Apps Breaking Borders
Port of Entry / January 6, 2021
Today on “Port of Entry,” we launch a series of cross-border love stories. First up: How smart-phone applications are playing matchmaker for people on opposite sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
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So...I don’t personally use dating apps like Tinder.
I’m old school and think dates should happen organically and with some degree of serendipity, like meeting someone at the park or something. The thought of swiping right or left on humans I’ve never met makes me cringe.
But a lot of single people love the convenience.
Matthew Clip 2
…..I was just sitting there burning some time on Tinder and I saw her profile and I saw that she was from Mexico and I had never dated anybody, um, that lived outside the country.
This is Matthew Ferrel...and back in 2018, he was living in San Diego when a girl from Tijuana caught his eye on Tinder.
Matthew Clip 2
I liked her profile. You know, she was really cute in the pictures and everything. And I thought we had a few things in common from our profiles, you know, she liked coffee and books and Marvel movies. And so I figured it was worth a cup of coffee to swipe right and start talking and see where things went.
The girl Matt swiped right on was Anabolena Valenquela Garcia.
And, in case you don’t know how Tinder works…To get matched...the other person has to swipe right on you, too.
So yeah, Ana saw Matt's profile and swiped right.
Anabolena Clip 1
It was a long weekend for us to here in Mexico. It was a holiday. So I really spent almost entire weekend swiping right left, right left until I saw his face…..
Neither Ana nor Matt were bothered by the fact that they lived on opposite sides of the border fence….Even though a cross-border relationship was something totally new for Matt.
Matthew Clip 1
I had actually never been to Mexico up until I met Ana.
Since some dating apps like Tinder use proximity to match people, here at the border, it’s not uncommon to get matched with someone who lives on the other side of the wall…. A wall Tinder doesn’t see.
The dating app has been making cross-border matches for a few years now.
And...that’s pretty awesome if you think about it...
Because it’s not just happening here.
Cross-border couples are being matched at other borders across the world, too. It’s like Tinder has become an accidental diplomat...a digital ambassador advocating for a border-free world or something. It’s kinda punk-rock. And I love it.
It makes me wonder how many binational babies are out there because of apps like Tinder not recognizing the border in their algorithms….
From KPBS and PRX, this is “Port of Entry...where we tell cross-border stories…..that connect us.
I’m Alan Lilienthal…
Today….we’re gonna tell the story of two cross-border couples who met through smart-phone apps -- and how the binational connection has shaped their lives in unexpected ways.
For Matt and Anabolena’s first date...Ana crossed the border to San Diego and Matt took her out to a nice restaurant.
Matt says he liked Ana right away.
Matthew Clip 4
she's got this great laugh and a great sense of humor. And we, we do have a lot of things in common and have very similar temperaments and it was just kinda this, this nice change of pace from what I was used to, um, dealing with, you know, dating online and everything in, in San Diego. And there's a lot of people that are very superficial and Anna was not that,
But Ana...she didn’t feel the same...
Anabolena Clip 2
to me, it was kinda different for all the things that he's said. I'm sorry babe.laughs.
The first date he spent the almost day talking about concrete buildings and drawings and, uh, he almost the entire day was washing his, uh, his clock and up. For me, it wasn't that I “no” for a second date..
Ouch.... Matt does work in the construction industry...but it’s probably not a great idea to nerd out on that kind of stuff on first dates….
Anyway...It took some convincing, but eventually Ana gave in and went out with Matt again.
And this time...she invited him to her side of the border.
And Matt...a guy who grew up just a short drive away from Mexico….he had never been interested in crossing before...
He was excited that he’d get to see Ana again, but also….super nervous about going to Mexico.
Matthew Clip 3
terrifying. It was terrifying. It was terrifying. Uh, yeah. So, you know, growing up in Southern California and kind of suburbia and seeing all the headlines about how Tijuana is the murder capital of the world, and if you go down there, you're going to get mugged or, you know, you're going to get thrown in prison or the cartels are going to come after you. And, uh….she wanted to take me down to via, um, to go check out one of the wineries. And so, you know, I just kind of took a deep breath and jumped in my car and went across the border…..it was terrifying.
