My grandpa confirmed me the fantastic thing about the border. I would like my grandkids to see it too.

LAREDO – On the corner of Flores Avenue and Grant Street, in Texas’s second largest border town, Tio Perfumes, one of many nondescript wholesalers, was, as always, across from the sleepy square of this historic district, just one block from the Rio Grande. Inside, there was a change in the air earlier this month.

Under the heady scent of Calvin Klein Obsession, which mixes with crisp Nautica Blue, clear notes of Windex and the telltale touch of Fabuloso cannot be beat. Every switch was wiped off; each box perfectly stacked. Bright red and white balloons and fresh flowers adorned every corner. A tempting platter of biscuits and a bowl of lollipops awaited customers. The shop had never looked this good. It was November 5th, a Friday – T-minus 3 days before the customers came back.

This is the moment Tete Granados, the manager of the business, had been waiting for since the 21st President Trump, citing coronavirus concerns, announced that non-essential travelers would no longer be allowed to enter the United States.

However, a subjective word is essential, especially in the small town of Laredo, whose lifeblood is the constant there and back traffic from the sister town of Nuevo Laredo on the other side. If your impression is of the limit Rating hungry cable news, you probably only hear about drug cartels and tent cities. This human crisis is real. But also life, trade, the beauty of this osmosis. This includes the B-1 / B-2 visa holders who are temporarily visiting the US for tourism, shopping, and to visit friends and family. With the ban on non-essential travelers, the mom-and-pop stores, which are both a symbol and a product of the long-standing relationship between Mexico and the US, were collateral damage.

Shopping at Tio Perfumes is an unspoken tradition in my family. My grandpa, a man whose earthy Ferragamo Cologne announces itself before his booming voice, has been traveling there since he and my grandma moved from Monterrey, Mexico to Laredo 12 years ago. It’s not a real Christmas gift exchange if Buelo doesn’t give each of his grandchildren a perfume or eau de cologne.

As a child, I always wondered how he managed to shower us with branded fragrances as if they were growing on trees. Tired of my haunted questions, he finally took me and my brothers downtown.

His secret?

Mrs. Tete.

As a small, generous woman with a cinnamon-colored voice and northern Mexican flair, Teté runs one of many wholesale parfumerías that are spread over the entire border strip – this border area of ​​the duty-free shop, the exchange office and the truly authentic taqueria.

“Trapped in the double garb of the two countries,” as one scientist puts it, entrepreneurs on both sides of the International Bridge are engaged in brisk trade for anyone who happens to come by. There are poofy quinceanera dresses in chewing gum tones. There are chunky clocks that sparkle in the desert sun. There are simple loafers and snakeskin boots. All kinds of liquor and balls of yarn made from Oaxaca cheese the size of two fists. It’s an airport terminal that never ends.

Shortly after settling in Laredo, my grandfather discovered that Tetés perfumes, bought and sold in bulk, are a fraction of the price you’d find at Macy’s or Nordstrom. He also enjoyed getting to know Tete and the neighboring merchants who make up the historic downtown San Agustín de Laredo district.

Like the two Laredos, many of the families who have passed the farms on from generation to generation were there long before the actual ossification of the border after the 1980s. Tio Perfumes has been owned by Teté’s own family for 32 years. You have seen the devaluation of the peso once, twice, three times – the worst of which was in 1994. You remember the raid on border security after the 11th in the early 2000s.

But never before, Tete told me this week, have the economically weakest in the region been hit so hard. In the 20 months since the border closed to all non-American tourists, crossings north on the region’s main pedestrian bridge have decreased by around 60 percent and non-commercial vehicle crossings have declined about 43 percent, according to data from the Texas Center at Texas A&M International University.

This dried up the main clientele of taxi drivers, street vendors and traders who sell everything from high-quality electronics to cheap chacharitas. Like a “Guess Who?

During my visit in July 2020, I noticed the changed place. I had never known the place so quiet before. What was once a pulsating, busy street now seemed a subdued relic, a ghost town. Even Casa Raul, one of the pioneers of the historic district with a 74-year tradition and 40-year-old loyal employees, had closed some of its shop fronts on a section of the street that was once dominated by it.

