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Labadee: A New Home in the Borderlands

 March 15, 2023 at 12:20 PM PDT

S1: This is port of entry.

S2: If you were to walk down a certain street in downtown Tijuana and close your eyes and take a big whiff , you might just think you're in the Caribbean.

S3: On the right in front of the Mercado is a Haitian restaurant called La Vida. The owner of this restaurant is Elena Cady. Hola.

S4: Homo de Blasio. Malaki. Como mas o menos. Mucho , mucho. Complicado.

S2: Elena and her husband went through a very long and perilous journey from Haiti to Brazil to Mexico , passing through nearly a dozen countries in search of a better life until they finally arrived in Tijuana in 2016.

S5: The first three days , they had to sleep outside under the rain until they can access to a migrant shelter.

S4: Aqui Mas Seguro Mastrangelo. Nosotros.

S3: At the shelter , Elena and her husband were surrounded mostly by Haitians whose plan was to seek asylum in the US. But Elena and her husband had a different idea.

S4: Lucky in Tijuana , Nosotros.

S3: They decided that instead they would stay and try to build a life in Tijuana.

S4: You if you sit and watch. And I think you.

S2: Though Helena is trained as a nurse and worked around eight years at hospitals in Haiti , she can't work in Mexico because her Spanish is not fluent enough.

S4: And the Mexican says Mrs..

S2: So she first started working as a waitress at a mexican restaurant where she says she learned to cook Mexican food. Her husband's first job was in a maquiladora and selling things in the borderline. They wanted to start their own business , so they looked around downtown Tijuana for a place , but they didn't find anything until.

S4: Sabado de la Manana. You know , this is when.

S5: She told us she had a dream. A dream where she saw the exact place the restaurant is located. Now. She says the way she saw her restaurant in the dream is the exact way it looks right now.

S2: And this is why she refers to her restaurant as El Restaurante de Dios.

S5: God's Restaurant.

S6: De de , de.

S7: De , de , de , de , de , de , de , de , de , de , de , de , de.

S2: From KPBS and PR , this is Port of entry.

S5: Where we tell crossborder stories that connect us.

S2: I'm Allan Lilienthal.

S3: And I'm Natalie Gonzalez.

S1: This is port of entry.

S5: We will be back after a short break.

S2: From KPBS. You are listening to Port of Entry. Helena's restaurant opened for the first time on December 14th of 2021.

S8: That's right.

S3: Right in the middle of the pandemic.

S2: She's part of a sizable population of Haitian immigrants who have settled in the border city in the last decade. In January 2010 , an earthquake of 7.3 on the Richter scale hit Haiti , devastating a country that was already facing an economic and political crisis.

S9: The Caribbean island nation of Haiti has been rocked by its biggest earthquake in more than 200 years.

S10: These people were the lucky ones. They got on the last flight to Miami out of Haiti just after the earthquake hit Habitantes.

S11: This morning , I want to extend to the people of Haiti the deep condolences and unwavering support of the American people following yesterday's terrible earthquake.

S2: The nation was left in chaos and disarray and many people had no means to provide for their families.

S3: The Haitian exodus began by the tens of thousands. Haitians left their homes to look for work in other countries , countries like Brazil , who needed the extra labor to get ready for the 2014 World Cup. Brazil relaxed their bizarre requirements and for a time welcomed them. Haitians left their country and went there with the hope that eventually things would improve back in Haiti , and one day they could go back home to pick up where they left off.

S2: Unfortunately , that time never came , and Brazil's need for workers eventually subsided. Faced with uncertainty about their future in the middle of the last decade , many Haitian migrants set their sights on the US.

S5: In hope that their situation might improve.

S2: In 2016 , the first wave of the Haitian migrants made its way to border cities like Tijuana , where they sought asylum in the United States. And since then , more and more Haitians have arrived in Mexico and especially Tijuana relatives.

S12: Thousands of Haitians are waiting to get into the US and thousands more are on their way through Latin America.

