare.

He is afraid that the new president will drop the policy, and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service will report him to law enforcement units for deportations. “They know me now. They know I’m here,” he said.

Sanchez is graduating from Baruch College in two years. He has two scholarships that cover all his tuition, putting no financial burden on his family. But his political commitment to make immigrants’ lives better would be more promising if he were born in the country and had a U.S. passport.

“He’s just normal, like the rest of us. He jokes around and he enjoys his life. But until something changes, there’s always going to be legal status hanging over his mind preventing him from living an entirely normal life,” Calmer said. “All he wants is a normal life.”

“I can never be the President. That’s one thing,” half-joked Sanchez. But whoever does become president can determine whether he can become officially American.

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Nov. 6 Election May Determine the Future for Young Bronx Immigrants

Eduardo Resendiz woke up in Mexico City to his mother’s whisper. “My son, get your things ready, we are about to leave,” she said seven years ago. “We’re going to meet your dad in the United States.”

The next thing the lanky teen remembered were two grueling bus trips along 700 miles to the northern border, and a frightening trip with a dodgy coyote — a human smuggler — who would paddle the family of three for a fee in a small, inflatable raft over the Rio Grande River along the Texan border.

“We were like zombies, tired, hot and hungry,” said the now 22-year old junior at Lehman College from his apartment on University Avenue in the Bronx. All his life he had heard countless stories about migrants who never made it across.

Resendiz never imagined that seven years later he would still be living in a country where he was not able to work legally, where the threat of deportation is always looming. “I never really had a decision about this,” he said. “I didn’t really know what it meant, I just knew that we had to pack and go.”

But now, the executive order by President Barack Obama that offers deportation deferral to some young undocumented immigrants might dramatically change his future. If the offer of deferral extends to Resendiz, his immigration status would not be permanently resolved, but he would be able to apply for college scholarships.  More importantly for him, he would be able to work legally.

That’s if Obama is re-elected on Nov. 6. If the President loses, his opponent, Gov. Mitt Romney has promised to eventually put a halt to the program. The policy could be easily overturned because it was an executive order.

Eduardo Resendiz, 22, is eager for the elections to be over. If Obama wins, he could legally work in America. (JIKA GONZALEZ/The Bronx Ink)

On Aug. 15, the first day that the policy was put into effect, Resendiz was among the thousands of young undocumented immigrants who lined up around schools, churches and consulates waiting to fill out applications for deferred action.

But unlike the thousands of hopefuls who jumped at the chance to change their immigration status, Resendiz’ application is sitting in a drawer, still waiting for his own signature.  He is waiting to file his paperwork until he knows the result of next week’s presidential election.

Deferred action for childhood arrivals, referred to as DACA, is meant for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children and teens. Applicants must fit specific criteria. They must prove that they were brought in to the U.S. before their 16th birthday and be under 31. They must be in school, have a high school diploma or equivalent. And they must have a clean criminal record.

Some legal experts understand the fears, but believe that simply submitting papers will probably not increase the possibility of deportation. “There are risks involved, but deportation is highly unlikely,” said Maaria Mahmood, a third-year law student at Brooklyn Law School, who assisted Eduardo with the application. “The government is saying that they won’t go after the families, but you have to understand that you are giving all your information to the government.”

While the president’s offer of temporary amnesty is promising, Resendiz remains skeptical. The politically divisive climate has led to anxiety, and while Republican candidate Mitt Romney has publicly said that he won’t reverse approvals, he has also stated that he will halt the program as soon as he’s in office. “I don’t want to put my family in danger,” said Resendiz, noting that his mother, father and sister are also undocumented. “I think it’s too risky knowing that Romney could reverse the decision.”

Applicants are screened by the U.S. Office of Homeland Security. Those who meet the criteria will be allowed to remain in the United States and work legally for two years. As the policy stands now, they will be able to re-apply after the initial two-year deferral passes.

With deportations at a record high, averaging 400,000 per year under Obama’s presidency, the new policy could benefit up to 1.7 million of the 4.4 million unauthorized immigrants, according to the Pew Research Center.

