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Kai Ryssdal: There’s been a sharp rise drug-related violence in Mexico over the past year or so. That has made a lot of people uneasy as they go about their daily lives. Most of them can’t do much about that. But the level of insecurity has presented some families, mainly those with money, with a choice. Stay, or leave homes and businesses behind and start over. Here, in cities like San Antonio, Tex. Ruxandra Guidi reports.
RUXANDRA GUIDI: Landscaping crews are finishing this section of the Preserve at Indian Springs, a sprawling development in Northern San Antonio with a golf course, strip malls and manicured lawns.
Sandy Roney is with the developer.
SANDY RONEY: This is our Province Collection, we just opened up.
She’s showing a real-estate broker a new house, worth $300,000. Roney says houses like this are selling well, despite the troubled economy.
RONEY: Actually, we feel very fortunate in San Antonio that we haven’t felt the recession as much as the California people or the Floridians. Yes, we have slowed down in the market, that’s a fact, but we still have 3 to 4 percent appreciation from last year, and I think that is partly to do with the Hispanics, the Mexicans coming in, and helping us fill our communities.
The folks who have been moving in are not day laborers or farm workers, they are wealthy Mexican families who can put down at least a 30 percent deposit on properties whose prices start at $270,000. Real-estate broker Francisco Garcia says he noticed the growing trend at the beginning of 2007.
FRANCISCO GARCIA: They used to come looking for vacation rentals, a place where they could stay for some weeks in the summer or when they came here to shop. But now, due to the insecurity, they’re coming to stay for good. Everyone likes to come here, to the Zona Norte, because it’s the safest in San Antonio, and because it has the large new properties like this one, where they can set up their families and even work from home.
No one knows exactly how many Mexican families have ended up in San Antonio due to the kidnappings and violence south of the border. The Mexican Consulate turned down our request for an on-air interview, saying they lack the evidence to recognize this as a trend.
But a consular official did say that a growing number of Mexican business owners have been moving their businesses — and their families — to San Antonio over the past three years.
One of those families is headed by Gina Tello and Jose Manuel Ochoa, the owners of a large chain of jewelry supplies from Guadalajara. They moved here a year ago, and have managed to open three of their stores in San Antonio during that time.
GINA TELLO: We business owners will always have the drive to succeed and watch out, because Mexican business owners are bullet-proof. They are ready for inflations and for economic meltdowns, and always eager to start all over again, no matter what the situation is in the country.
They may be tough, but not enough to withstand the situation back in their home country. Tello and Ochoa are hesitant to explain the details of their life before coming to the U.S. They talk about killings and kidnappings of family members and threats that targeted other people they know, but they won’t say any of this happened to them. Ochoa does say that he knew he needed to get his family out of Guadalajara — fast.
JOSE MANUEL OCHOA: Between 1991 and 2007 we had 4 instances where we had to call the police. In 2007, we called the police 14 times. We managed to get some of the criminals in jail, but they were freed after a short time. So who do you think they want revenge from now? And who do you think is feeling like his life is at risk?
Ochoa travels to Mexico regularly to check on their family business, so he’s had to invest on security — guards and a bullet-proof car. But when he’s not in Guadalajara or Mexico City, he’s at his nice home here in Zona Norte, where his kids attend private schools and where his jewelry business is thriving. Ochoa and Tello say they hope to open more stores beyond Texas.
In San Antonio, I’m Ruxandra Guidi for Marketplace.
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