S13: The surge of Haitians started in May. US customs officials couldn't process them fast enough , and a backlog formed in Tijuana.

S2: The Mexican Commission of Refugee Assistance.

S3: In Spanish.

S2: Reported in December of last year that over the past three years , more than 70,000 Haitian refugees have requested asylum in Mexico. But the majority of these refugees were actually trying their luck to make it to the US.

S3: But there are so many obstacles in the way for Haitians who are applying for asylum in the US. Very , very few have been granted asylum here. And over the years , as the majority of Haitians were denied , thousands have settled in Mexico , especially in border cities such as Tijuana.

S2: Adding some Caribbean threads to the multicolored fabric that is the vibrant , breathing , ever changing city of Tijuana.

S3: Or , in L.A. case , a new flavor profile.

S4: ES la vida la vida como. Como una casa de la vida este casa. No.

S2: She says that life is like a house. You start building it little by little and you keep climbing higher. Slowly but surely. And this is how she sees her restaurant. They received loans from friends to be able to open the restaurant poquito a poquito.

S5: And even though it has been difficult , Elena and her husband are happy to own their business.

UU: MAN Oh , sorry. What if. What do you want ? Well.

S2: Elena said she asked God for a business so she could help people by giving them food or work. She likes to give work to other Haitians stranded in Tijuana below Despacito. She used to have up to eight workers , but some of them have now left for other cities or countries.

S3: Now , though , her delicious food and hard work has made her popular around downtown. And she has many Mexican customers who love to eat there as well.

S14: Rica Komi Pero , Frito Arroz con recalls.

S5: We spoke with one of her customers and she told us she ate some delicious fried chicken and that she could taste the love in L.A. cooking. And we can attest to what this piscina said because.

S2: We ate there , too.

S15: I don't think it's so good.

S3: Elena's cooking is Caribbean soul food. It made me feel at home. Like if I was on my grandma's for a birthday , the main dishes were a succulent dance between spicy acid and rich flavors like Mexican cuisine. Haitian food revolves around beans , rice , and a protein like Rico , be it chicken.

S1: Fish or. Pork.

S3: Pork. But instead of tortillas , they use plantains as their main source of starch. And we had her famous fried chicken accompanied by this rich and spicy mash of steamed vegetables.

S2: Was it called legume , legume.

S3: And a simple salad to keep the guilt of a heavy meal at bay.

S2: I felt zero guilt. I just felt very euphoric eating this delicious meal. So many colors and little dishes that you could mix. It was almost like the Caribbean version of Indian food where you have so many options to mix and play with. And it was just delicious. Delicious.

S16: Delicious.

S2: As far as living in Tijuana , Elena says. Mexico is like every other country. There are good people and not so good people. She said that of course she would like to be able to have a visa to at least have the option to cross into the States. But she feels safe and stable living on the Mexican side of the border. However.

S3: Eleanor's eyes suddenly veer away as we ask if she has children. Okay.

S4: Okay. Your simple. Your simple. Three step.

S2: Simply to say she says her head hurts because being far away from her children is painful.

S3: She has not seen her children in six years.

S2: Elena and her husband have three children that are now 12 , 14 and 16 years old. They're back in Haiti. Yeah.

S3: Yeah.

S4: You see ? You get it. Glasses. Adios.

S3: They are doing everything they can to bring their children to Tijuana , but are facing numerous challenges. When we ask her what the challenges were , they kept changing the subject. They didn't want to talk about it.

S2: Their children all live with Elena's parents and her sister. As of now , Elena and her husband send money back home so they can attend school. Me. This is port of entry. We will be back after a short break.

S5: From KPBS. You are listening to.

S1: Port of Entry.

UU: I stop by for a moment.

S2: Like Elena , many Haitian migrants that find themselves in Tijuana are also trying to get their children out of Haiti and reunite with them here.

S14: Number one Tengo Cinco Meses in Tijuana. Feliz Tengo Mi Negocio.

S5: This is Pizza. She has now been in Tijuana for over a year after living six years in Chile.