From 2005 to 2010 the department of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is overseen by Homeland Security, apprehended over 34,000 New Yorkers, according to a study published last July by the Immigrants Rights Clinic of New York University School of Law. Apprehensions have increased 60 percent since 2006, averaging at 7417 each year. The report also noted that 91 percent of those detained in New York are deported.

Resendiz fears that if he does not get approved, or if the policy is reversed, he could be putting himself and his family at risk of deportation. “I’m afraid of being separated from my family, afraid of having to go back to Mexico and having to start all over again,” he said.

Seven years after arriving to the United States, diplomas awarded for his academic performance line the walls of the young man’s room. He dreams of being a music teacher, and of being to others what his mentors have been to him.

“All the teachers remember him, even the principal,” said Ian Mustich, Resendiz’ former music teacher at New World High School, the school where Resendiz landed when he arrived as a teen to New York.

At the time he found walking around New York City was “unreal,” and settling into a new life in the Bronx, tough. “You don’t know how to get around, you don’t know the language,” said Eduardo. “You feel like you don’t belong.”

When Resendiz arrived to the U.S. with his mother and his 7-year old sister, his father had already been living in the Bronx for three years. His father had left Mexico in 2002 when Eduardo was only 12 years old.  He had come to make more money as a construction worker and support his family back home.

A photograph of the Resendiz family when Eduardo, his mother and sister first arrived to the United States. (JIKA GONZALEZ/The Bronx Ink)

Three years later, Resendiz’ mother decided that it was time to reunite her family. She felt that her children needed a father. “They needed to recognize who he was, they needed to know who was putting food on the table,” she said in Spanish.

The first day as a high school freshman was rough. Resendiz, who said he had always been a straight A student, found himself frustrated and unable to communicate. “All my classes were in English and I didn’t even know how to ask for permission to drink water or go to the bathroom,” he recalled. “I got home and I told my parents that I didn’t want to go back.”

Resendiz was disillusioned, but his parents pushed him to keep trying. Six months later he finally began to adapt. Mustich, who taught at the school for eight years, described Eduardo as an outstanding student. Three years after graduation the principal still has a picture of Eduardo and his friends on his desk.

Today, Resendiz feels at home. He identifies as both Mexican and American, but feels he cannot grow lasting roots in the U.S. as long as he remains undocumented. “I live here, I speak the language, I feel accepted,” he said.

As of Sept. 14, over 32,000 undocumented immigrants have applied for the Obama Administration’s deferred action. So far, 29 applicants have been approved, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Services.

“The chances that Eduardo won’t be granted deferred action are slim to none,” said Thanu Yakupitiyage, a communications associate at The New York Immigration Coalition. “He is a highly qualified candidate.” She calculates that once Eduardo sends his application, he would have the result in roughly six months time.

Yakupitiyage, who got to know Resendiz when he was granted a college scholarship through the coalition in 2012, was with Resendiz when he put his application materials together. There were hundreds of people inside and out of lower Manhattan’s St. Mary’s church. Resendiz gathered his documents quickly but did not leave when he was done, remembered Yakupitiyage. He stayed and offered his help to other deferred action hopefuls throughout the day. “He is very talented, very smart and very active in his community,” she said.

Pending the results of next week’s election, Resendiz will be ready to file his paperwork. “It’s necessary to have peace of mind and not have the fear of deportation always present,” he said. He wants to make his parents proud, graduate from college and get a master’s degree. “But when you’re not stable in a country, you can’t do much, you can’t put roots down.”

Eduardo Resendiz, 22, a music major at Lehman College: “When you’re not stable in a country, you can’t do much, you can’t put roots down.” (JIKA GONZALEZ/The Bronx Ink)




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Real Azteca serves up the real deal

Fresh corn tortillas are made to order at Real Azteca, an authentic Mexican taqueria in Hunts Point. BIANCA CONSUNJI/The Bronx Ink

It was 3 p.m., that awkward hour between lunch and dinner when most restaurants slow down. Even the Bronx’s best-known pizzerias on Arthur Avenue had emptied out. But halfway across the borough on the same Saturday afternoon, the cramped but cozy Real Azteca was bustling. The counter seating was full, and a steady stream of customers arrived for takeout.

