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Tijuana call centers staffed heavily by deportees

No wonder their English is flawless

Click Contact Center
Click Contact Center

“The new girl already quit,” said my girlfriend as she climbed into my car after work. “She only lasted two weeks and said she couldn’t handle it anymore. Nothing against me, she said the workplace was too much.” My girlfriend is the head recruiter in a call center in Tijuana; she’s been there about a year. Her call center pays better than some others, but employee retention is still an issue. The new girl was supposed to help her out, but decided that the work conditions were too poor and the interview process was too lengthy. She cited “general mismanagement” as her reason for leaving. That’s one term for it, though not the one I thought of when my girlfriend showed me security video of her breaking up a fight. “They said I was crazy for jumping in like that,” she told me. The fight was supposedly over a stolen phone, but in reality, it was a drug and money dispute. She jumped in when she saw the bigger guy hitting the smaller one.

Luis at 1Click

At least her job seems secure: there is an endless thirst for new call center agents. The call center employs over 200 people. My girlfriend interviews and applies basic English and computer tests to an average of seven people daily. The test also measures personality, grammar, math, and listening-oral skills. Almost all applicants are deportees with better English skills than Spanish. Five out of seven usually make it to the next phase to get hired. Without asking them directly, she has to figure out if the person she is interviewing was deported for a violent crime.

Besides working as a recruiter and peacemaker, my girlfriend acts as a therapist; she has a Licenciatura in psychology (similar to a Bachelor’s degree). I dubbed her job “La Escuelita.” From what she tells me, it seems like she works with middle school children instead of adults. Every time I pick her up, I hear about a new drama. Hook-ups and romance in the office (plus sex in the bathrooms). Pizza parties to boost morale gone wildly wrong. An elevator declared off limits, ostensibly for the sake of employee health (in reality, it was malfunctioning). A request from the boss for all employees to wear a costume the whole week of Halloween, and to get their faces painted for Día de Muertos.

It could be worse. At some places, it is worse. I asked users on a Reddit thread to share their worst call center stories. Here is part of one response: “They played us the recording of a client asking the girl who attended to him not to hang up — until the guy came, and the girl realized by his moans and hung up. Poor girl still worked there and got agitated every time they gave that to the new recruits. In another, my supervisor and ‘the client’ sold pot to the agents on Fridays, and next to the call center there was a ‘little store’ (and not an Oxxo type) that accepted food vouchers for products. And it didn’t touch me, but they told me that a little boss in the one that rhymes with ‘HellVista’ was twisted in a bathroom with a high school girl giving him a hard time.”

Ads for call centers are common on Spotify and YouTube and social media. All of them claim to be the coolest, most fun call center in the city. In one of the ads, the big call center TaskUs offered free craft beer. The only requirement was to listen to a recruiter. Posing as a potential employee, I went to the Cerveza Insurgente taproom with my girlfriend for a couple of free beers. We got to the taproom on 4th Street and Avenida Revolución at around 8 pm. A man wearing a LizardBear mascot outfit danced outside the bar as other members of TaskUs invited us in. In the opposite corner of the brewery, there was a pool of blood from a man who had been shot dead hours before. They gave us a small notebook with notepads and a plastic ball with the company’s logo emblazoned on it, as well as two drink tickets, and instructed us to go to the back of the bar to meet with our recruiter.

This is what I learned: The base salary is 3700 pesos a week after taxes (around $220). It also includes 220 pesos’ worth of food stamps per week, medical and dental insurance, educational incentives, an on-site gym, free parking, 21 days off per year, a wellness center, cafeteria discounts, and an on-site nurse. The office has 650 seats and they call it “The Oasis;” it is open 24/7. The job consists of nine hours daily with a one-hour lunch break. The work is divided between answering the phone, online chat, and emails. They have more than 15 clients, including one popular hotel-like service (I guessed it was Airbnb, but the recruiter only smiled and said she couldn’t tell me). About 75% of the clients are customer soft sales, and the others are legal clients.

“¡Pues un montón!” (most of them) said the recruiter when I asked her how many deportees worked at TaskUs. Deportees don’t just have superior English skills; they also have a better understanding of American culture. If a customer calls from Houston and the call center agent was deported after living in Texas, he can connect with the customer in specific ways that relate to Texans, via sports, food, or general knowledge.