S3: She loves Mexican food and learn to cook Mexican dishes to get a job. Peterson started working at her boyfriend's family restaurant a couple of blocks away from Elena's restaurant. She is now the proud owner of a hair salon in Tijuana's red light district.

S14: It is difficult to say no.

S2: Peten decided to move to Mexico because , she says , in Chile , the process to bring her daughter from Haiti is very complicated.

S14: I think what we do try to make.

S3: The same day we met her , she told us she was very happy because she finally finished filing the Mexican immigration paperwork and was looking forward to seeing her daughter again after seven years.

S5: It is over 3000 miles from Haiti to Taiwan.


S3: Elena would only say it was a very , very bad experience.

S4: I beseech you , tambien , you know , megastar. Megastar.

S5: It is well documented that the journey through Latin America is remarkably dangerous for migrants. They are targeted by gangs , cartels , human and drug traffickers.

S3: Women and children are especially vulnerable.

S14: As I said , on the viola. I know , I know.

S2: PTEN says that on her own journey , members of her cohort were robbed at gunpoint. Many were raped and some were even killed.

S3: In hindsight , we felt like asking about those journeys may have made our interview with Elena much more difficult.



S5: Her demeanor changes.

S4: You send Mama and papa for affection. The mama. Papa used to be interesting. Elena.

S3: Elena.

S5: Every child needs the affection of their parents in order to be happy. Holding her arms close to her body , her eyes turned glassy with tears. She glances at her partner with a half smile , like she's smiling in pain.

S4: Pelo cuando ninos Con mama Papa mas como se must feliz as feliz unos the I'm with my generation la otros see what gives me.

S2: Since the wave of Haitian migration to Mexico began in 2016. Every year , thousands more arrive looking for a better life. Many of them have decided to make Tijuana their new home.

S3: Like Elena in Pittston , some city , Juana , as a place where they can hopefully reunite with their children. Others remain waiting for a visa to cross into the United States. And many others are still trying to figure out what to do.

S2: In the meantime. A plate of Haitian food is always ready at the table.

S5: This episode of Port of Entry was written produced by Julio Cesar Ortiz in Natalia Gonzalez.

S2: Luca Vega is technical producer and sound.

S5: Designer is media production specialist.

S2: Alisa Barba is our editor.

S5: Lisa Morissette is director of audio Programming and operations and John Tucker is senior director of Content development.

S2: This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting , a private corporation funded by the American people.

S5: This project was also made possible with support from California Humanities , a nonprofit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit Call Home. Org. Soy Jose Natalie Nos. Vemos. Pronto.

In January 12, 2010 a devastating earthquake hit Haiti that caused a massive exodus of Haitian nationals to look for a better future in other parts of the world. Elena and Petiane are two Haitian refugees who left their home country for South America to find work. They eventually made it to Tijuana as they set their sights on getting to the US, but after a turn of events they decided to make Tijuana their new home.



Port of Entry is back after a long hiatus and is excited to share a whole new set of stories with you, this time centered around food and migration.

This season we share several stories about how food has changed cities in the borderlands, including episodes on folks who have made Valle de Guadalupe, the famous wine region of northern Baja, their home.

Follow hosts Natali Gonzalez and Alan Lilienthal as they sit down with these fascinating people and share their personal and family stories. Listen in and join us!

If you like this episode, show us some love @portofentrypod


From KPBS, PRX, and California Humanities, “Port of Entry” tells cross-border stories that connect us. More stories at

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Feedback is a gift. Text or call the "Port of Entry" team at 619-500-3197 anytime with questions or comments about the show. Email us at

“Port of Entry'' is written, produced and directed by Julio C. Ortiz Franco.

Luca Vega is our Technical Producer and Sound Designer.

Alisa Barba is our editor.

Episodes are translated by Julio C. Ortiz Franco and Natali Gonzales.

Elma Gonzalez and M.G. Perez are our Spanish Editors.

Lisa Morrisette-Zapp is Director of Audio Programming and Operations and John Decker is the Director of Content Development.

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