Behind the counter, four cooks prepared a wide variety of traditional Michoacán dishes in full view of the customers. The dishes are nothing like the Tex-Mex burritos that generally pass for “Mexican food” in the U.S. Real Azteca offers huitlacoche quesadillas with a rich, ground mushroom-and-corn filling, soft goat-meat tacos, seafood soup with fresh cilantro, and steak with prickly-pear cactus and homemade guacamole.

And the neighborhood seems to appreciate it. “We’re always busy,” said cook Patricia Valle. “Thank the Lord.”

Real Azteca is family-run. Valle’s brother-in-law Francisco Ortega opened this restaurant 15 years ago, and Valle and her sister Graciela Ortega cook. The family are Tarasco Indians, and pride themselves on serving authentic cuisine from their native Michoacán, a state on the southwest coast of Mexico.

Quesadillas are their signature dish. A young cook scoops a handful of dough from a giant tub and places it in a press brought specially from Mexico.

“You can’t buy a press like this here,” said Francisco Ortega, whose brother has opened a second restaurant near St. Barnabas Hospital. “It’s not hard to make tortillas, but I haven’t seen other restaurants doing it.”

Ortega prides himself on fresh ingredients. The cooks grind jalapeños and other chilies to make their own salsas and press hundreds of tortillas each day.

The extra care makes all the difference, said Valle, who made her living as a cook back home as well. When three other Mexican restaurants opened nearby, all three closed within a year. None of them used fresh ingredients, Valle said, adding with a grimace that she suspects they heated dishes in a microwave.

Seated at a table, Ricardo Garcia from Guatemala is one of the restaurant’s repeat visitors. “The quesadillas are best,” Garcia said. “I come all the time.”

Around 4:30 p.m., there was a short lull. A police officer dropped by to pick up an order for the 41st Precinct. Graciela Ortega and then Valle each took turns sitting down to a quick meal at the counter. A tired Valle smiled and pointed to her bowl. “This is the first chance I’ve had all day to eat something,” she said with a hint of satisfaction. “It’s been so busy.”

Real Azteca, 1013 E. 163rd Street, 718-860-1566

By subway: Hunts Point Avenue on the No. 6 train.  

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Cinco de Bronx!

Cinco de Bronx!

Isaias Gonzales, Grupo Fenix

Damaris Hernandez, Our Lady of Refuge

Omar Corona, Metate Restaurant

Silvestre Rosas, Guadalupita store

Gregorio Castro, Mexico Sport Center

Margarita glasses clinked, and Corona beer flowed in bars and restaurants around the borough, as businesses lured their customers with Cinco de Mayo specials.

The date honors the victory of Mexican patriots over French invaders, at the battle of Puebla in 1862.

It is so widely commercialized and so often celebrated by non-Mexicans that some call it the least Mexican of Mexican holidays.

To find out how special this date is for Mexican Bronxites, we asked five local residents how they will celebrate Cinco de Mayo, and how they are bringing their Mexican culture to the Bronx. Click on each picture to find out more.

(Video by Camilo Hannibal Smith)

In growing Mexican American communities around the United States, DJs like Mister Zamba help make up the local sonidero scene. Mexico is probably the biggest home to the sonidero subculture of DJs. Notes from the crowd, in-person shout-out requests and text messages wishing love to girlfriends/boyfriends, even checking certain family names—gangs sometimes—makes this cumbia-playing soundman a kind of town crier for these transnational neighborhoods.

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Chilis and Piñatas

Silvestre Rosas owns the Guadalupita store in Belmont

Norteña music blasts from a boom-box at a Mexican grocery store in Belmont.  There is little space to move between aisles crammed with canned foods and bags of Mexican treats.

