Photo: Joel Salcido
I left Mexico, the country where I was born and raised, in 2001, at the age of twenty-eight. The first three years of my immigrant life I lived in Spain. That’s where my accent began to get weird.
My wife and I had a tiny folk art store in Madrid. We sold artsy Mexican handcrafts, messenger bags made of oilcloth, things like that. One day, as I was gift-wrapping her a handpainted picture frame, a customer in her fifties asked about my origin. “You don’t look Mexican,” she said, as if she had a degree in Identities. “What do I look?” I replied, all smiles. “Italian,” she said, studying my face, “or Colombian?”
A few months later, in February of 2004, we posted a “Liquidation Sale” sign on the door. Customers asked why we were closing. I said I’d landed a job in the US. “Agh, the empire!” they’d howl, aghast, throwing their hands in the air. We were in the middle of the Bush years, and they couldn’t understand why someone would willingly move to such awful place.
An old friend from college and his boss were leaving the Wall Street Journal Americas to launch a chain of newspapers in Texas, and had offered me a position as managing editor. In Mexico, I’d started a career as a journalist that was going well, until I moved to Spain. The only job I’d gotten in Madrid, back when we arrived, ended after five months, and I hadn’t found another one since. For two years, the alerts I’d receive from the Spanish version of Monster.com highlighting jobs that matched my profile would only include positions as construction worker, call center operator, night guard. And as fun as it was to sell handcrafts from my home country to Madrileños who’d find them exotic and cute, the prospect of working at a newspaper again was way more exciting, even if that meant starting from scratch somewhere else.
Also, the store remained in the red. Very. Red.
Six months later, I landed in San Antonio. On my first day at the newsroom, I was introduced to the reporters, editors, photographers and designers with whom I’d work. Among them were Colombians, Venezuelans, Puerto Ricans, Spaniards, Peruvians, Uruguayans, a guy from Utah, even Mexicans. One of them, upon hearing my accent, asked where I was from. I said it, and she went, “Nah. Really?”
— Antonio Ruiz-Camacho