The American side has always relied on Mexican visitors eager to buy: Laredo’s residents earn some of the lowest wages in the country, nearly a third of them live below the poverty line, but the city tops the national charts at the highest per capita -Retail at Sales.

In contrast to McAllen, a competitor further southeast, who also attracts large numbers of wealthy regional montanos to its outlet malls and has invested in a clear and “American” appearance, Laredo’s plan seems to be to make Mexicans feel at home . As a symbol for the border as a “third country” that is neither here nor there, Laredo is a chiastic place, an almost mirror image of his sister on the other side of the river. My own grandparents never really learned English. There was no need to live in a US city that is considered to be the least ethnically-racially diversified, where 95 percent of the population identifies as Hispanic.

Even if the Trump administration promoted anti-Hispanic sentiment – and despite the Trump flags that still proudly fly in many Laredo neighborhoods – the city stands firm in its heartfelt embrace with Mexico. So much so that last month a three-year battle to end plans to build a 71-mile border wall in the Laredo area was triumphantly won by a grassroots coalition of Laredoans.

Councilor Alberto Torres Jr. said, “It is time Laredo focused on the essentials, such as building bridges, to fuel our local economy, which is heavily reliant on Mexican tourists.”

While the initial decision to partially close the border was no different from the decisions made by many other national leaders around the world, as the months went by it became less and less clear whether the benefits really outweighed the harm. In addition, Trump’s series of pandemic restrictive immigration policies upheld under the Biden administration has been criticized from the outset by many public health experts as having no justification for public health.

When Trump first announced plans to restrict passage, the U.S. had 66 confirmed cases of COVID-19 within its borders; Mexico had confirmed three. However, with the blessing of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, US citizens were left completely free to come from Mexico and go as they liked. Some even left their constituents in the cold during a winter storm to vacation in Cancun, a popular paradise that attracted millions of American tourists and has seen alarming spikes in COVID cases.

Many Laredoans, on the other hand, hadn’t seen their family across the border in nearly two years – at least until this month. Gabriela Morales, CEO and President of the Laredo Chamber of Commerce, whose family lives in Torreón and Mexico City, told me that those months of breakup can be measured by the missed wedding days, birthdays and funerals. I myself have not been able to visit the paternal side of the family – including my 92-year-old grandmother – in Monterrey since Christmas 2019.

But in the late hours of Monday, November 8th, you might think it was Christmas. Large flashing signs were posted at the checkpoints on the Mexican side: “Bienvenidos a Laredo – Te Extrañamos”. We missed you.

At 10:01 p.m. sharp, the moment finally came that Tete and so many other border residents had been waiting for. The restrictions were lifted: Fully vaccinated visitors were finally allowed to cross. The US Customs and Border Police warned of longer waiting times on the bridge in anticipation of the wave of visitors.

The first photos and videos of emotional reunions soon made the rounds on WhatsApp and Twitter. But the customers who were supposed to give Laredo’s downtown merchants a reprieve were nowhere to be found.

“I can count the number of customers I’ve seen on two hands,” Teté told me three days after the opening. With soaring inflation and a congested supply chain that has driven prices up dramatically (a Katy Perry perfume that used to cost $ 9 would cost $ 22 today) Tete worries that even that A trickle of people who appear in the store will no longer be able to afford their goods.

While the border closure was supposedly supposed to prevent COVID from entering the US, the border itself – and everything it symbolizes – has been treated for the past few decades as a different type of disease that combats with its own “invasions” and “floods” must be “bumps.” It has been repeatedly used as a weapon by politicians who have never spent more time there than a press conference allows. It was adopted and rejected with the ups and downs of the American economy and political climate. But for Laredoans, whose entire life has been a temporary blur between the two sides – before there was even a “side” – the rhetoric is personal.

Although the closure has ended, residents are unsure if their own economic troubles will too. Tete hopes that this weekend, when people find more free time and remember that there is nothing to fear on the other side, their shop will be full again. Hopefully. I would love to take my future grandchildren to downtown Laredo shopping one day to pick out their first perfume bottle.

Regina Lankenau is assistant editor for the Houston Chronicle.

Comments are closed.