But at the end of the day, you find out that all of those things are untrue. And we had this amazing day down at the winery and it was a really cool experience to have.
And maybe it was all that delicious Valle wine….but this time….Ana fell for Matt, too….
And...it was a fairly quick romance from there.
Two years after that second date, Matt and Ana moved in together… south of the border.
So yeah….That guy...the one who was totally terrified of crossing the border? He now lives with Ana…. in Tijuana.
The couple’s love has just completely changed his mind when it comes to Mexico. He loves it...and he’s even learned to appreciate the differences.
Matthew Clip 7
you know, there's, there's no running water for days on end sometimes. And, um, the first, the first month or so that I was here that took some real getting used to, and now I know that if we have running water, I should not take it for granted.
Matthew Clip 16
but as far as, you know, being in a different country, it's not that much different than where I was in San Diego.
I grew up in Riverside and in Southern California. And so a lot of that Mexican culture kind of bled its way, North and vice versa with it bleeding South.and so um I think we had more in common than we didn't, um, being able to grow up in such close proximity to the border
Matthew Clip 18
….And so the plan right now is, you know, where we're both down here and just kind of trying to build a really strong foundation. Um, she wants to go back to work and kind of the plan is to, for me to move down here, to save up some money and get an okay place up in San Diego and kind of move back up once we're in a position to be able to do so.
Anabolena Clip 8
I'm really happy the way the things are right now with our family.
Matthew Clip 18
she she's waiting for a ring. She's waiting for a ring.
Anabolena Clip 8
I love you too, babe.
In a time when we’ve had a president whose main battle cry has been to ignore those kind of commonalities along the border...and instead push to build a big wall to block off Mexico...it makes me think of Tinder love connections like Matt and Ana’s as...I don’t know...these seemingly small but powerful acts of political defiance….
It’s like...Tinder is melting borders...one match at a time...
The internet...technology...apps...all of it...it can be terrible. It’s Twitter trolls and doom scrolling and YouTube-powered radicalization.
But...especially now with the pandemic and people being told to stay at home….it’s also become this incredible tool for connection. And these cross-border connections that have grown from these brief moments of crossing digital paths by chance….I don’t know...I just really love it.
TRANSITION BEAT FADE
But here’s the thing….
When an international border is involved in a relationship...things don’t always go so smoothly… two lives don’t always meld together so easily.
Erandi and Daniel Clip 1 Intro
My name is Danielle Campos. I'm from Mexico city.
My name is Erandi Bravo. I'm from East LA.
Meet Daniel and Erandi...a cross-border couple that’s still working hard to weave their lives together.
First….Erandi...and the life she used to have in L.A.
Erandi and Daniel Clip 2
... I was raised in a city called Monterey park, which is, uh, near East LA. Uh, I, my dad was on the radio. Uh, he was actually very successful, uh, MC on the radio in Los Angeles. Uh, and then my mom worked for Mexicana airlines.
Like her parents...Mexican immigrants who came to the U.S. before she was born...Erandi was also able to build a successful career for herself in Los Angeles.
She was kind of a big-deal chef.
Erandi and Daniel Clip 3
I started working for a restaurant called border grill in Los Angeles, which is two very famous chefs, uh, female chefs. They gave me an opportunity there to make like tortillas by hand. I learned a lot about, uh, kitchens and stuff,
Erandi eventually launched her own catering business...and was so successful she even catered an event for none other than….Dr. Dre.
BEAT: Dr Dre Sample
This was a few years ago...and Erandi was at the top of her game.
But...like a lot of ambitious ladies...she wanted to go even further…
So..to keep upping her cooking and catering game..she’d travel to places all over the world to study food and get inspiration for new recipes.
