Juan Viramontes and Sabine Langer

Recorded October 7, 2019 Archived November 5, 2019 32:46 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: mby019371


Coworkers Juan Viramontes (39) and Sabine Langer (43) discuss their personal immigration stories and the significance of their social enterprise, Global Cafe.

Subject Log / Time Code

JV recounts his childhood and his family's immigration experience.
JV explains how he came to Memphis and became involved in SL's social enterprise, Global Cafe.
SL remembers immigrating from Switzerland to the U.S.
JV describes moments of connection with other immigrants who visit and work at Global Cafe.
SL describes the difficulties of immigrating to the U.S.
JV and SL talk about the difference between being a legal immigrant and a citizen.
JV goes into detail describing Global Cafe.
JV asks listeners to educate themselves on immigration.


  • Juan Viramontes
  • Sabine Langer

Recording Location

Crosstown Concourse

Partnership Type



StoryCorps uses Google Cloud Speech-to-Text and Natural Language API to provide machine-generated transcripts. Transcripts have not been checked for accuracy and may contain errors. Learn more about our FAQs through our Help Center or do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any questions.

00:05 Hi, my name is Juan viramontes. I'm 39 years old. Today is day is Monday, October 7th, 2019. I am in Memphis, Tennessee.

00:18 My interview partner is Sabine Langer and we are we have a friendship and a professional relationship. I work for her. She's my boss.

00:29 Hey, I'm Sabine lingerie on 43. Today is Monday, October 7th, 2019 or in Memphis, Tennessee, and I'm doing this interview with Juan viramontes. He's my co-worker and my friend.

00:46 So I was born in Mexico in a town called that is Zacatecas Artemis apology. I was born in a small smaller town than that in the up in the mountains, but it belongs to or it's in Harris Zacatecas, which is just beneath the central part of Mexico. I come from a family of 11. I moved to California to Ventura in February of 2019 91. I live there until last year and I moved here to Memphis, Tennessee in March of 2008 2018.

01:27 2018. Yes. I came to the United States but we we fly to my home country because of or my hometown's home country same thing because of poverty extreme poverty. So we basically picked everything up in the middle of night and left and we landed in California a couple days days later. We may know came across the border. So I'm through the river and then all that kind of stuff. I had a sister who is was an American citizen at the point and shoot petition my mother and the rest of us and then my mom became an American citizen and then the two of of my mother filed a petition is well alongside my sisters in 1995 and in 1997 and 2012. Those finally came to fruition.

02:27 Went through the entire process. We paid our dues. We filed the paperwork appropriately and then finally they became a reality in a week and a half from today. I have my oath ceremony on Thursday the 17th to become a citizen just a highlight we've gone through the entire process will be fulfilled all the requirements and it is finally going to become a thing after 28 years. It's just the name for the process. We've done everything that we've been required to.

03:06 Anyhow, I came to Memphis to be a part of a social Enterprise Mesa being offered me an opportunity. She had a vision which is amazing. We run the restaurant. It is a social Enterprise and it was opened with the vision of providing life changing opportunities to nothing but immigrants and refugees and so I met to being in 2012 during a long run in Ventura, California. She dropped into my running club while vacationing there and because she's really fast she kind of happened to be in my Pace group and we had 20 22 miles to talk about everything under the sun.

03:54 Yes, you can talk during a 20 mile run. It was an easy effort. It was a fun long run and then you fast forward, you know, December 23rd 22nd of 2017. I got a message on Facebook from her asking if I was willing to relocate to Memphis for work again, I'd only met her one time but I figured she was a clever person and she wouldn't waste my time or her time and So my answer was playing and quick and it was a yes, then she asked me when I can come and interview. I said I have Wednesday Thursday Wednesday Thursday off. And so then on December in 4 days later five days later on December 27th. 2627 Lake think it was.

04:47 She flew me out here for the interview. And the rest is history. I turn back. I went back home. I submitted it to notice. I'm nice. I offer my boss long enough to replace me or to find somebody to pick up my shift and then I packed my stuff and I got in my car and I drove toward Memphis on March 23rd of 2018 and July 18th. I want to say we July 17th. We had a soft opening for the restaurant July 18th. We did our you know hard opening we open the doors to the public and it's it's been an incredible ride so far. It's it's been very very rewarding. It's been a lot of work. It's been stressful but it's been everything that is supposed to be and then some it's been awesome.

05:42 I've always believed that the best way to grow with a human or for human growth and to understand other cultures and understand other people into understand fellow human beings in general is to get to sit down and listen to them until work with them. And that was the main reason I took the opportunity so that I could get to work with people from a very different background information very different, you know, religious beliefs and

06:13 Different part of the world and again, it's been everything that I was supposed to be and then some

06:19 Can you from now I will look back at this and I

06:24 I hope I mean not hopefully I have no doubt that I will be proud of what's going on right now and that I made the move and that are fulfilled everything that I had expected to fulfill.