First contact with 1Click

I met Luis Esparza in June of 2022; he wanted me to take photos of his staff at 1Click Contact Center, which he founded. He hired me again to take pictures at the company’s Christmas posada at the Red Room restaurant inside the Xolos soccer stadium. “I’m going to say this in English because my Spanish is no bueno,” said Luis at the beginning of his speech to his employees. “Like many of you, I am deported. What you don’t know is that I have a Master’s in Human Behaviorism...” Luis continued with his life story speech, followed by his vision for the company’s future.

A little while later, I sat down with Luis in his office in Zona Río (near the Statue of Lincoln) to get a more complete account. He looked younger than his 50 years. “My family migrated when I was only eight months old,” started Luis. “I was born in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico way back in 1973. From Juarez to Michigan.” That explained the blue and yellow color scheme for both his business and his office. “My whole life I was raised in the U.S. in a Mexican household, but much integrated with the American lifestyle. We never spoke Spanish, but we understood it for our mom. My dad got a job at Ford Motor and got to the US a lot sooner than us. After he got established, he brought the family with him. My older sister and I are the only ones not born in the U.S.; my other three siblings were. I went to Clintondale High School, where I was the starting quarterback for three years. From there, I got a partial scholarship to Ferris State University in Big Rapids. I played quarterback there and got a degree in psychology.”

Luis Esparza: a long way from Michigan, but still wearing blue and yellow.

He soon discovered that “psychology doesn’t do much unless you get your master’s,” so he got into real estate. “A professor persuaded me to get into human behaviorism. I got my Master’s degree from Wayne State University and continued to excel in the real estate field in the Detroit metro area. A couple of life changes happened and I’m suddenly in Mexico.”

“Aggravated” aggravation

Wait, what? “I was always a resident alien,” Luis explained. “That was one of my biggest problems. I could apply for my citizenship, I was married, and I was part of the community. I never looked at myself as a resident alien, I bleed American culture. I love being Mexican too, but I never looked at it like that. Even when I was married, my wife said, ‘Get it over with; get your citizenship so we never run into an issue.’”

It became an issue when Luis got arrested. “I got into a bar fight in 2012. Things escalated. The assault charge turned into aggravated felonious assault. Because there was a weapon, which was a beer bottle. You can’t strike someone in the head with a beer bottle. Everything was handled smoothly and professionally. I was given probation for a year, and I was dismissed in four months. But when my probation officer was signing off on me, that’s when he said, ‘Wait a second, are you a U.S. citizen?’ And I was like, ‘No…’ He goes: ‘I always thought you were a U.S. citizen. Do you have your Green Card or your alien resident card? Let me make a copy of this real quick.’”

When the probation officer made a copy of Luis’ identification and documents, he was flagged by immigration. “My assault charge was aggravated. It was reduced from a felonious assault to a Class A misdemeanor, but they kept the word ‘aggravated.’ And if an assault charge is aggravated, it is an automatic deportation. Because they look at you like a violent individual. I didn’t know this, or I would have tried to get it dismissed and never heard from immigration. Two months went by, and everything was fine. I had just finished my divorce and moved to a new home down the road, probably 15 minutes away from my other home. I had 50% custody of my 3 children and wanted to be nearby.”

And then one day, “I saw three black Yukon trucks parked outside with blacked-out windows. After maybe two or three minutes, I heard a knock and the doorbell. I thought it was a new neighbor or something, but it was a very tall guy who said, ‘Hi, we’re looking for Luis Esparza.’ And I said, ‘That is me.’ He looked back at the other guys, and then looked at his paperwork that said I was dangerous. I was in my shirt and tie, looking all nerdy. They looked all surprised and asked if they could come in. I said absolutely. They asked for my paperwork and then said: ‘We are from INS, Immigration. This is regarding your case. Luis Esparza, just so you know, we are arresting you right now. This is a warrant for your arrest and now you are subject to deportation.’”

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His heart dropped in his chest. “This had to be a joke.” It was not. Luis was locked in Monroe County jail for two days, and was then taken to an immigration dome in Monroe. Most people who are there get deported in a week. Luis managed to get bonded out after five days. Seven days later, he was back in court. “The judge said very nice things about me, but added, ‘Unfortunately Mr. Esparza, I cannot change the immigration laws, I’m a federal judge, I have to uphold the laws. Mr. Esparza, please stand.’ The courtroom was packed. It’s still emotional for me. My mom started crying behind me. My daughter was there and my siblings. They all saw me get deported.”

Welcome home?