Bright piñatas hang from the ceiling along with metal pots used for making tamales. Piggy banks made of clay, sit snugly on a rack, just a couple steps away from lollipops covered with chili powder.

With so many trinkets and snacks to buy. What sells the most in this cluttered store?

Owner Silvestre Rosas glances at a five foot long freezer with avocados, fresh chilli pepers, tomatoes and nopal leaves.

“People come for the vegetables” he says.

Rosas points at a batch of green Guaje pods. “People open these ones and take out little seeds that are inside, they grind the seeds in the molcajetes –earth pots that are also on sale- they mix it with some chilli peppers and make a salsa.” he says.

A native of the state of Puebla, Rosas reckons he will be too busy tending his store to party on Cinco de Mayo.

Fordham college students may come in for a six pack or two, and just in case any clients want to get patriotic, Rosas is also selling Mexican flags. For more day-to-day necessities he also sells Ponds face creams and candles to light at church altars.

But none of this is as popular as the vegetables.

“Mexicans from the south use vegetables often,” says Rosas. “Like the Poblano chili peppers, which they fill with cheese and cover with salsa.  In my house, my wife cooks that for me too.”

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A Puerto Rican Cinco de Mayo

Isaias Gonzales (center) and Fenix group members Angel Gonzales and Jose Hernandez

The Luis Jimenez Radio show, which broadcasts out of the Univision headquarters in Manhattan on 96.3 F.M.  rarely plays Mexican music.  Its audience, like its staff, is mostly Puerto Rican and Dominican, so the show sticks to salsa, bachata and reggaeton.

Jimenez seems to enjoy Cinco de Mayo, however.  And his co-hosts are intent on marking the occasion with Mexican mariachi gritos, or shouts, almost every time they go on air.  In the early hours of the morning, they make prank calls to unsuspecting callers who are awoken to the tune of mariachi music.

“I hate you,” says a groggy recipient after she’s been hit for the third time.

During one of the commercial breaks, co-host Speedy puts on a black sombrero, he dons a fake mustache and a mariachi coat. Speedy places a pillow under his shirt that makes him look like a cartoonish Mexican cowboy.

Meanwhile, musician Isaias Gonzales waits for his turn to play some song snippets with his Mexican music band, Grupo Fenix.

A resident of Riverdale, Gonzales does not miss an opportunity to promote his group’s work. So in-between performances at Mexican clubs throughout the city, he tries to fit in radio and TV appearances.

“We want people to get to know us little by little,” he said after playing live for the popular show.

The appearance was brief.  But Gonzalez managed to mention his upcoming CD called Quiereme (Love Me). He played parts of two folksy songs that are popular with rural Mexicans and also performed a bachata song, which he wrote himself.

“We have a lot of Dominican friends who listen to our Mexican music.” Gonzales said. “And for a long time they have been asking us when we would record something for them.”

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A futbol store for Little Italy

Gregorio Castro owns a soccer shop near Arthur Avene

An item emblematic of Mexican sports fans hangs from one of the racks of Gregorio Castro’s sporting goods store in Belmont. It’s a green wrestling mask with white borders around the eyes and a small Mexican flag sown on its forehead.

“Fans use those when they go to the national [soccer] teams’ games” says the 46 year old businessman, who runs the “Mexico Sports Center” store in Little Italy.

A lifelong fan of the Mexico City club Pumas, Castro opened his store three years ago after noticing his kids and their friends had to go all the way to East Harlem to buy their Mexican soccer gear.

Castro figured there were enough Mexicans in Belmont to sustain a soccer store. On his storefront he displays a beach towel with the colors of the Mexican national team and colorful cleats. Inside he sells the latest replica jerseys of Mexico’s most popular teams, which go for $80 each.

Strangely enough, Castro’s best selling jerseys are not the red and white striped Chivas de Guadalajara shirt, or the neon yellow Club America jersey. Instead, he has been most successful at selling replica jerseys of Barcelona, Manchester United and Real Madrid. “Perhaps the clients have forgotten about their favorite team,” he said with a smile.

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