Jesús Mendez, Undocumented Worker, Wants to Vote

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Jesús Mendez shines a black leather shoe in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

Jesús Mendez shines a black leather shoe in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

If you haven’t noticed, San Antonio has a problem with voting. But what about the people who want to vote but can’t? I met a man in downtown San Antonio today who wants to be part of the process, but can’t legally vote. In fact, he isn’t legal.

Jesús Mendez poses for a photo in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

Jesús Mendez poses for a photo in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

His name is Jesús Mendez and he totes around a wooden shoe shining box with bumper stickers endorsing Leticia Van de Putte for Mayor on either side of his work box. Jesús is a homeless undocumented worker from Nueva Rosita, Coahuila who spends every morning near Market Square looking for day labor work. When he fails to find work, he takes to the downtown streets with his shoe shining kit. Mendez has lived here for nearly 10 years, and hasn’t seen his wife and eight-year-old son, Jesús Jr., for two years.

Jesús Mendez shines a black leather shoe in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

Jesús Mendez shines a black leather shoe in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

My curiosity was piqued, and I felt compelled to interview Jesús, which was possible because his English is far better than my Spanish. He seemed like an intelligent guy trying to make an honest living, and he had taken the time to learn about the candidates running for mayor. He had made his own educated decision on who he would like to see lead the local government.

Scott Ball: What made you decide, at least in spirit, to support Leticia Van de Putte?

Jesús Mendez: She’s a real public woman, she has had a long career and you never hear bad things about her. She knows how to keep her mouth shut, she knows when to talk. She looks like she has a lot of experience.

SB: You can’t vote, so what makes you personally invested into the leadership of our city if you don’t have a voice?

JM: I live in this city and whatever policies they want to do affects me somehow. Even if I can’t vote it’s going to effect me.

SB: You’ve been here for 10 years, you voice your support for Leticia Van de Putte as someone who doesn’t legally live in the United States What are you looking for in our city? What matters to you the most?

JM: This is a country that I can live in peace and that most people respect me, even the police. I see everyday police officers and guards look at me suspiciously, they make me feel embarrassed. Just because I’m from a country with a lot of violence and injustice some people still think we’re not human, that we are less than nothing. Black people, Mexicans, people from Latin America, so I guess if it’s a Mexican person in charge of the government like the mayor that somehow something good is going to come for us. Somehow.

Jesús Mendez prepares his shoe shining equipment in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

Jesús Mendez prepares his shoe shining equipment in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

SB: I know that there is a lot of talks about being able to legalize immigrants already living and working in this country. What are your thoughts on that happening in Texas?

JM: It’s never going to happen because it’s the way people are. They need us, if you go to most of the restaurants there’s going to be Mexican people serving you. Go to any hotel and you’re going to see Mexican people cleaning your room, it’s Mexican in the whole country. But still, everybody closes their eyes like we are not here, but we are here. Nobody cares about us, it’s just the way it is and I don’t mind. I’m going to make my money and send that money to my country.

SB: If you could say anything to the mayoral candidates, including Leticia Van de Putte, what would you say?

JM: She’s going to win no matter what. I’m not saying she’s perfect, but she’s the least worst candidate, and she has a lot of experience by the way.

SB: What are your long-term goals?

JM: I have a dream. To get enough money to rent a little place downtown and get my shoe shine store up with a big sign that says ‘Shoe Shine Store.’ We are not terrorists, we are not here asking for food stamps, we don’t ask for nothing. We are here for opportunity, to work. What about us? We are neighbors, we have a good relationship with the United States. People who say ‘No, don’t legalize those people (Mexicans)’, rich people, ranchers. Guess who’s digging the holes for their fences? Us. Think about how much money we are saving the city. We are cheap labor, they use us to build houses. I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

SB: How much do you earn in an average week?

JM: $200, $250, sometimes $300, sometimes less than that.

Jesús Mendez poses for a photo in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

Jesús Mendez poses for a photo in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

SB: How much of that do you send back to Mexico?

JM: At least $150 every two weeks.

SB: What are your living conditions?

JM: I’m homeless. Look at what I bought this morning (he opens a plastic bag filled with shrimp flavored ramen noodles). I’m homeless but my family has something to eat at the table in Mexico so I don’t mind it.

SB:  Is traveling back home to see your family an option?

JM: I can’t go. It’s not just that it’s too expensive to go, it’s too expensive to come back. Coyotes charge you $3,000 to bring you back here.

SB: How did you enter the country?

JM: I paid a coyote and they brought me here. It’s not just the money, you risk your life. They are bad people.

SB: Were you worried for your safety?

JM: Of course, I’m afraid and I don’t want to go back even for my wife. I’m scared. I don’t want to go back until I have a little money and I can buy a little truck. It’s going to take a couple of years but it will be worth it.

 

*Featured/top image: Jesús Mendez shines a black leather shoe in downtown San Antonio.  Photo by Scott Ball.  

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Elvira Cisneros, 1924-2014: An Immigrant’s Legacy of Service

9 thoughts on “Jesús Mendez, Undocumented Worker, Wants to Vote

  1. He does not have a vote because he is not a citizen. I cannot set up shop in the UK, Mexico or France and expect to vote in their elections. If your article is arguing that we should start giving the vote to anyone who moves into the country (even if their money and their family is in their home country), then you’ve jumped the shark on your political commentary. Why are you not focused on why there is so little opportunity for success in Mexico? Instead of writing stories about migrants who can’t vote, why not put a laser focus on why so many people have to migrate to find even a minimal amount of work or safety? There’s the real tragedy.

  2. You’d have to be a legal citizen to vote. Same rule for everybody. Besides, I’m sure there are legal immigrants who’ve been through a Hell of a lot worse than this guy. Just saying. Since this is has Van de Putte’s name all over, once again she is showing that she caters only for the illegal immigrants and not her fellow Tejanos OR the legal immigrants. She didn’t have my support for Lieutenant Governor, and she sure won’t have my support for Mayor of San Antonio.

    • Leticia Van de Putte had nothing to do with her name being on the shoe shine box. And where are you getting your data about Rackspace? One, the company recruited at lot of out of market talent and continues to do so as it grows, and two, I know people who work there are paid very competitively. Finally, Graham Weston and his family have owned downtown property for decades. You seem misinformed on all fronts. We invite critical commentary on our articles, but your comments are not grounded in any facts. –RR

  3. I can’t muster any empathy for this man or this article. Get real. Yes, it is a tragedy that people don’t vote, and yes, Mexico’s government needs to support their own. Meantime, we are hosting this poor, homeless man as he sends his money back to Mexico. Why should he be able to vote in a country where he has no stake in the outcome except to be able take more for himself and to prop up his family back home?

  4. This article didn’t exactly translate as to whether non-citizens should be allowed to vote, at least not for me. The rub here is that here we have this man that doesn’t have the right to vote but would if he could. Meanwhile so MANY “citizens” don’t bother to do the research and/or show up at the polls because they simply could care less.

    AND, it just so happen that I ran into this man yesterday. Very friendly. He KNOWS he is not wanted here. He knows that very well.

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