Luis had five days to get his things in order. He reported to immigration at 6 am and was flown to Texas in a 747. During the flight, he was “shackled, like in the movie Con Air. Hitting Mexico is a whole different… thing… It took a while for it to sink in,” Luis doesn’t remember what city in Texas he was deported from, but he does remember that by 2011, he was back in Mexico. “I had a cousin that picked me up to take me to Juarez, help me get my papers and all that,” continued Luis. “But it didn’t work well with the family I was living with. Though they are family, primas y tías, I hadn’t seen them since I was a little kid and I was now a grown adult. They started asking for money. I got frustrated. I didn’t feel comfortable.

“I talked to my mother and her husband and they had family in Tamaulipas. They had a rancho, and said, ‘You are going to be more comfortable.’ I went down to the rancho. And it was the poorest environment I’ve been in in my life. It was shocking. They were the happiest people I’ve ever seen, but eating beans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is not for me. I was there for seven long weeks. I was trying to decide where to go in Mexico to make a home, and at the time my brother was living in San Diego because he was in the Marines. That influenced me to move to Rosarito.”

Calling for help

With the income he had saved and the help of his brother, Luis moved to Rosarito in 2012 and bought a sports bar. He decorated the bar with Michigan sports memorabilia and called it the Que Paso Bar. It was not a success. “There were days that I would make 200 pesos total on sales when you have rent of $2000 a month. I realized there was no money in bars in Rosarito. It was sad. I was probably in the worst stage of my life. I was just drinking and partying. I was going through all the cash I had, so rapidly, and it hit me: What the fuck are you doing with your life?

Luis closed his bar after a few months. He had a friend who worked in a call center and told him to apply, but no call center wanted to hire him. “When I went, I got discriminated against… sort of. Because my education was so much higher. They were intimidated. The general manager and higher-ups were scared of me, so they wouldn’t hire me. ‘Too advanced, this is not for you,’ they would say, but what the fuck am I supposed to do?” The ones that did offer work didn’t pay enough. “I applied for Bimbo [Bakeries], for a sales manager on the American side. I had all the credentials to work for them but here’s the thing, my Spanish is horrible. They were offering me 25,000 pesos salary, which is good money here, but they didn’t hire me because of my Spanish.” His experience was not unique. Many deportees speak better English than Spanish. Many barely speak any Spanish, and get mocked for being pochos.

Finally, he got a break. “One day I was in Plaza del Zapato and I was having a drink, and a güero from California was there. I was talking to someone, and he overheard me and said “You have excellent English, do you want a job? I just started a call center down here.” I told him no one wanted to hire me. He offered to hire me.” Luis took the job for 1200 pesos a week in 2014, around USD $60 at that time. “I went from sales agent to manager and overseeing HR, then director of operations. I get this industry, but I’m not happy. As I kept growing and learning, I used my degree. How can I run this? How do I manage all these people and persuade them?”

He got another job, where he learned how to run a business and also met his current fiancée. But there,“Me and my managing partner were bumping heads a lot. There were struggles. Bottom feeders. They were doing whatever they wanted. People were coming stoned or on crystal meth. They fight over 20 pesos. Only crackheads fight for something like that, and the call center allowed it and laughed at it. We had an incident one day when two individuals got into a fight. One of them left and came back with a gun. I wasn’t there but my fiancée was there.” That was the end of that.

Starting over with a start-up

In 2017, with around $1500 USD, Luis started his own operation: a business process outsourcing company. Four girls and a few computers. The first client, from the makeup industry. The next, a year later, a dental office. Then a telemarketer. Four employees became 12, 12 became 25. “It felt good having them working for me getting them paid well and all that stuff.” Then Covid hit, and he found himself back down to his original client in the makeup business.

“A good six months with just one client. It was difficult, me and my girlfriend just bought a house and now this. Holy crap, we had to re-budget.” But he survived, “and over the past four years, it just kept escalating. We have 13 clients right now. Customer service, tax support, BPO [business process outsourcing], things of that nature.”

His call center boom­ed, and 1Click moved to a bigger office in his current building in Zona Río. “We help veterans with their VA and now we are doing immigration. We do all the intake when they start the file. When I spoke to the law firm, they were surprised that I knew that much about immigration. I told them I was deported. I said, ‘If you don’t want to do business with me I understand.’ They were like ‘No, on the contrary, we want to do business with you.’”