06:43 I go then I have a very different situational story than one does I was born in one of the richest country in the world in Switzerland there till I was Twenty-One and then I move to California to Juan's hometown of Ventura or next to his hometown in California. And then I live there a few years and got married and through my now ex-husband we moved around a lot in the US have died in Texas and Tennessee back into Texas and I've been back in Memphis for about five years and I have two kids. My daughter India is turning 16 next Monday and my son KY is turning 13 in November.

07:32 I moved to California from Switzerland because I wanted to travel and got stuck at the beach talk to leave California right on Paradise. It's so nice. So I actually got to Memphis because my ex-husband works for FedEx and everybody in Memphis is either working for FedEx International Paper AutoZone, not everybody but a lot of people

07:59 And as an immigrant myself and learning more about Memphis interacting with memphians interacting with immigrants interacting with refugees. I was

08:13 Pretty disturbed by some of their immigrants and refugees stories about them being resettled in Memphis having six to eight months to be self-sufficient not having a heads up ahead of time when they leave their Freed at home countries are sometimes they come from a secondary country. Then I told ahead of time where they will end up so they don't have time to learn the language stand up in the US in a foreign land foreign language and they have six to eight months to be self-sufficient several of them have many many kids and

08:53 They might have several degrees in their home country, but it's not translating to the American system. So they come here they have to grab the first job. They can get to support their families. And typically it's a job that doesn't require a language that is just mineral Labor Warehouse something like that. And he was just heartbreaking to me to see those people working so hard you hear the stories of taxi drivers in the US that are doctors in their home countries, but that's just really the norm for refugees and immigrants. So I wanted to be able to make a small difference. I knew that probably I couldn't help everybody sadly but to see if I could help one or two people I'd be happy and I brainstormed trying to find ideas came across a group of women that were cooking on the sides to kind of make ends meet and that's how the idea of global Cafe.

09:53 Grew and I'm fortunate. I have zero experience in the restaurant industry. But as one said we spend 20 plus miles a day late early Paisa. What's 7 minute mile something in California when I was back there on Monday annual trip in the in the spring of something.

10:15 And I befriended him on social media and it always opposes amazing pictures of food and drinks and I messaged him and I said I have that crazy idea and it really didn't know me like we just had metal ones or friends on social media said that he would you move to Memphis, Tennessee from California, and he actually said yes, which I was kind of stunned but I was so excited. I'm so yeah he moved here and we've opened with open Global Cafe and it's been really

10:49 I think received very positively by the community which was not a given I think in Memphis and I think the timing was right. I think that the building we ran across town is the right location for us. I'm not sure we would have been a successful had we been somewhere else in the city because the neighborhood across town was the original site of refugees being resettled in the 70s by Catholic Charities. So we have lots of Vietnamese people in the community and we have I think $27 nationalities in in this neighborhood.

11:30 So that's how we spell pretty awesome. I'm pretty proud of what we did what we are doing any such a learning experience working with as you mentioned earlier all those different religions and all those different people different belief systems believe different everything really care about what the business has brought. We I think it was the first week or the second week. We were open when I had a lady I'm awful with names. I think I have something in my brain that is not why you're properly I'll remember names. I remember everything and I coached high school and college sports and I can remember a workout from 3 years ago and I can tell you what they running splits but it won't remember your name for years after you graduate for anything. So anyhow, we had a lady come in and she came in to celebrate her quote on quote Coming to America day.

12:23 I am so she came in and she you know, we talked a little bit and we went through her daughter shapes and I told her a little bit about my story and then it'd be one of us are chefs from Sudan who you know has some pretty incredible story herself. She shed a little bit of her story with her and the lady just broke down in tears and then it was everybody started crying and I was just like everybody lost it because we got to share and it doesn't matter where you come from. Everybody has their share of hardships and mops and downs type of thing and especially in the Immigrant Community people don't always understand.

13:06 Refugees and immigrants to the level that you know, it entails to be one of them to go through winter to survive through so many things in the end would not as if I was a pretty special moment then so she celebrated her coming to America day next Thursday when I go to my oath I will have my Coming to America by the courthouse. Where was pretty awesome neighborhood. She has two children. I think she gets to the restaurant with her husband and the kids in the stroller. They come in once a week once, you know couple times a month type of thing. They're one of us are many regular people who come in again. We are familiar with their faces. I probably will never remember her name, but I will never forget the moment that we shared on their first week of of business.

14:03 And the many times as she continues to come and support us. So I think I was going to say I think that it is the prototypical refugee that people do not understand. She has a degree in Psychology and the degree in philosophy. Maybe I'm sold on working hourly wages working in off so hard. I think that there's so many different that is not uncommon. Scenario Maria who is are Venezuelan Chef. She is a special needs teacher back home. So she's also gone through, you know the education system at a fairly good level and understands quite a bit of you know, the education system in all that kind of stuff and she had a flee because of political hostility.

