Editor’s Note – This is another in a continuing series of Borderzine articles on the migration to the U.S. of Mexican middle-class professionals and business owners as a result of the drug-war violence along the border. We call this transfer of people and resources, the largest since the Mexican Revolution, the Mexodus.
EL PASO — With a black apron around his waist and a headset on his head, the expatriated Mexican teenager places the payment for a lunch meal in the cash-register just as the drive-through starts beeping to place the next order.
“When my dad came here we didn’t had any money, no money at all,” said Jose Antonio Argueta, Jr., 19. “Me and my sister had to pay everything, the house, the cars everything we had.” With a serious tone, Argueta tells how his family struggled to establish their restaurant Burritos Tony here. “My dad started working at minimum wage earning maybe like two hundred a week.”
Argueta has been working at Burritos Tony for more than a year. He puts in more than 40 hours a week at the restaurant while attending the University of Texas at El Paso as a full time student. “I usually work from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and sometimes I help them close. Last week I just got one day off, which was Tuesday. I work at the register, as a waiter, host, dishwasher, drive thru, and delivery man,” he said.
Even though his father owns the restaurant, Argueta doesn’t get a break. He said he gets no special privileges. He has to be at work on time and when school is in session he prepares a schedule to fit his work and his studies. Argueta says he has to micromanage his time in order to attend classes and do any one of the six different tasks at his dad’s restaurant.
Burritos Tony has always been a tradition in Ciudad Juarez. It was established in 1954 and it is still open today. Argueta, Sr., grew up watching his mom waking up at four a.m. to make the flour tortillas for the burritos. His dad used to sell them on the street around the city. As an adult, Argueta Sr. worked as a cook at the restaurant in Juarez, but resided in El Paso. In 2009, after two kidnapping attempts, he decided to open up his own business in East El Paso.
“Burritos Tony was first established in Juarez, but in the year 2009 they attempted to kidnap me so I decided to take advantage of the name Burritos Tony to start my business here,” he said.
According to Argueta, Sr., establishing a business in El Paso has not been easy, especially because of all the regulations that need to be followed. “There are too many expenses that need to be covered, the rent, utilities, salaries especially for the currency used, which is not pesos but dollars.” But the fact that people already know about Burritos Tony from Juarez has worked to his advantage.
“People who use to go to Juarez know about Burritos Tony and now that I serve more than just burritos people come and like the place. Like two weeks ago we had a 45-minute waiting time,” he said. Aside from burritos the restaurant offers complete Mexican meals and American meals that include hamburgers and hotdogs. He said that in order to succeed in this market, the owners must assimilate to the traditions the customers follow.
Burritos Tony is not the only Mexican restaurant that has opened a location in El Paso. In recent years, the threats and extortions that Mexican businesses constantly face forced many owners to look to the U.S. as their only way to prosper. According to the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, over the past six months the number of new Mexican businesses established in El Paso has increased. They don’t have an exact number, but the Chamber said it has helped more than 500 businesses relocate.
“People who have come through the Chamber have said it has been difficult for them to maintain their business in Juarez because it is dangerous. But that’s not always the case. Some people are doing OK and just decided to expand their business,” said Kristen Gonzalez, Communications and Marketing Specialist at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
However, many business owners say that the border violence, which stopped tourism, is the main reason why new establishments have been forced here from Mexico. “The demand in Juarez went down due to the ongoing violence. So owners decided to create like a franchise to offer the same service to those who no longer go to Mexico,” Ricardo Carazo manager of El Toro Bronco said. “When we first begin more than a year ago, we saw it like a time to create job opportunities. Currently we have two establishments located here in El Paso and four in Ciudad Juarez.”
Currently there are more than 16 employees at El Toro Bronco and 17 working at Burritos Tony.