It helps that he keeps drugs out of his workplace, and that he’s stuck around. “What we project, from my attorneys, is that there are at least 100 call centers in Tijuana including those that are not registered. A lot of them pop up and are gone. Americans that have cash. They throw a call center here, or whatever at it, rent a building, and two months later, something happens and they are gone. Some people work there and get good money in the first weeks, but then they disappear. No stability. They disappear and take your money.”

Looking back, looking ahead.

Things are good enough now that he can think about the long-term. “I’m at a crossroads in my life. I just turned 50 in December. I take good care of myself. Not sure what I want to do moving forward. I can’t do this industry for two or three more years. My goal is to give this to my fiancée, soon to be my wife. I built it well and she can manage it. What I want to do is be a mentor for businesses. See what they are doing wrong and show them my expertise. I have a great client from Denmark, and he has been recruiting me. He wants to send me all over Europe or Mexico.”

Though Luis has succeeded in Mexico, he still thinks of his family back in Michigan. “I have a great relationship with my son. He just became a father so I just became a grandpa. He is not with the girl who had the baby, so he is learning to co-parent, so he talks to me. My granddaughter is six months old. My oldest daughter I barely talk to. She is 25, she is about to get engaged, and she is a producer for Channel 5 News in Michigan. My youngest daughter is 19, so she is in party mode. The messages I get are, “Can I get $100? Please, daddy? Love you.” She is in college; she wants to become a make-up artist. With my ex-wife, it was terminated ugly so we don’t talk. But as soon as my son graduated from high school, in 2019, he came to visit me. One of the best days of my life. It took me nine years to see him.”

They were lonely years. But they did not embitter him. “I miss taking my kids to a baseball game on a Tuesday. That’s what I miss the most. I’m a big sports guy. I used to be a season ticket holder for the Lions and also at the University of Michgan. I missed their national championship, and Michigan sports is at its peak right now. Outside of that, I don’t miss anything else. I accepted Mexico as my home. When my son visited me, he liked it, and was like, ‘Dad, this is great. You are looking good, and this looks good for you.’ His approval made me feel good. When I see my numbers, and what people say about us, and I see where I came from. I started the business with roughly $1500, and now see where I am. This is a very tough industry, but if you do it the right way and you care, you can be successful. You are going to be knocked down, but if you persevere, I love it, bro. It’s difficult, but I got through it.”

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“The new girl already quit,” said my girlfriend as she climbed into my car after work. “She only lasted two weeks and said she couldn’t handle it anymore. Nothing against me, she said the workplace was too much.” My girlfriend is the head recruiter in a call center in Tijuana; she’s been there about a year. Her call center pays better than some others, but employee retention is still an issue. The new girl was supposed to help her out, but decided that the work conditions were too poor and the interview process was too lengthy. She cited “general mismanagement” as her reason for leaving. That’s one term for it, though not the one I thought of when my girlfriend showed me security video of her breaking up a fight. “They said I was crazy for jumping in like that,” she told me. The fight was supposedly over a stolen phone, but in reality, it was a drug and money dispute. She jumped in when she saw the bigger guy hitting the smaller one.

Luis at 1Click

At least her job seems secure: there is an endless thirst for new call center agents. The call center employs over 200 people. My girlfriend interviews and applies basic English and computer tests to an average of seven people daily. The test also measures personality, grammar, math, and listening-oral skills. Almost all applicants are deportees with better English skills than Spanish. Five out of seven usually make it to the next phase to get hired. Without asking them directly, she has to figure out if the person she is interviewing was deported for a violent crime.

Besides working as a recruiter and peacemaker, my girlfriend acts as a therapist; she has a Licenciatura in psychology (similar to a Bachelor’s degree). I dubbed her job “La Escuelita.” From what she tells me, it seems like she works with middle school children instead of adults. Every time I pick her up, I hear about a new drama. Hook-ups and romance in the office (plus sex in the bathrooms). Pizza parties to boost morale gone wildly wrong. An elevator declared off limits, ostensibly for the sake of employee health (in reality, it was malfunctioning). A request from the boss for all employees to wear a costume the whole week of Halloween, and to get their faces painted for Día de Muertos.

It could be worse. At some places, it is worse. I asked users on a Reddit thread to share their worst call center stories. Here is part of one response: “They played us the recording of a client asking the girl who attended to him not to hang up — until the guy came, and the girl realized by his moans and hung up. Poor girl still worked there and got agitated every time they gave that to the new recruits. In another, my supervisor and ‘the client’ sold pot to the agents on Fridays, and next to the call center there was a ‘little store’ (and not an Oxxo type) that accepted food vouchers for products. And it didn’t touch me, but they told me that a little boss in the one that rhymes with ‘HellVista’ was twisted in a bathroom with a high school girl giving him a hard time.”

