Photograph by Kevin A. Roberts
Brenda Garcia’s cherry-red Honda Rebel—reluctantly up for sale—is propped on its kickstand next to her desk. Her husband, Antonio, says she is “too wild”—all 5 feet of her, clad in black boots, camo pants, and a black T-shirt. She rolls her eyes as she stands in their restaurant office on North Lindbergh, giving her daughter-in-law Sarah a handful of different-sized slips of paper.
“I do translations, notary, help with applications and forms, cash payroll checks,” Brenda tells me over her shoulder. “People wire money to their families.”
Sarah takes the slips but glares at her mother-in-law: “Are you sure you didn’t change the clock on my computer?”
On April Fool’s Day, Brenda turned Sarah’s computer screen upside down, coiled a rubber snake in her drawer, and buttered the handle of her car door.
“Tell what you did,” Brenda urges with maternal pride. Sarah grins. “When I was pregnant, I acted like my water broke at U.S. Bank—we are very close with them. I took a water bottle in with me.”
Sarah and Tyler Garcia run a food truck, Locoz Tacoz—formerly named La Tejana, like the Garcias’ restaurant, “but he does a lot of fusion,” Brenda says, “and we’re trying to stay authentic.” She walks me next door to their grocery store, waves at the butcher, and stands in front of the case with her toes turned out like a ballerina. “We have tongue,” she says. “That’s our pig head. The cactus they can peel for you. Sometimes we have the bull’s testicles.”
Next door is the licoreria, Tyler’s idea. I scan for tequila, but Brenda says their best-seller is Buchanans scotch. “It’s in all the Mexican videos, kind of like rappers talking about Remy. We call it ‘Buchanas’!”
The next door is La Tejana Taqueria, already starting to fill up. The two guys who order goat soup and goat tacos are here seated. Somebody else wants menudo, a soup made from a cow’s stomach lining. “Good for a hangover,” Brenda notes.
I nod. “Buchanas.”
Customers are like family. “Two asked us to take their children to Mexico for them,” she says. It’s common for kids to be raised by relatives while parents work here. “I’ll never do it again,” she vows, describing how a toddler grabbed on to her and sobbed.
The man she calls Twelve is outside, waiting. He comes every day and sits in booth No. 12 by himself. If it’s occupied, he waits. The other day, a group of soldiers came for lunch, and Brenda teared up because a patron quietly picked up their check.
Originally from El Paso, she’s a Navy brat herself. After her parents divorced, she chose to live with her father—despite his alcoholism—because she knew he’d be traveling. She loves to travel.
But she will not go again to Mexico. “It’s our own little protest,” she says. Armando, a visa worker who used to have Thanksgiving dinner with them, was riding a bus that was stopped by a drug cartel. “His wife still believes he might be alive, but it’s been five years.” Brenda sends his wife money, but she’s vowed never to get close to a visa worker again.
Instead, she helps families sponsor Central American child migrants who’ve been taken into custody.
Back in the office, we pass stacks of her newspaper, El Hispano, and go downstairs to the radio station Antonio dreamed up, Ke Buena (1510 AM). Morning-show host El Burro has a donkey bray that could reduce an undertaker to giggles. Next up is Tiburon…who trips coming down the last step, like a pratfall. “Really, Tiburon,” Brenda says. Sweet-faced and skinny, a born clown, he is the antithesis of his nickname, which means “shark.”
Her chuckle stops abruptly. The Ave Maria is flowing from Tiburon’s phone.
“I’m Catholic, and it’s noon!” he says. “At 12 in Mexico, they always play that song. They say the angels said Mary was going to be the mother of Jesus at noon.” He wants to start playing the Ave Maria at noon to start his show. “I was going to be a priest, you know.”
Brenda’s eyebrows arch.
“Sí! When I got out of the seminary—OK, not for me—I came here to St. Louis and started playing music.” He goes to the mic and, pressing buttons, issues a rapid stream of Spanish about motocross and iPhones and the interpretation of dreams. We step outside the booth to hear the machine change his voice for different characters, one the squeak of a mischievous little boy.
“I like to make people feel happy, forget about their problems and their stress,” Tiburon says at the next break. “I didn’t want to be a boring priest. People think you go to church and you are, like”—he folds his hands and stares down at them, pious for two seconds. “Hey, God is love. God is happiness. If the church were only for saints…”
DJ Rubén Pérez arrives and transforms himself into Macana, a bum on the street he uses for radio news. Making his voice hoarse, he utters a staccato sentence that ends with “Oootts!” and a cackle. Pérez can also sing like Vicente Fernández Gómez, the king of ranchero music, and give late-night advice to the lovelorn and talk about immigration, racial profiling, and the old tensions with the St. Ann police.
“It was unbelievable how racist they were,” says Brenda. “Now they have a new chief of police, last name of Jimenez.” She shrugs. “He doesn’t speak Spanish.”
Ah, but the station’s mascot does. He is Jack, a Yorkie. The newspaper’s mascot is a Yorkie named Sparrow. And Brenda insisted her son’s Yorkie be named Captain.
Tricksters, she knows, are resilient.