‘A huevo, de aquí soy.’
[‘Hell yeah, this is where I belong.’]

Fernando, 21 | Chicago, IL

We ran into Fernando while walking through the crowded streets of Chinatown. Within the sea of Chinese dialects, Alan recognized his Mexican accent and struck up a conversation in Spanish, which continued as Fernando sold fruit. “I turned 18, left my home in Jalisco, and came here to rent a room for $300, to make my own food, wash my own clothes, start my business 100% by myself. It was really hard, man, from having it all one day to entirely depending on yourself the next.”

Though he mainly sells fruit, Fernando does a little bit of everything. “I love business, getting money in different ways: I buy cars from auctions and resell them, I shovel snow in the winter. In the afternoons I study for my GED because I want to get a real estate agent license. My dream is to open a marijuana dispensary. In my apartment, I have a mini greenhouse and I like to experiment. I go onto YouTube and get hooked watching up to two or three hours on how to germinate seeds, how to make them grow faster. From nothing, you start to learn on your own.”

Note: This interview was conducted in Spanish. Click here for an untranslated version.


I couldn’t sell fruit during the pandemic. I was depressed all alone in my apartment, you know? I’d lay in my bed and I just couldn’t... I couldn’t... I couldn’t. I’d wake up and instead of drinking a coke or a water, I’d drink a beer. And man, I can’t watch Netflix in bed for 15 hours. I can’t do it. The bed makes me itch. That’s why I wanted a puppy. Actually, the whole business started from that; I just wanted a puppy.

It was a pain in the ass to bathe them. While I washed one, there’d be two others shitting all over who knows where in the apartment. The smell was the hardest part. I can hear a dog cry no problem, but the smell is a whole other thing. And I live in a studio. It’s a shitty room. So having nine puppies there was really uncomfortable. I love sneakers and one of the dogs ruined a pair of Nikes. I was like fuck – I paid like $220 for those Nikes. I got the dogs a special cage so their poop would fall underneath; otherwise they’d eat it. Puppies are very delicate. With the first five, one died and I had to take another to the hospital.

Bulldog Frenchies were super expensive this year and I wasn’t gonna pay $3,000 for a dog, no way. So I started looking for them in Mexico and they cost like $1,000. So I said, if over there they cost $1,000 and here they cost $3,000, there’s a business here. So once a month, I’d drive 32 hours all the way to Jalisco, buy a whole litter of pups, and bring them to Chicago to resell them. I made like 20k with those dogs just by looking for the demand. My parents are proud which makes me happy. In fact, my dad got into some dog groups online and now we sell together.

Fernando’s Bulldog Frenchie

I think I’m one of the only Mexicans that sells produce in Chinatown, but I actually started out selling in the Mexican part of town. People there would get really envious of each other's customers. One day, the owners of a supermarket came with baseball bats and poured gasoline all over my truck, my fruit, everything. They said “If you don’t leave in 10 minutes we’re gonna light up your truck.” Luckily there was a couple buying from me and one of the owners spilled gasoline on one of their bags. The guy made a huge fuss and two minutes later there were like 40 cop cars around us. One of the policemen told me, “You know how much your life is worth here? If they want they can pay someone $50 and tomorrow they’ll put a bullet in your head. Better find another area.” That’s why I moved here, to Chinatown.

Mia and Li work with me and help out a lot. They’re both Chinese and speak to me in Chinese all the time. When they do, I have no idea how to respond. [Laughs.] So I’d start speaking to them in Spanish. Like, if you don’t speak to me in a language that I can understand, I’m also gonna speak to you in a language that you don’t understand. They call me Michael because they can’t pronounce Fernando. [Laughs.] I would fight with them because of that at first. I’d say “I’m not Michael, my name is Fernando.” And they’d say “No, Fernando no good. Michael good.” And now a lot of clients call me “Hey Michael!” What can I do? I tell them to call me whatever they want.

Fernando, aka Michael, shows Li how to say “cafecito”, Spanish slang for coffee.

Last year, I couldn’t sell anything here because of COVID. Normally I wake up every day at 3:00AM to go pick my produce in the bodegas and I stay busy the whole day. But since I didn’t have that, I became unhinged in an ugly, ugly way. I had to find something else to pass the time.

I’d drink a bottle at any time of the day every day. Tequila, vodka, a twelve pack of beers minimum. I felt different, I felt older, more worn out. I even kept at it this year. And I’m telling you, in Mexico I’d call a cousin, an uncle, or a friend if I felt alone. All my closest friends are there. I’ve known those guys since elementary school. But not here. I didn’t go to school here. I don’t have my family’s support here. So who do I know? Tell me, what friends can I have? The truth is I only know like ten people here and they’re all older; people in their 40s, 50s, 60s, people like Mia and Li.

I got to the point where I thought about returning to Mexico because of the isolation. But Mexico is very, very different. Over there, you make 1,500 pesos a week. That’s $75 per week working like a dog if you’re not a professional or business owner. And here, with my fruit business, I make a lot more money. I did well because I was here and so I got into the mindset where I’d do everything in excess: alcohol in excess, marijuana in excess, cocaine in excess. Can you imagine the type of person I became? It turned ugly, ugly, ugly.

I kept drinking, more than anything because I stayed in the US. No one sees you here, no one says anything. There’s no one to tell you, “Man, you’re fucking up.” When I visited my family in Mexico, my mom threatened to throw me in rehab. My dad also likes to drink and so she’d say, “If you don’t calm down, I’m putting you both in the same room in the anexo (rehab).” But I would just come back to the US and no one could say anything as I continued to live my alcoholic life. They couldn’t see the reality of who I was.

In December, things really fell apart. I overdosed at this huge party from all kinds of drugs and almost went to the hospital. I was in bed for two days. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t feel my lungs from the pain. From that day on, I never went back. I’m a different person now.

Since April 1st, I’ve left two beers in my fridge and filled the rest of the space with water bottles. At night I’d get anxiety from not drinking. I’d walk over and see those two beers surrounded by water bottles and I’d remember, “Man, don’t drink. Don’t drink.” That was my technique to stop drinking. Without that, I’d wake up in the early morning, unconsciously open the beer, and drink it. I felt like I was killing myself staring at those two beers but...aaaaa, you have to catch yourself.

Supposedly, I wasn't gonna be able to sell fruit in 2021, but here I am. I was eager to start selling again. I started up at the beginning of March once it finally got nice outside. That first day I got nervous because it had been more than a year since I had been here. I thought to myself, what if I show up to Chinatown and I’m completely alone? My produce was all gone in like two hours. Gone, gone, gone. That’s when I knew, hell yeah, this is where I belong.

Fernando sells fruit out of his truck in Chinatown.

Translated by Alan Jinich
Chicago, Illinois
Interview Date: May 11, 2021