Ads for call centers are common on Spotify and YouTube and social media. All of them claim to be the coolest, most fun call center in the city. In one of the ads, the big call center TaskUs offered free craft beer. The only requirement was to listen to a recruiter. Posing as a potential employee, I went to the Cerveza Insurgente taproom with my girlfriend for a couple of free beers. We got to the taproom on 4th Street and Avenida Revolución at around 8 pm. A man wearing a LizardBear mascot outfit danced outside the bar as other members of TaskUs invited us in. In the opposite corner of the brewery, there was a pool of blood from a man who had been shot dead hours before. They gave us a small notebook with notepads and a plastic ball with the company’s logo emblazoned on it, as well as two drink tickets, and instructed us to go to the back of the bar to meet with our recruiter.

This is what I learned: The base salary is 3700 pesos a week after taxes (around $220). It also includes 220 pesos’ worth of food stamps per week, medical and dental insurance, educational incentives, an on-site gym, free parking, 21 days off per year, a wellness center, cafeteria discounts, and an on-site nurse. The office has 650 seats and they call it “The Oasis;” it is open 24/7. The job consists of nine hours daily with a one-hour lunch break. The work is divided between answering the phone, online chat, and emails. They have more than 15 clients, including one popular hotel-like service (I guessed it was Airbnb, but the recruiter only smiled and said she couldn’t tell me). About 75% of the clients are customer soft sales, and the others are legal clients.

“¡Pues un montón!” (most of them) said the recruiter when I asked her how many deportees worked at TaskUs. Deportees don’t just have superior English skills; they also have a better understanding of American culture. If a customer calls from Houston and the call center agent was deported after living in Texas, he can connect with the customer in specific ways that relate to Texans, via sports, food, or general knowledge.

First contact with 1Click

I met Luis Esparza in June of 2022; he wanted me to take photos of his staff at 1Click Contact Center, which he founded. He hired me again to take pictures at the company’s Christmas posada at the Red Room restaurant inside the Xolos soccer stadium. “I’m going to say this in English because my Spanish is no bueno,” said Luis at the beginning of his speech to his employees. “Like many of you, I am deported. What you don’t know is that I have a Master’s in Human Behaviorism...” Luis continued with his life story speech, followed by his vision for the company’s future.

A little while later, I sat down with Luis in his office in Zona Río (near the Statue of Lincoln) to get a more complete account. He looked younger than his 50 years. “My family migrated when I was only eight months old,” started Luis. “I was born in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico way back in 1973. From Juarez to Michigan.” That explained the blue and yellow color scheme for both his business and his office. “My whole life I was raised in the U.S. in a Mexican household, but much integrated with the American lifestyle. We never spoke Spanish, but we understood it for our mom. My dad got a job at Ford Motor and got to the US a lot sooner than us. After he got established, he brought the family with him. My older sister and I are the only ones not born in the U.S.; my other three siblings were. I went to Clintondale High School, where I was the starting quarterback for three years. From there, I got a partial scholarship to Ferris State University in Big Rapids. I played quarterback there and got a degree in psychology.”

Luis Esparza: a long way from Michigan, but still wearing blue and yellow.

He soon discovered that “psychology doesn’t do much unless you get your master’s,” so he got into real estate. “A professor persuaded me to get into human behaviorism. I got my Master’s degree from Wayne State University and continued to excel in the real estate field in the Detroit metro area. A couple of life changes happened and I’m suddenly in Mexico.”

“Aggravated” aggravation

Wait, what? “I was always a resident alien,” Luis explained. “That was one of my biggest problems. I could apply for my citizenship, I was married, and I was part of the community. I never looked at myself as a resident alien, I bleed American culture. I love being Mexican too, but I never looked at it like that. Even when I was married, my wife said, ‘Get it over with; get your citizenship so we never run into an issue.’”

It became an issue when Luis got arrested. “I got into a bar fight in 2012. Things escalated. The assault charge turned into aggravated felonious assault. Because there was a weapon, which was a beer bottle. You can’t strike someone in the head with a beer bottle. Everything was handled smoothly and professionally. I was given probation for a year, and I was dismissed in four months. But when my probation officer was signing off on me, that’s when he said, ‘Wait a second, are you a U.S. citizen?’ And I was like, ‘No…’ He goes: ‘I always thought you were a U.S. citizen. Do you have your Green Card or your alien resident card? Let me make a copy of this real quick.’”

