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Border Voices: Pam & Jesse

Cover image for podcast episode

Art by Dani Cortez

In these “Border Voices” bonus episodes, we feature shorter stories spotlighting people who identify as transborder, fronterizo or simply have something to say about how the U.S.-Mexico border has changed their lives. Today, meet Jesse Daner and Pamela Figueroa, a cross-border couple who met through their love of learning languages.

Episode art by Dani Cortez.

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Hey, Alan Lilenthal, and you’re listening to Port of Entry.

We’re back with another one of our “Border Voices” bonus episodes.

These are shorter episodes that drop in on the lives of transborder people...fronterizos.

So...there were a few stories from our recent series on cross-border love that we couldn’t quite fit in, but we really wanted to share them with you anyway.

So, let’s get to it… Meet Jesse Daner and Pamela Figueroa.

Pam and jesse audio diary clip 1
Hi, it's Jessie here again and I'm with my girlfriend Pamela. And what are we doing today, baby? Um, are doing some laundry and to the youth. Yes, it is very hot. We're sitting outside the laundry mat and it is Pamela's third time doing laundry in the United States.

Jesse and Pamela recorded a few audio diaries on their phones for us last summer…

Pam and jesse audio diary 3
So let's tell people how we met. Pamela and I met in a language exchange app. Which is called tandem. And, uh, um, I know for myself, I went on there just to learn, cause I'm thinking about teaching English abroad

BEAT

Pam and jesse audio diaries 4
Pam: And I find, I found Jessie. And when I, when I saw his profile, I realized that he, he was very close from me. So I decided to write him and
Jesse: Was it love at first sight. When you saw my profile picture. Did you immediately fal lin lover. Laughs. Actually not.

BEAT

Pam and jesse audio diaries 6
Pam: I felt very, very comfortable talking with him because he is very easygoing and sociable and, and he gave me the confidence to feel, to feel okay, so. We decided to make each other very close. Very, very fast. Sorry. Yeah, he invited me, he invited me to a concert.
Jesse: What concert was it?
Pam: It was a Selena cover band.

BEAT

OK so...Jesse lives in San Diego.

And he’s in a new-ish relationship with Pamela, who...under normal circumstances when there’s not a global pandemic rocking our worlds….lives and works on the other side of the U.S.-Mexico border…..in Tecate.

Tecate is a border town about a 45 minute drive east of Tijuana

It takes about 50 minutes for Jesse to drive from his place in San Diego to Pamela’s house in Tecate.

BEAT

So...Jesse and Pamela’s love story is a modern one.

Because….like lots of couples these days... they met through their smartphones.

Jesse Clip 9
so the app, right? The app that we met on, what's called, excuse me, what's called tandem….
So I just thought maybe I'll hop on this app and, and I'll conversational it, and maybe I'll be able to get better and, um, and asked me, what are the languages I would like to speak? And I put Spanish on there, um, because I could still get better and...

And...same for Pamela.

She got on the language exchange app to improve her English by chatting with a native speaker.

Pamela Clip 20
To learn a language, to improve at the language no? Him with spanish and me with English,

So...Tandem basically just connects you to people who speak the language you want to learn.

You can communicate with each other through text or voice chat.

It’s super simple.

And it didn’t take long before Jesse and Pamela crossed virtual paths.

Jesse Clip 10
…..I was at my friend's house and, um, I got a message and it was from ms. Pamela herself and she reached out to me and, um, Just from that moment we started talking and her default picture was still one of my favorites because one it's so basic, but, um, one of Pamela's best features externally is her best curve.is her smile because it's, she shows all, I don't know how many teeth you have, but all 60 something teeth or all 50 something teeth and all of her gums. And she's, it's just so contagious.

BEAT
Pamela Clip 3 Edit
….And from the moment that we practiced, we had a lot of communalities, we had good communication...there was a ‘click.”

Pamela is saying here that they had a lot in common and they just ‘clicked.’

All it took was a few messages back and forth..

And...then came that date to a Selena cover band concert in San Diego…

Then a few dinners…

And a few weeks later, the two were officially a thing.
But....then…..the pandemic hit…..

BEAT

That border separating the two lovebirds?
COVID made it a lot more difficult to cross.
News Clip: Starting at midnight tonight, all non essential traffic across the border will be restricted...
So, was Jesse and Pamela’s young-but-intense cross-border relationship doomed?
Or was their connection strong enough to survive a mostly closed border?

We’ll find out…
After a quick break.

MIDROLL 1
BEAT

We’re back..
So...when those border restrictions came down last March because of COVID-19…

Pamela...who used to cross easily with a tourist visa and could visit Jesse as often as she wanted…

She suddenly couldn’t cross the border at all anymore…At least not the way she used to

She used to just drive or walk into the U.S. through the port of entry in Tecate.

