“It feels like a luxury to be here with my family, in my own country,” said Santa Maria business owner Fernando Muñiz, who first went north at age 15 and built tract houses in Arizona.
Now Muñiz owns his own home, debt free, and a few years ago opened a mini-market and an Internet cafe, with eight computers and decent broadband, with money he saved working in the United States.
“My son is 6 years old and already knows how to use a computer. I didn’t learn how to use one until I was 28,” said Muñiz, whose father was poor and died poor, even though he went to the United States many times for agricultural work.
“I would have liked for my father to see this,” Muñiz said.
They used to work in Houston
Although a weak U.S. job market and tougher border enforcement — along with a surge of kidnapping and killing in Mexico targeting migrants — have slowed illegal immigration to the United States over the past few years, the Bank of Mexico predicts that remittances will hit record levels again in 2013, as the U.S. economy picks up.
Just down the road from Santa Maria, Luciano Figueroa and his brothers employ nearly 50 workers between their butcher shop, cattle ranch and spacious family-style restaurant called Tres Hermanos (Three Brothers), where an American flag flutters atop the roof.
Figueroa swept his arm toward the dining room of his packed barbecue joint. “Every one of these waiters used to work in Houston,” he said. “Now they work here.”
A decade ago, when Figueroa’s father was so poor he had to sell his last cow, Figueroa’s oldest brother went to work at a meat packing plant in Chicago.
He came home four years later with $8,000. The brothers invested the money in a meat saw and 25 head of cattle, opening a butcher shop next to the highway. Five years later, they’d earned enough to open the restaurant.
“Now I feel like a businessman,” Figueroa said.
Their cattle herd has grown to 200, and with the Japanese automaker Honda opening a new assembly plant less than two miles away, Figueroa said he’s planning a trip to the United States soon.
“To Disney World,” he said.
Supporting a family in the U.S.
A face-to-face survey of 1,200 Mexicans released last month by the Pew Research Center found that more than half of respondents thought Mexicans who move to the United States have better lives. But just 37 percent said they would be willing to go, and 19 percent said they would do so illegally.
It is harder to measure the cultural and political influence of returning migrants such as Mandujano, the hardware store owner and avid runner, whose lifestyles have changed dramatically from the corn-and-beans existence of their forebears. Studies indicate they have higher expectations for better government. They are bringing American habits, customs and consumption tastes back home.
Mandujano said he had an epiphany one Sunday in a Houston park while drinking a can of beer on his day off and watching Americans jogging all around him.
“I thought: ‘What am I doing?’ ” he said. “I went out and bought a pair of running shoes the next day.”
With their daughters in high school and college, Mandujano’s wife remains in Houston. After decades of saving and sending money home to Santa Maria, he now does the reverse, supporting his family in Texas with earnings from the hardware store in Mexico.
“Every month I pay off their Sam’s Club card,” he said, shrugging. “I can do it online.”