HARLINGEN — Whataburger and Chick-fil-A are two of the most popular Texas cravings, but they are also the main requests made by Mexican citizens.
However, due to the closure of international borders during the pandemic, those living in Mexico who want to satisfy their taste buds with American fast food have opted to call personal shoppers.
But who and what are these shoppers? They’re people who have now dedicated time of their week or their entire schedule to shopping for groceries or other items that residents with a visa are wanting. Because of COVID-19, borders with Reynosa and Matamoros have closed to those without an American residency or citizenship. People used to come every other weekend for their necessities, cravings and clothes, but now have to wait to step inside La Plaza or Sunrise Mall again.
Now, American citizens who live in Reynosa and Matamoros and travel to Brownsville and McAllen are using the opportunity to help out those who want a patty melt or a restock of their Flaming Hot-Cheetos.
From Brownsville to Matamoros
Daisy De La Cruz, 23, has a full-time job in Brownsville at a cardiology clinic. De La Cruz lives in Matamoros and crosses the international bridge every day. As soon as the bridge closed for tourists, people started asking her for favors.
“Hey Daisy, I need some pants or socks. Could you bring me my child’s milk? I buy it in Wal-Mart,” she said.
“I never started to do it in order to make a profit, I like doing favors for people and it started with close friends and people I knew,” De La Cruz said.
However, as word of mouth made its course, more people started to learn about what De La Cruz was doing and would leave tips for her, between $10 to $20, depending on where she was sent.
De La Cruz also picks up packages from PO boxes for people who might not be able to pick them up. But she is adamant she has to open any package she is asked to cross.
The Valley Morning Star witnessed De La Cruz doing shopping for her sister-in-law at American Eagle at Sunrise Mall. She was asked to buy jeans and her sister-in-law asked for a spicy Chick-fil-A sandwich. She also had to deliver a powder from Dillard’s. De La Cruz has to cross every day, so she insists it does not bother her to do these deliveries, but she does them at her own convenient time.
“Most people I do it for I know them or they are relatives of a friend and I. I have been to McAllen to do car payments and I was given $60. I never thought this would become a small business but I don’t do it because of that, I like to do it from the heart,” De La Cruz said.
It has also allowed her to network and get to know more people, which she considers to be a good thing whenever she might need a favor herself.
De La Cruz said most of her clients either give her cash in person or send her money through the app Cashapp.
“I would charge $30 if they send me to Harlingen or Mercedes. The time I went to McAllen I was asked to arrive at 8 a.m., one time I was sent to San Benito,” she said.
De La Cruz started to do this for others in early April, when it became clear borders would not be reopening anytime soon.
She has noticed since she started her clients or people who ask her to bring back stuff have their favorite requests.
“Diapers, Hot Cheetos, people love the Hot Cheetos from here. Cokes, Caprisuns and recently they have been sending me to Bath and Body Works for lotions,” De La Cruz said.
“They have asked me for flour to make cupcakes, lots of butter, they really like the American butter, the Hill Country or H-E-B brand. They also ask me for Fruity Pebbles cereal and Lucky Charms. They also sell them in Mexico but I think they are cheaper here,” she said.
Though De La Cruz started this solely for people who couldn’t go to Brownsville at the moment, she has also begun to bring items for people living in Brownsville who do not want to cross to Matamoros.
“They ask me for cheeses, medication, Pepto Bismol, and Tomahawk cuts,” she said.
She is a mother of a 2-year-old and is currently five months pregnant, and still running around buying groceries for others.
From all her requests, she has noticed which one has been the weirdest.
“One time I picked up a package for someone and I opened it. It had like a fragrance to make someone fall in love with you,” she said laughing.
“It was very weird but it’s none of my business but I need to open it because I was taking it to Mexico,” De La Cruz said.
Though people message her all the time, De La Cruz does not do errands daily. She tells people when she is available and tries to do all the errands for several people in one day. She does it two to three times Monday through Friday.
“If I didn’t have a job I wouldn’t mind the time or day but my job consumes me all day and it is what brings food to the table,” she said.
De La Cruz thinks the deliveries and requests will stop once the pandemic is over.
“I still have people who are residents and citizens asking me for stuff who don’t want to do the lines. My sister-in-law just doesn’t want to do the line, but she can cross,” she said.