And it was on one of these research trips that her life path..seemingly laid out in a fairly straight line...started twisting and turning in directions she never expected.
So...flash back to a few years ago...Erandi was in Mexico City on one of her food scouting trips… And, using the app on her phone - she dialed up an Uber
and she got in the car with her mom and her grandma who were with her…
And the driver...Daniel... kept glancing in the rearview mirror at her.
Erandi and Daniel Clip 5
I was talking to my mom in English about needing a mechanic and, and stuff. And, uh, I, at that time lived in LA and he's like, Hey, you know, sorry for being nosy. But you know, my dad is a mechanic in LA. Uh, I live here in Mexico, but he's in LA and I can give you his information. I was like, Oh, okay. And, uh, once he dropped us off at my cousin's house. I was like, I know this is so unprofessional and I'm so sorry. I know you're working right now, but I'm going to be here for like another two weeks. Like, would you mind sharing your phone number with me in case you don't have a girlfriend? Like maybe we can go out or…. if you do have a girlfriend, maybe I can use you for like Uber services [laughs]
That’s a little odd right… hitting on the Uber driver?
But something powerful was clearly going on between these two, right from the start...
Erandi and Daniel Clip 12
Alan :did either of you have any idea, like when you met each other, did you feel like the, like the. Like the strength of the connection or was it just like, how did they get to be like, Whoa,
Erandi: I was going to be he's crying. Yes. Yes. I think we did. Uh, I think that we, we really did. And that's why, um, We, I, I, I think that's why I asked him, you know, for his phone numbers,
Erandi and Daniel Clip 6
and the rest is history.
But, the rest is not exactly the history Erandi and Daniel wanted. Because the border between them is still causing problems.
We’ll get into those problems….after the break…
MIDROLL 2 BREAK
So... I need to tell you a little more about Daniel.
Because when he was a kid, his parents got divorced.
And Daniel’s dad ended up leaving Mexico for the U.S. and taking Daniel with him.
Erandi and Daniel Clip 8
Mi papa, my dad take me to, um, United States when I have uh. I think like, like seven years. I was back and forth to the United States and, uh, United States to Mexico city
Daniel’s dad didn’t go through the proper immigration channels... so Daniel grew up undocumented in Los Angeles.
But that fact actually didn’t impact him too much because his dad opened an auto shop, and that’s where Daniel worked after graduating high school.
Daniel says he made good money and was living a pretty good life.
But then… In 2011, Daniel drove to San Diego to help a friend move.
They rented a Uhaul and ended up getting pulled over by Border Patrol.
See..Border Patrol’s jurisdiction stretches 100 miles from the border, so...if agents have what’s called “reasonable suspicion” they can pull you over pretty much anywhere in San Diego since it's so close to the border.
Erandi and Daniel Clip 9
The border patrol asked me about my license driver or my ID, and then. Well...,no tenia... I don't have it with me. And then, well, the border patrol take me to the jail for like 24 hours….And after they took me to Mexicali.
Daniel’s mom was still in Mexico City.
So….rather than put up a fight to stay in the country, he chose what’s called “voluntary deportation.”
Voluntary Deportation lets undocumented people like Daniel leave the U.S. at their own expense. It allows them to avoid most of the immigration consequences that come with being deported through the official channels.
Daniel thought he’d just go live with his mom in Mexico City and then after he straightened things out... he’d eventually come back to the U.S.
But...restarting his life in a country he left when he was seven proved to be a lot more difficult than he thought. And he really missed the life he had to leave behind.
Erandi and Daniel Clip 10
That was horrible…it’s
I don’t know.....I wasn’t ready...I had a girlfriend and I had a dog. My life was very good…..dad is a mechanic in Santa Monica and I worked for him and he paid me well. I didn’t need anything. Those were good times.
Things were not going well for Daniel in Mexico City. He was barely getting by...He says it was hard for him to find a job that paid well and he was barely able to pay rent and feed himself.
He says he was depressed and in a really dark place.
