ORLANDO, Fla. – The southern border has long been a crossing point for people coming from Mexico, or through Mexico from other countries, into the United States. This is a journey Pablo García made in 1978 when he was 18.
“I crossed the border and I had to swim,” García recalled. “The trip was very dangerous because from Los Angeles to Chicago they put us in a van with like 25 people and we had to be in the small van for like 30 hours without eating, drinking water nonstop.”
The 64-year-old said it was a dangerous trip he was willing to take to live a better life and help his family back home in his hometown of Veracruz, Mexico. García said the first ten years in the U.S. the money he earned working for others, was sent back to his parents.
“I came from a very very poor family. When I first came to this country I didn’t have any money, I didn’t speak English, very little education, four years of school,” García said. “I had to start from the very bottom when I came to this country. I started washing dishes.”
But 24 years ago, he achieved his American dream. He is the owner of El Potro Mexican restaurant--with locations in Winter Park and Orlando. He’ll soon be inaugurating his fourth location in Belle Isle.
“In this country, if you work hard if you are honest you treat people right you can go anywhere. This is what I love to do,” he said.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, in 2019, there were about 10.9 million Mexican-born people living in the United States.
Among those arriving are Mexican indigenous immigrants; a vulnerable community says Cielo Gómez, who works with the Mexican consulate in Orlando where they created a new program to provide assistance to them.
“In Mexico, we speak 68 indigenous languages plus Spanish so people that come from indigenous backgrounds to the United States need more help because they come without speaking Spanish nor English,” Gómez who is a Mayan indigenous said. She left her hometown of Chiapas to live in the U.S. 16 years ago.
Gómez said the Mexican consulate in Orlando is the first to offer such a program in the entire country.
“It’s about helping or having this specialized office for the indigenous people that come from Mexico. Indigenous and Afro-Mexican people that come to work in this country,” she said.
The U.S. Border Patrol reported nearly 200,000 encounters with migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border in July, the highest monthly total in more than two decades.
“The majority of the people who are crossing the border are actually Central American migrants who are fleeing extreme violence and poverty in their home countries,” said Beatriz Reyes-Foster, a UCF Anthropology associate professor.
Many of the refugees who are crossing the border by foot come from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
“It is extremely difficult to get a visa otherwise. It can be prohibitively expensive even just to pay for an interview and even after that it’s very often the visa is not approved. Very often the work visas we have are really for skilled labor,” Reyes-Foster said.
For Pablo, who at 64 says he has no intention of retiring soon, it’s all about dedication.
“Work hard, be honest, and someday see what you like and start your own business,” he said. “My friend told me in this country that the sky is the limit and I believe, I believe him.”