Luis Medina graduated with a degree in animal husbandry in his native Mexico.
But when he immigrated to the United States in 1985, the only work he could find was selling hot dogs.
“I couldn’t find any job because I didn’t spoke no English,” said Medina, a burly man with a thick mustache. “Nada, nada.”
Remembering the advice that one of his uncles gave him — put a little piece of your heart into everything you do — Medina sold a lot of hot dogs, first in California and then in Mexico, and eventually became the owner of several hot dog carts.
Now 60 and living in Santa Fe, the shrewd businessman is still selling hot dogs. But since moving to New Mexico 15 years ago, he expanded his menu to include tacos and burritos, which he sells out of a food stand off Cordova Road that draws a steady stream of repeat customers. In addition to renting out another food stand off Siler Road near San Isidro Court, Medina and his family also operate a hot dog cart on the Santa Fe Plaza and have plans to open their first restaurant.
“I consider myself successful,” said Medina, one of thousands of immigrant business owners in the state.
Immigrant entrepreneurs represent more than 1 in 7 business owners in New Mexico, according to a new report by the American Immigration Council, an immigrant advocacy group. The report states that 15,224 immigrant business owners accounted for 15 percent of all self-employed New Mexico residents in 2015, generating $375.1 million in business income.
While Santa Fe’s elected officials have christened the city a sanctuary for immigrants, some longtime Hispanics and others frown upon the number of immigrants — living in the country legally or otherwise — who call Santa Fe home.
The ethnic and racial tensions extend beyond Santa Fe’s borders.
The American Immigration Council’s report comes as President Donald Trump — who described some Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers when he announced his candidacy for president — continues to call for tougher immigration laws and a crackdown on immigrants living in the country illegally. The president remains vehement about delivering on a campaign promise to construct a wall along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico, an idea that roused his supporters on the campaign trail, including during a boisterous rally last year at the Albuquerque Convention Center.
Emmanuelle “Neza” Leal-Sánchez, a spokeswoman for Somos Un Pueblo Unido, an advocacy organization for immigrants, said about 19,600 immigrants live in Santa Fe County. That’s about 13 percent of the population.
“Our families have been rooted in New Mexico for decades and are deeply integrated into the economic, cultural and civic life of communities like Santa Fe,” she said Friday. “That’s why it’s so important to push back against Trump policies that would destabilize what we have built together. Policymakers must be bold and work alongside our families as we chart a collective path of prosperity forward.”
Medina, who crossed the border as an undocumented immigrant but became a naturalized citizen through an amnesty program, said he didn’t want to get too political for fear of repercussions. But he said Trump isn’t fit for the presidency.
“I feel very oppressed by him, by his person,” Medina said. “I don’t understand how people can handle him. I don’t understand how people voted for him.”
One of Medina’s customers, Erik Benepe, 26, said Trump utters “hateful rhetoric.”
“I think that America should be a welcoming place,” said Benepe, who was visiting Santa Fe from Philadelphia. “I’ve only seen immigrants contributing good things to the country, and I hate how he demonizes people, breaks up families.”
Medina, who was born and raised in Chihuahua, Mexico, said he first traveled to the United States at age 13.
“I came the first time by myself,” he said. “At that time, you used to pay a guy to cross you at the river. Five pesos.”
At 15, Medina said, he crossed the border again and worked in Los Angeles for a few months, but only to save enough money to help pay for his education in Mexico.
After he obtained his degree, he traveled back to California.
“I always loved the United States,” he said.
When he couldn’t find work, he turned to his friend, whose brother was a manager at a company that sold hot dogs.
“A year later, I had three stands on my own,” he said. “I was very lucky.”
Medina, who also worked in the fields of California picking strawberries to make ends meet, said he became a citizen under the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which was passed in 1986.
“I fixed my papers,” he said.
After living in California for 15 years, Medina said he became homesick and moved back to Mexico, where he opened several hot dog stands, in addition to leasing his stands in California. But his success made him a target for bribery, one of the reasons he decided to move back to the United States.
When his daughter, Berenice, was looking for a university, they visited schools in El Paso and Albuquerque, which she didn’t like, he said. Before they headed west to visit schools in California, they stayed overnight in Santa Fe.
“When I wake up in the morning, there was a lot of snow all over the place, and I love the snow,” he said, adding that his daughter also liked Santa Fe and decided to attend the community college here.
“I went back to Mexico, packed everything and came to Santa Fe,” he said.
Berenice Medina, who is taking over some of her father’s business operations at El Chile Toreado, called him the epitome of an immigrant success story.
“How do you not want immigrants? How do you not want the different people, the different cultures?” she asked while taking a break from the bustling food stand off Cordova Road. “What we’re sharing with people is a mixture of our cultures. We’re from California. We’re from Chihuahua. We’re from Santa Fe, and that comes out in our food. It’s special, and people can feel it, so how could you not want such a beautiful union and fusion of flavors and people?”
Sabina Holloway, 26, who eats at the Cordova Road food stand about once a week, called the food “out of this world.”
“I’ve gotten here before, like five minutes after they closed, and cried,” she said while waiting recently for a breakfast burrito.
Luis Medina said his customers represent a wide array of races and ethnicities.
“We are good with everybody,” he said. “You can see all the nationalities here, and they like this food. We put our heart into our food.”
Berenice Medina and her brother tattooed the image of a mustache on the side of their index fingers, which they playfully hold under their noses, as an homage to their mustachioed father. The green and red mustache, which is part of El Chile Toreado’s logo, resembles two chiles that form a three-pronged knot in the center.
“This is my mom, my dad, and then this is the union of our family. This is their three kids,” she said, pointing to the logo on a delivery van. “Our logo means food and chile, but it also means the union of our family. That’s what we’re sharing with people.”
Contact Daniel J. Chacón at 505-986-3089 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @danieljchacon.