It was Father’s Day 2017...Daniel had scheduled himself a day off. But something inside of him made him change his mind.
So..he got up, got in his car and drove to a touristy neighborhood in Mexico City where you can make good money driving for Uber.
And that’s when Daniel and Erandi crossed paths.
Erandi and Daniel Clip 12
there was just like a strong pull between us both. And from that moment that he dropped me off and gave me his phone number and I kind of just tested it out when I got upstairs, he didn't stop texting the whole day that he was working. And then the whole days after that, after he would be done doing Uber, he would come. Pick me up from my cousin's house and take me sight seeing and stuff. So I think that there was definitely a lot of attraction and even in the, just the few days that we were together, when he dropped me off at the airport...we were already both, both of us. We were just like, Oh my God, like how, you know, we just met and we're like, so attracted to each other...
So, they were attracted to each other enough to start a long distance relationship. But the relationship didn’t actually stay distant for long.
Daniel and Erandi told us their love was just soooo magnetic that they couldn’t stand being away from each other.
But remember...Daniel had immigration issues to work out, so he wasn’t allowed to cross back into the U.S. to be close to Erandi.
So, Erandi came up with a plan.
BEAT: Welcome to Tijuana sample?
Erandi thought Tijuana was their ticket to being together.
Erandi and Daniel Clip 13
We think of the, about Tijuana cause it's gonna, you know, Los Angeles and Tijuana is close. she told me about Tijuana. I'm like, okay. Yeah. I want to change my life for you.
So, with just a few short months of dating behind them, Erandi and Daniel gave up the lives they had….and started a new one….
Together in Tijuana.
Erandi and Daniel Clip 18
Alan: And moving to Tijuana, I understand you, you gave up your career....
Erandi: Yeah. I gave up my, I gave up my catering company completely.
BEAT FADE IN
I stopped helping, uh, one of my really good friends with his company. Annnnd…. yeah, I pretty much gave it all up just to kind of come here and see what was going on.
Erandi and Daniel Clip 19
once I decided that I was going to stay here and that I, I, you know, I really did love, love Danielle, and that we were, we were really gonna do this together. I just started looking for work in San Diego as a cook. And there was a restaurant that I worked for in LA that actually also exists in San Diego. So I was able to, to kind of get in with that job, but it's nothing like having my own business, you know, I was kind of just an employee again for somebody else.
Erandi and Daniel Clip 20
It was, it was a big risk that I had to take, but I think when there's like true love or something, like. Like what we have, you know, it's a sacrifice, you sacrifice a lot of things sometimes to get to, to the other things that you want. Because at the end of the day, you know, after having success and having money, what do you want? You want a family, you want kids, you want the dogs, you want the house.
It’s been a few years since the couple moved to Tijuana...and Daniel and Erandi do have all that stuff now…. I’m sure you’ve heard the babies in the background by now.
Erandi and Daniel Clip 21
we have the house, we have the dogs, we have the kids, we have the, you know, the beach right across like two blocks away from where we live. And, uh, pretty much everything that I, that I wanted. I have now, you know.
Alan: That's awesome.
Buuuuut….there are still a few big things that are not awesome…
A few problems keeping this cross-border couple’s “happily ever after” juuuust out of reach.
These problems mostly have to do with kids.
Because...Erandi...she actually has another kid from a previous relationship. She got pregnant when she was pretty young, so he’s a teenager now...just about ready to graduate high school.
And...Erandi brought him to Tijuana to live as a family with Daniel…
But the teenager was just not feelin’ it.
Erandi and Daniel Clip 22
He lasted only a month. He really did not like TJ. Uh, not that he didn't like it because of what it was, but because he had his friends and he had his girlfriend and he just wasn't really willing to try the whole border crossing on a daily basis to go to school or homeschooling. And, you know, it was just like uprooting him at that age was going to be too difficult.
Erandi misses her son...a lot...
And then... there are the new babies….