When the probation officer made a copy of Luis’ identification and documents, he was flagged by immigration. “My assault charge was aggravated. It was reduced from a felonious assault to a Class A misdemeanor, but they kept the word ‘aggravated.’ And if an assault charge is aggravated, it is an automatic deportation. Because they look at you like a violent individual. I didn’t know this, or I would have tried to get it dismissed and never heard from immigration. Two months went by, and everything was fine. I had just finished my divorce and moved to a new home down the road, probably 15 minutes away from my other home. I had 50% custody of my 3 children and wanted to be nearby.”

And then one day, “I saw three black Yukon trucks parked outside with blacked-out windows. After maybe two or three minutes, I heard a knock and the doorbell. I thought it was a new neighbor or something, but it was a very tall guy who said, ‘Hi, we’re looking for Luis Esparza.’ And I said, ‘That is me.’ He looked back at the other guys, and then looked at his paperwork that said I was dangerous. I was in my shirt and tie, looking all nerdy. They looked all surprised and asked if they could come in. I said absolutely. They asked for my paperwork and then said: ‘We are from INS, Immigration. This is regarding your case. Luis Esparza, just so you know, we are arresting you right now. This is a warrant for your arrest and now you are subject to deportation.’”

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His heart dropped in his chest. “This had to be a joke.” It was not. Luis was locked in Monroe County jail for two days, and was then taken to an immigration dome in Monroe. Most people who are there get deported in a week. Luis managed to get bonded out after five days. Seven days later, he was back in court. “The judge said very nice things about me, but added, ‘Unfortunately Mr. Esparza, I cannot change the immigration laws, I’m a federal judge, I have to uphold the laws. Mr. Esparza, please stand.’ The courtroom was packed. It’s still emotional for me. My mom started crying behind me. My daughter was there and my siblings. They all saw me get deported.”

Welcome home?

Luis had five days to get his things in order. He reported to immigration at 6 am and was flown to Texas in a 747. During the flight, he was “shackled, like in the movie Con Air. Hitting Mexico is a whole different… thing… It took a while for it to sink in,” Luis doesn’t remember what city in Texas he was deported from, but he does remember that by 2011, he was back in Mexico. “I had a cousin that picked me up to take me to Juarez, help me get my papers and all that,” continued Luis. “But it didn’t work well with the family I was living with. Though they are family, primas y tías, I hadn’t seen them since I was a little kid and I was now a grown adult. They started asking for money. I got frustrated. I didn’t feel comfortable.

“I talked to my mother and her husband and they had family in Tamaulipas. They had a rancho, and said, ‘You are going to be more comfortable.’ I went down to the rancho. And it was the poorest environment I’ve been in in my life. It was shocking. They were the happiest people I’ve ever seen, but eating beans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is not for me. I was there for seven long weeks. I was trying to decide where to go in Mexico to make a home, and at the time my brother was living in San Diego because he was in the Marines. That influenced me to move to Rosarito.”

Calling for help

With the income he had saved and the help of his brother, Luis moved to Rosarito in 2012 and bought a sports bar. He decorated the bar with Michigan sports memorabilia and called it the Que Paso Bar. It was not a success. “There were days that I would make 200 pesos total on sales when you have rent of $2000 a month. I realized there was no money in bars in Rosarito. It was sad. I was probably in the worst stage of my life. I was just drinking and partying. I was going through all the cash I had, so rapidly, and it hit me: What the fuck are you doing with your life?

Luis closed his bar after a few months. He had a friend who worked in a call center and told him to apply, but no call center wanted to hire him. “When I went, I got discriminated against… sort of. Because my education was so much higher. They were intimidated. The general manager and higher-ups were scared of me, so they wouldn’t hire me. ‘Too advanced, this is not for you,’ they would say, but what the fuck am I supposed to do?” The ones that did offer work didn’t pay enough. “I applied for Bimbo [Bakeries], for a sales manager on the American side. I had all the credentials to work for them but here’s the thing, my Spanish is horrible. They were offering me 25,000 pesos salary, which is good money here, but they didn’t hire me because of my Spanish.” His experience was not unique. Many deportees speak better English than Spanish. Many barely speak any Spanish, and get mocked for being pochos.

