Manuel Casados, 50, came to the U.S. 10 years ago with a guest worker visa to pick tobacco in North Carolina.
“It was really hard work, a hard life,” Casados said. “There are no breaks and you are hunched over all day.”
He left that job after one season and moved to the Atlanta area, where he started doing odd jobs and construction.
On weekends, he works at a flea market north of Athens, Georgia. Around half the vendors there are Latino and they sell everything from dried chiles and other spices, to caged chickens and CDs of mariachi music. It’s called “Georgia’s largest flea market” but it resembled a tianguis, or open air market in Mexico.
Casados sells soccer shirts representing teams from Mexico, England, France and Italy, as well as shot glasses and Mexican trinkets.
“In one week I can make $80 in Mexico. But here I can make as much as $120 a day,” he said. “It’s not easy but enough to live on and send something back home.”
His visa expired and he has stayed in the U.S. despite the threat of deportation.
His home state of Veracruz lives with warring drug cartels and the federal government has sent police to try and control the situation. Nine journalists also have been killed in that state over the last three years for reporting on the drug war.
“In Mexico, there is too much violence right now,” he said. “I can’t go back.”