Erandi recently gave birth to her and Daniel’s two sons…they were born just 15 months apart.
She went to a hospital in San Diego for the deliveries since she works in the U.S. and there’s where her insurance is...
But Daniel...he had to stay behind...and watch one of the biggest moments of his life unfold over Facetime.
Erandi and Daniel Clip 30, 31, 33, 36 EDITED
it’s incredibly hard, no. You feel like a piece of trash, that's how I felt, I would say why? Why is this border taking away my, my privilege like other parents can be with her, when your kids are born. We were on a video call, we were on facetime….es horrible…
Erandi: My mom, uh, She was the one that was holding the phone. And then, you know, she's like an older lady, so she didn't know how. So she was like recording herself and I'm like pushing. And then you're telling her Senora, you have the phone to your face, turn the camera around and can't see it. I can't see anything . So I might pushing and I grabbed the phone from, from her. And like, I, uh, I grabbed the phone from her and I switched the camera around and my doctor's like focus and go, I'm sorry. But my husband couldn't see, you know, so, uh, it was really sad. It was really sad. it was really sad that he didn't get to be there. In those few moments of, of the baby's life.
Alan: And then what was that like to, what was it like those first moments holding your baby in your arms?
Erandi: I didn't want to get off of the phone with Danielle on FaceTime because I just wanted him to be a part of me holding him and him kind of looking around. And, you know, the first time he was able to like breastfeed with me and. And changing him. And when they give him a little bath, like….we were basically on the phone the whole time on FaceTime when I was in the, in the hospital. it was beautiful and sad at the same time.
So, Daniel didn’t get to meet his first son in person until 4 days later…. when Erandi was finally able to leave the San Diego hospital drive back home to Tijuana.
Daniel: when I see him for my first time, oh man, I was, crying.. I was crying like crazy. Um, I dunno, I, couldn’t believe it yeah.
Erandi and Daniel Clip 32
that was probably one of the saddest things I've ever. Uh, it was sad that he couldn't be there because it was his first child. And even it just the fact that the border was what was, you know, blocking us from, from being able to just be a family, a normal family…...
Erandi and Daniel Clip 32
You know, we're not trying to cheat the country out of anything other than have that experience where he can at least just be there with me. And then we come home again.
BEAT FADE OUT
As hard as being separated by the border during the births of their two sons has been...there’s actually one more thing….una cosa muy grande...that’s still really bothering Daniel…
Like a lot of people, he recently lost his job because of the pandemic.
So now, he’s a stay at home dad.
And he’s really struggling to adjust to his new role.
Erandi and Daniel Clip 27 EDITED
Daniel: I am the mom of the house. I have to mop, I have to make the food, I have to look after the kids.
Alan: Modern Family
Daniel: Modern family, yes. Erandi is the dad because she has to cross the border every single day and, I had to drop her at 5 in the morning at the garita so she could cross to the US…. it’s hard, it’s hard this life.
Erandi and Daniel Clip 51 EDITED
There are times that, you know on mondays, today that it’s monday, I feel this depression. I feel this depression. I see all my friends going back to work, some in LA and others here in San Diego and they all go back to work, and I want to be that person that goes back to work to support his family.
Look...I get it...Daniel is a Mexican man...which...if we’re talking in big sweeping stereotypes here...means that he’s locked in this intense battle with his inner machismo…
It’s just super hard for Daniel to feel OK with his new reality, even though Erandi says she’s totally cool with it.
Erandi and Daniel Clip 46
I definitely don't feel like I'm more than him or anything like that. I just know that that's how he feels, you know?
Alan: Mmhmm. Sure.
Erandi and Daniel Clip 47
he's a great dad., I don't even see my friends, uh, husbands be the way that he is with our kids, you know, uh, the way that he is so willing to, you know, do things. I don't have to boss him around, uh, in Mexico, they use that word, like mandelon you know, like that I'm bossy and he just does whatever I say, but I don't have to boss him around. He just knows. What are home needs in order for it to flow. And so, without asking, he does those things and we have this flow. And I think that that makes me appreciate him a lot more. And it really makes me, it really makes me admire him in an, it just, it's like a whole other admiration I've never had for any other male I've ever been with.
