This Tijuana Taco Stand Is Giving the Growing Number of Haitian Refugees a Taste of Home

Lead Photo: Steven Depolo
Steven Depolo
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By the time many Haitian refugees have reached Mexico, they’ve crossed 10 borders and traversed 7,000 miles. As 700 of them arrive at the Tijuana-San Ysidro border daily, they can now stop by a restaurant serving a little taste of home.

After a devastating 2010 earthquake killed as many as 220,000 people, Brazil opened its borders to Haitians. Some stayed and found work building stadiums for the Olympics and the World Cup in the South American country. However, now that the two events have come and gone – and Brazil’s in the midst of political and economic turmoil – many Haitians have decided to make their way to the United States, according to NPR.

On top of taking on the difficult two- to three-month journey by bus, car, boat, and sometimes on foot, there’s roadblocks along the way. The Sandinista military shut down the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border, making it more difficult to reach Mexico. And many don’t know what will await them when they finally reach the US-Mexico border. But those who make it as far as Tijuana have Lonchería Dulce – a food stand serving up their comfort foods.

Recently, five Haitian women stopped at Fausta Rosalía’s spot, asking if they could use her kitchen. “The women asked if I would allow them to cook some food for themselves in the kitchen,” Rosalía told Fusion. “They don’t like the food from here. [They then proposed:] What if we cook our food and sell it? I will work with you.”

Photo by Heriberto Paredes
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That’s exactly what’s happened over the last month at Lonchería Dulce, which is now known as Tijuana’s first Haitian restaurant. For $2, it serves a fried chicken, rice and beans, and vegetable meal. Though Rosalía has learned the recipes, she says it’s her new co-workers who make the food what it is. “After three months of travel, we are fortunate enough to eat chicken with a taste of Haiti,” said Charles, an immigrant who asked Fusion to keep his last name anonymous.

While the lonchería certainly caters to a growing Haitian refugee community, the food stand also has a fanbase in Mexican and US citizens. People now arrive early in the morning to get a ticket so they can reserve their food. By 11 a.m., there’s already a line.

For now, it doesn’t seem as though Lochería Dulce will go back to selling tacos. But now, more than ever, this group needs something familiar in a highly tumultuous time. In September, the Obama administration announced it would resume deporting Haitian immigrants. After a 2010 earthquake hit Haiti, the US suspended deportations, because it didn’t want to send people back to a country facing instability, according to the New York Times. This meant that they wouldn’t be subject to a fast-track removal process. In 2011, it began focusing on undocumented Haitian immigrants who had committed or threatened the country’s safety.

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After Hurricane Matthew ripped through Haiti with devastating effect this month, the United States is temporarily suspending deportations of Haitian immigrants. However, the Los Angeles Times reports that Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson made it clear that this change only stands for a limited time. “This should be clear: The policy change I announced on Sept. 22 remains in effect, for now and in the future,” he said. “DHS intends to resume those flights as soon as possible.”

Since last October, more than 5,000 Haitian immigrants have arrived at the Tijuana-San Ysidro border – considerably up from 339 in the 2015 fiscal year. After overwhelming the US immigration system, Haitian immigrants are waiting weeks to get an appointment with an immigration official. Many have ended up in overcrowded homeless shelters and in the streets of Tijuana.