JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – Cleiver Benitez has some advice for his countrymen in transit through Mexico: Work will open doors for you.
Two-thousand miles from home, the native of Trujillo, Venezuela, is leading by example. He has learned to fix cellphones, put back together eyeglass frames and, lately, become a cook in a unique eatery in Downtown Juarez.
“We try to leave as much natural juice as possible, without mixing in too much water, so your body absorbs all the vitamins. Most of what we do here is with natural (ingredients),” Benitez said as he chops lettuce, tomatoes and onion on a metal counter. “We also do Venezuelan chicha. There are two kinds. We do the one with rice and pineapple. It has cinnamon, clove, pineapple, sugar and rice.”
El Rincon de Doña Panchis, formerly a Mexican food restaurant, has become a gathering place for Venezuelan migrants looking for a taste of home. Benitez and his boss America Rivera supply that by selling meat empanadas, the chicha drink, and stuffed corn flour arepas. It’s a tiny locale where the lone folding table sits on the sidewalk to accommodate takeout food traffic.
“We sell a lot of Venezuelan food. We’re also selling Mexican (dishes) that I have learned during my years in Mexico,” said Rivera, who arrived in Mexico during the 2019 migrant surge. “That includes chilaquiles, enchiladas, pozole, gorditas …”
Like thousands of other Venezuelans, Benitez and Rivera are in Juarez waiting for a chance to apply for asylum in the United States. For the past few weeks, both have been up early trying to request an appointment with U.S. authorities through the CBP One app. They’ve had no luck so far.
Benitez has spent the past five months on the road and arrived in Juarez only two months ago. His goal is to join his brother in New York City and work.
Rivera, once a clothing store owner in Caracas, left Venezuela three years ago. She has seen her travels interrupted on several occasions, including by the passing away of her 85-year-old father.
“I tell others you have to be prepared when you leave your homeland because it is hard. But you have no choice but to leave when all the businesses go broke, your family gets sick and you have no money for medicines,” she said.
One of Rivera’s sons migrated to Peru when his baby was born, while another son and a daughter remain in Venezuela. Her dream is to go to Florida and set up a small business. “I will sell food, I will cook, I will clean. I will do whatever work needs to be done because my family needs me,” she said.
Benitez said it’s important for residents of Mexico and the United States to know that Venezuelan migrants are highly motivated to work hard and “behave well.” He fears Juarez’s recent problems getting migrants to stop begging at street corners, and last Sunday’s attempt by more than 1,000 people to force their way into the U.S. at the Paso del Norte port of entry will shut the doors for everyone.
“They do their marches and things go wrong. It’s better to do things the way the law in the United States tells you to do it,” he said.
Meantime, customers like Edwin are glad there is at least one eatery in Juarez where he can find Venezuelan food. “I like the shredded beef empanadas,” he said, adding that he was already getting used to the much spicier Mexican food in Juarez.