But now, because of COVID restrictions, people with tourist visas like Pamela can’t do that.
Eventually though….
Pamela figured out a border hack.

Pamela Clip 7
I had to fly from here, from Mexicali, my flight left to Guadalajara, and from Guadalajara I flew to Los Angeles, uh it was a nocturnal flight so I practically didn’t sleep, it left here at 11 at night, and I got to Los Angeles, at um, 7:30 in the morning more or less.
Pamela’s saying that instead of driving across the border like she used to...she flew across instead.
See...Airports have never really closed down completely in Mexico and the U.S.
So Pamela flew from Mexicali all the way down to Guadalajara…

which is almost as far south as Mexico City...

and then she hopped on a flight from Guadalajara back up to LA where Jesse met her, then they drove down to San Diego.
It’s a really nutty and roundabout way to get to the U.S.

But it worked.

BEAT
As a U.S. citizen, Jesse is actually not supposed to be crossing the border right now, either….

Because, unfortunately, visiting a girlfriend isn’t considered essential travel….
Buuut he’s still crossing to see her anyway.
Jesse Clip 18
Alan: in those first few months where you, when Trump was like saying that the board has totally shut down. I know people, I know a lot of friends of mine who aren't close to the border. Like they they're like you shouldn't, you can't cross. Right. So were you scared of crossing the border? Did you do research and what was your relationship to cause I know that obviously. Um you wanted to go see Pamela,
Jesse: I think the first couple of times I just went. Cause I'm just kind of like, uh, no, not, no, not no cares, but I was just like, you know, whatever's going to happen. It's gonna happen. And that I could afford to stay in Mexico for a little bit.
Jesse and Pamela say they’re not gonna let the border squeeze keep them apart….
Alan Jesse Pamela Clip 2
Have, have y'all talked about, um, future plans, like post pandemic or not like without a border between you?

Jesse Clip 23
I think. Our future plans will be to travel and then living wise, I don't think we've thought that far ahead. Um, but I love part of what attracts me so much to Pamela is she is just so I've just never been. Cared for so much by someone that's not my mom, you know what I mean? And that's the thing that blows my mind. It's just like, man, like you are a really good person. Like you've really a loving person. I can feel that
OK..so Jesse just mentioned his mom there…

And it actually brings up something really interesting...
Because Jesse is half Black, and half Mexican.
He was adopted and raised by a white family from the time he was a baby…
But he does have a relationship with his biological mom.

So.. he's got this very dynamic cross-border, cross-cultural identity.

And...I wanted to know if he thought maybe that part of his past has anything to do with why he ended up in a cross-border relationship.
Alan Jesse Pamela Clip 3
you said your, your mom is from Mexico, your biological mom. Is that part of the reason you were attracted to Pamela?
Jesse Clip 7
the connection I see, which I think a therapist could make is, uh, you know, we're always looking for something. We're looking for our parents in our our partners, right...in our significant others. And I was like, well, You know, how does Pamela fit into that? And it's, uh, Pamela's a lovely Mexican lady, like my biological mom. Um, and she's a strong, educated educator in her country. Uh, and that's what my, my adoptive mom was,
Jesse Clip 8
I see a lot of my adoptive mom in Pamela and Pamela, I find her sometimes she's like, I'm sorry for being this…. I'm like when someone dates a teacher, like they understand that you're going to be a student in your relationship. I love it, man. I don't have any problem with a woman, you know, telling me I could do this better. I could do that better. And, um, Pamela, Pamela fits right in that and I, I love her for it.

BEAT FADE
So...Pamela and Jesse are still together…
In fact, they just celebrated their one-year anniversary this past Valentine’s Day.
Pamela is hopeful she’ll be able to drive across the border soon instead of having to fly the way she has in the past…
They’re both patiently waiting for the travel restrictions at the border to be lifted…
So, for now, it’s mostly Jesse crossing the border to see Pamela in Mexico.
He’s actually been down there with her since December.
The couple recently helped organize a drive-by birthday party for Pamela’s abuela, who just turned 90.
Birthday Celebration Clip
Port of Entry is written and produced by Kinsee Morlan. Emily Jankowski is the co-producer and director of sound design. Alisa Barba edited this episode.

This program is made possible (in part) by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people."

And hey...If you identify as transborder or fronterizo…. give us a call or shoot us a text anytime at (619) 452-0228‬ and tell us more. We’re always looking for border stories..

I’m Alan Lilienthal, thanks for listening.

Port of Entry podcast branding

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.