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What the opening of the U.S.-Mexico border means to one reporter


The U.S. will open its land borders with Canada and Mexico next month. Visa holders who can show proof of vaccination will be able to cross again after some 18 months of being locked out. The land borders had been closed to all but essential travel when COVID hit, and this reopening is a huge deal for people on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border who often cross daily to see family or to shop.

Reporter Vicente Calderon lives in Tijuana. He's a visa holder himself who hasn't been able to cross to San Diego in a year and a half. Welcome.

VICENTE CALDERON: Thank you very much.

CHANG: Can you just tell me who is in San Diego whom you haven't been able to see personally for so long?

CALDERON: Many people, but mainly my daughters. But I also I'm missing a lot of friends because we along the U.S.-Mexico border live a bi-national life, so to speak.

CHANG: Well, I am so excited for you that you are now going to be able to see them next month. Let me ask you, Vicente, because you cover this region as a reporter, how have these stores, these shops been affected by this border closure for so long?

CALDERON: Well, the businesses on the U.S. side of the border are the ones who have been hit the most. About a year into the lockdown, the president of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, which is the community adjacent to the border, told us at that time, already around 200 businesses were forced to close because they were not seeing any customers.

CHANG: Right.

CALDERON: Mexicans spend millions and millions of dollars every year in businesses and in services in the other side of the border.

CHANG: What do you think the effect of the border reopening will be for businesses on the Mexico side? Because if a lot of money that would have gone to the U.S. stayed in Mexico during lockdown, could the border reopening be not so great for, say, Tijuana businesses?

CALDERON: That's a topic that we have been discussing because we see normally a lot of Mexicans spending their dollars in the U.S. And for more than a year, those customers have been captive on this side of the border. So those customers are going back to the U.S. And also, we probably will miss some of the U.S. customers who were spending time here, especially if the waiting at the border takes longer, those customers not coming back to Tijuana as they've been doing during this pandemic period.

CHANG: Right. Well, I'm curious for you personally, is there one store that you have been waiting so long to get back to in the U.S., one thing that you cannot buy in Mexico?

CALDERON: (Laughter) Well, that's funny because we normally don't shop that much in Mexico. Most of the time, we go to do many of our shopping in the U.S. side.

CHANG: (Laughter).

CALDERON: So there is some memes with the picture of President Joe Biden saying that if we don't get vaccinated, we will not be allowed to cross to Ross or to Marshalls or to Trader Joe's, for example.

CHANG: Are you a Trader Joe's fan?

CALDERON: Yes, I am.

CHANG: What do you get at Trader Joe's that you love?

CALDERON: Well, cold cuts, wine...

CHANG: Oh, yeah - good cheap wine.

CALDERON: ...Which is funny because there's a lot of U.S. residents that come across to buy stuff here, from LA to San Diego.

CHANG: Well, I'm just wondering when November comes around and the border reopens to vaccinated visa holders, are you worried about the border wait? Because just yesterday, even with way less people crossing, I saw that the wait was more than three hours. So what do you think it's going to be like in November?

CALDERON: That's a big concern here because there have been times where people have to wait up to eight hours. More people are going to be able to go across. We expect that the delays will be worse.

CHANG: That is Vicente Calderon with the online news site in Tijuana. Thank you very much for joining us today.

CALDERON: Thank you for the invitation.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Lauren Hodges is an associate producer for All Things Considered. She joined the show in 2018 after seven years in the NPR newsroom as a producer and editor. She doesn't mind that you used her pens, she just likes them a certain way and asks that you put them back the way you found them, thanks. Despite years working on interviews with notable politicians, public figures, and celebrities for NPR, Hodges completely lost her cool when she heard RuPaul's voice and was told to sit quietly in a corner during the rest of the interview. She promises to do better next time.
Amy Isackson