So, the couple feels like, for everyone to live happily ever after...they need to get Daniel’s immigration status straightened out….as soon as possible…
Ideally, They want the whole family living together under one roof in LA, where Erandi’s teenager is currently living with his grandma.
A year ago….Erandi and Daniel had planned to start the process of hiring a lawyer and getting Daniel’s immigration status fixed.
Erandi and Daniel Clip 40
but then COVID happened. So all that stuff is put on. Pause. yeah, unfortunately we haven't been able to start the process of, of getting his paperwork other than me and him filling out and getting like, you know, copies of our birth certificates, passports, um, all the things that they kind of asked for, for the pre, uh, application. And, um, that's kinda where we're at right now. We're just kind of on pause because, um, I was, I mean, I, it's not a fact. I've just been reading things that say that, uh, right now, because of COVID things are now going to be backed up for like another year. So what would have been two years Wait, is now going to be three.
So yeah, it's it, it kind of sucks. So we're considering Canada right now. think we have better luck, um, moving to, to Canada and, and maybe that way we'll have, he'll feel like he's, uh, contributing to the household equally….
BEAT FADE OUT TRANSITION
There are thousands of families separated by the border….
But unlike Erandi and Daniel, they aren’t able to live together…
And…. it’s incredibly hard and stressful…
After something like a deportation rips families apart….A lot of couples can’t handle living apart for so long and are forced to just sorta give up...get divorced and say goodbye.
And yeah….Erandi and Daniel’s situation isn’t perfect. I mean..they might have to move to Canada before they can be truly happy and together….
But at least for now...Erandi and Daniel were lucky they were able to figure out a way that most of their family can be together. Like that first couple, Matthew and Ana -- Tijuana is giving their relationship the room it needs to grow….
And...to think…. these love stories just started with an app….on a smart phone…
Disparate digital signals that crossed paths and resulted in powerful and life-changing binational relationships…
Erandi and Daniel Clip 48 EDITED
Well, I love Erandi for everything. She she's the best. How's it say, mom? Uh, she's the best mom I think (laughs). She’s... She’s….. Erandi. Erandi. I love Erandi. Because of her being. because she is, uh, a very open person. Very…...She doesn't have a border. she's a very nice person. A little bit in the clouds (she laughs). I love everything about her. I can’t tell you, “you know uh”, there’s nothing too specific like, oh I like…. Everything. Completely I’m, in love with her.
Next time on “Port of Entry…”
We continue our series on cross-border love stories with a former Tijuana booster who’s grappling with his relationship with the city.
Tony Part 1 Maybe I'll Give Up On Tijuana
I think that for things to change, there has to be. Public outcry and I don't see the public outcry. Why aren't people upset about this? Why are people upset about this? I don't know, man. Maybe I'll give up and go live into the Vista and be in this Lake and go to Walmart and whatever. Right. Allen.
It’s a tale of two cities...San Diego and Tijuana…
and a common existential crisis triggered by living at the border……
Port of Entry was written and produced by Kinsee Morlan. Emily Jankowski is the director of sound design. Alisa Barba is our editor. And hey, if you’re listening on NPR One right now, and you have yet to take the next step in our relationship...take a minute and click on the “Port of Entry” logo on NPR One, then hit the plus button and click on “follow this show.” I’m Alan Lilienthal, thanks for listening.
Port of Entry
These are cross-border stories that connect us. Border people often inhabit this in-between place. From KPBS and PRX, “Port of Entry” tells personal stories from this place — stories of love, hope, struggle and survival from border crossers, fronterizxs and other people whose lives are shaped by the wall. Hosted by Alan Lilienthal, produced by Kinsee Morlan and sound design by Emily Jankowski.