While she has been crossing back and forth, De La Cruz said she has never had any issues with Border Patrol. Though, she took 15 to 20 cake mix boxes to Matamoros to one of her clients and she was stopped.
“They were not going to let me cross inside Matamoros because it was too much of one item. I apologized and told them I didn’t know about that rule and they let me in but from then I now only take small quantities,” De La Cruz said.
Once she arrives at Matamoros, she delivers to her clients’ residences. The day VMS accompanied her she also delivered the spicy Chick-fil-A sandwich.
America Cerda, 16, is from Houston but had been on vacation in Matamoros for almost a month. From time to time she asks De La Cruz to bring her something she wouldn’t be able to get in Matamoros.
“Sometimes when I crave something they don’t sell here like Whataburger or like peanut butter and jelly,” Cerda said.
“I had been seeing videos today about Chick-fil-A and felt like ordering a number two and lemonade. There are things you are already used to and they just don’t sell them here,” she said.
From McAllen to Reynosa
On the other side of the RGV, personal shoppers are also a thing. Daty Mariel is a U.S. citizen but resides in Reynosa. Mariel said she started to think about doing this for others because of the needs her friends and family had.
“I help them and they help me. It is a, they give me and I give back feeling. It is a nice activity because I am taking joy to families because I help families as well as individual people,” Mariel said.
“Because of COVID-19, the personal shopper is created. A lot of people have said during this pandemic we have to reinvent ourselves and Daty Mariel reinvented herself into a personal shopper,” she said.
Mariel has a history of working for organizations helping underprivileged people in Reynosa and worked as a director at the Reynosa zoo. Currently, she is devoting her time to personal shopping as a hobby. She offers one day to two for her clients to buy what she is told.
“I have my client today and she sends me a day prior what she wants,” she said.
“But the way they come to me is through social media. I talked to a friend of mine about the idea I had and she created a post for me with my phone number and I advertised on Facebook,” she said.
Her agenda is full of names and contacts. Mariel works every day and is asked for multiple items she takes back to Reynosa, which her clients pick up, from her residence.
“I started with a client a day but now I do one client in the morning and I do another in the afternoon,” she said.
Her clientele has expanded to all areas of Mexico such as Monterrey, Queretaro, Guadalajara, Ciudad Victoria, Hermosillo and Ciudad De Mexico, to name a few. About 20 percent of her requests are not from Tamaulipas. Mariel does their grocery shopping and ships them to their residences.
“I don’t call this a job because I like it and it is an activity for my soul and it keeps me happy as well as giving me an income. What I like the most is being able to help others,” she said.
Mariel charges her Reynosa clients 600 pesos, or $25 dollars. Once paid she does their shopping, but she only spends a maximum of $300.
Mariel does not cross electronics or bring items from Reynosa to McAllen because she has a SENTRI card, which allows her to do the express line at the international bridge.
“If someone from McAllen needs to send something to a city in Mexico, I can do that,” she said.
“This is an opportunity that presented itself to me and I do it with a lot of love and enthusiasm. There is a family from Queretaro who calls me Daty Claus because every time I send them a box filled with chips, candy and everything they want their daughters get so excited. That is what I like the most,” Mariel said.
While she did the shopping for her Wednesday client, Mariel was challenged with her longest request. A box of frozen waffles, a variety of deodorants, orange juice, diapers, toothpaste, Coke, toilet paper, mac and cheese and printer ink cartridges were some of the items on her list.
Mariel looks closely for the specific brand and style of item she is asked for. If something is not available, she calls or texts her client and lets them know. She takes pictures and asks if another brand or style would be acceptable. To take less time during the search, Mariel asks her clients to send her photos of what they want from the store they want it from.
“It is entertaining, you take what they want. My most asked are shampoo, deodorants, melatonin and vitamins. When it comes to food, coffee, tea, Doritos, and ice cream for the Reynosa clients,” she said.
“My clients from Queretaro ask for pajamas, toothpaste and toothbrushes, Advil, and socks,” Mariel said.
From Monday to Saturday is when she is available. Her weirdest request yet has been poison to kill scorpions. Only one person has requested that.
Even though Mariel enjoys what she does for others, she doesn’t think this kind of hobby will continue after visa holders are able to cross again.
“This started because people couldn’t cross but once this is over, bye-bye personal shopper,” she said.