Finally, he got a break. “One day I was in Plaza del Zapato and I was having a drink, and a güero from California was there. I was talking to someone, and he overheard me and said “You have excellent English, do you want a job? I just started a call center down here.” I told him no one wanted to hire me. He offered to hire me.” Luis took the job for 1200 pesos a week in 2014, around USD $60 at that time. “I went from sales agent to manager and overseeing HR, then director of operations. I get this industry, but I’m not happy. As I kept growing and learning, I used my degree. How can I run this? How do I manage all these people and persuade them?”

He got another job, where he learned how to run a business and also met his current fiancée. But there,“Me and my managing partner were bumping heads a lot. There were struggles. Bottom feeders. They were doing whatever they wanted. People were coming stoned or on crystal meth. They fight over 20 pesos. Only crackheads fight for something like that, and the call center allowed it and laughed at it. We had an incident one day when two individuals got into a fight. One of them left and came back with a gun. I wasn’t there but my fiancée was there.” That was the end of that.

Starting over with a start-up

In 2017, with around $1500 USD, Luis started his own operation: a business process outsourcing company. Four girls and a few computers. The first client, from the makeup industry. The next, a year later, a dental office. Then a telemarketer. Four employees became 12, 12 became 25. “It felt good having them working for me getting them paid well and all that stuff.” Then Covid hit, and he found himself back down to his original client in the makeup business.

“A good six months with just one client. It was difficult, me and my girlfriend just bought a house and now this. Holy crap, we had to re-budget.” But he survived, “and over the past four years, it just kept escalating. We have 13 clients right now. Customer service, tax support, BPO [business process outsourcing], things of that nature.”

His call center boom­ed, and 1Click moved to a bigger office in his current building in Zona Río. “We help veterans with their VA and now we are doing immigration. We do all the intake when they start the file. When I spoke to the law firm, they were surprised that I knew that much about immigration. I told them I was deported. I said, ‘If you don’t want to do business with me I understand.’ They were like ‘No, on the contrary, we want to do business with you.’”

It helps that he keeps drugs out of his workplace, and that he’s stuck around. “What we project, from my attorneys, is that there are at least 100 call centers in Tijuana including those that are not registered. A lot of them pop up and are gone. Americans that have cash. They throw a call center here, or whatever at it, rent a building, and two months later, something happens and they are gone. Some people work there and get good money in the first weeks, but then they disappear. No stability. They disappear and take your money.”

Looking back, looking ahead.

Things are good enough now that he can think about the long-term. “I’m at a crossroads in my life. I just turned 50 in December. I take good care of myself. Not sure what I want to do moving forward. I can’t do this industry for two or three more years. My goal is to give this to my fiancée, soon to be my wife. I built it well and she can manage it. What I want to do is be a mentor for businesses. See what they are doing wrong and show them my expertise. I have a great client from Denmark, and he has been recruiting me. He wants to send me all over Europe or Mexico.”

Though Luis has succeeded in Mexico, he still thinks of his family back in Michigan. “I have a great relationship with my son. He just became a father so I just became a grandpa. He is not with the girl who had the baby, so he is learning to co-parent, so he talks to me. My granddaughter is six months old. My oldest daughter I barely talk to. She is 25, she is about to get engaged, and she is a producer for Channel 5 News in Michigan. My youngest daughter is 19, so she is in party mode. The messages I get are, “Can I get $100? Please, daddy? Love you.” She is in college; she wants to become a make-up artist. With my ex-wife, it was terminated ugly so we don’t talk. But as soon as my son graduated from high school, in 2019, he came to visit me. One of the best days of my life. It took me nine years to see him.”

They were lonely years. But they did not embitter him. “I miss taking my kids to a baseball game on a Tuesday. That’s what I miss the most. I’m a big sports guy. I used to be a season ticket holder for the Lions and also at the University of Michgan. I missed their national championship, and Michigan sports is at its peak right now. Outside of that, I don’t miss anything else. I accepted Mexico as my home. When my son visited me, he liked it, and was like, ‘Dad, this is great. You are looking good, and this looks good for you.’ His approval made me feel good. When I see my numbers, and what people say about us, and I see where I came from. I started the business with roughly $1500, and now see where I am. This is a very tough industry, but if you do it the right way and you care, you can be successful. You are going to be knocked down, but if you persevere, I love it, bro. It’s difficult, but I got through it.”

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