15:03 She grew up in a wealthy Family actually, she and her parents all in the big farm the you know, she helped operating and I-26. She opened up two of her own business. She ran her own restaurant in a bakery and eventually when President Hoover Chavez past and all of the hostility broke loose she was literally being robbed in persecuted in a salted by law enforcement themselves and by other if you know people from the country who are not the best citizens and so then she ended up in Memphis and she's worked in the restaurant industry in a bunch of different, you know jobs to make ends meet and so she just came along and not with our team 3 months ago or so when when are Nepalese chef and her family are we located in Pennsylvania for better networking opportunities with other Nepalese families? And then we have school May Yahoo is also from Sudan. She was a teacher in Sudan.

16:03 We have faith, who I'm not 100% sure what her if she has a degree of any sort or not, but I know that she's

16:15 A matriarch of sorts to her community here in this town Taylor of the Syrian Community most cultures if it cost him that when you're going to get married, do you have your mom and dad go ask for your significant other's hand in marriage and there's a orphan Syrian young man here in town. And so he has to be hot to go do that for him. He showed up to the to the fiance's or the fiance to be home and spoke to the parents on behalf of Fame, you know, when somebody needs translators to go to the DMV for you can drive them and translate for them when there's a new baby coming into the Syrian community in this town for your car gets in her car and I'll drive the women to to give birth in helps with translation with the doctors and lawyers in the Venezuelan salsa.

17:15 Is a criminal lawyer and so is Yesenia who works in the in the Venezuelan team and they both fled Venezuela for the exact same reason the downtrend in the stability in the political hostility that the country took so I think that's what makes it so so difficult for me and many other immigrants and refugees to hear that were just here to come and steal people's jobs because you know, my other favorite sentences they can just do it legally. I think the average American has zero concept of what he takes and how does difficult the system is to give it give it a little bit of perspective when people

18:01 Are unhappy with the process of the DMV? We just chuckled because the DMV's a walk in the park compared to immigration that she if you like one and I who had to adjust our status as that's what the start of the processes is Downtown LA where everybody wants to be so it's it's a very gruesome process. He takes very long. It's you are treated like the bottom of the barrel and it doesn't matter. If you are a refugee fling. You can't always choose somebody like me that's lucky enough to be born in the country. I had money in my bank account. I could show that I was it could be self-sufficient that was not going to live off anybody but you know myself I'm fluent in 5 languages. I can find a job. I can support myself to any none of that mattered. It was just

18:53 Yet the process is not easy. It's it's it's not as

18:59 Simple as people think just so you know a little bit to that. I did mention earlier. I did come to this country illegally, but in our constitution Asylum is legal thing if you're being persecuted for any reason our constitution offered you protection, so it's not illegal to come here and see my help. So while my initial part of the process was not the right way quote on quote. I filed all the paperwork and went through all the steps through legal channels eventually and we are still talking about this my story not reaching the Pinnacle of it. And in that sense or in the immigration process until next week, hopefully because that is just the nature of the system we have in place.

19:59 Chose to illegally enter the country and I I would not even consider your parents as criminals for being for entering. Illegally. There were literally starving to death. You guys had no electricity. You had no food. You have no nothing exactly come from Ventura to go. Wait a minute. I'm not home from Mexico lived in Ventura on my whole life. I'm very rude. I volunteered a lot there. I've donated my time to multiple high school and college Collegiate programs in youth programs throughout my life and Venture. I started when I was in high school. I picked up a youth program and then I had those same girls when I went to college and came back and Coach to my high school and then I was done running for the community college and my education halted because of the lack of a Social Security card in the social security number and what not.

20:59 But he still came back and continue to help with that college and do one till today. I still get, you know, call us and in conversations with the current coaches in the last star home if they had while I was in California before I moved here. I put it together for them on the clerk of the course. I checked the course. I put the finish line up by in the starting lineup by rally Up the Volume tears. I owe you no work with what their job entails and cook for them and see if I do annual fundraiser for their my travel to Mammoth with them to be the sheriff in to help with the runs and the coaching and all that kind of stuff. So

21:46 When I'm asked where I'm from. I'm from Ventura. That's my hometown. That's where my people are. That's where my roots are Tangled with you. No other routes pretty deeply but I was born in Mexico and happy to be here legal residents, you know, if it has a lot of perks and it's gray and it takes an incredible amount of dark clouds over your head away, but you still can vote and you still can have your residency revoked really for a lot of reasons that

22:30 Someone can just be methacholine Than You piano Are Up In Limbo with it. So when you re-enter the country every time you leave again for me that comes to me a very neutral rich country with no issues. We don't we're not known for harboring terrorists. Every time I came back from Switzerland, which I visit every every summer the re-entry process. If you were just a green card holder can be pretty painful because they depending on the mood of the officer they can they can detain you for hours asking you questions at the questions, you know, that's not something they can do when you have a passport. So I think that that part and for me also the voting was why I became a citizen but it's also the one reason I became a US citizen this because I was able to keep my Swiss citizenship like one was saying it.

23:30 We're kind of we become almost stateless because when I don't know if I'm not going to put words in one's mouth, but for me when I'm in Switzerland, people will say you're so American and then here in America people like you cuz I still know I was I grew up in Sultan's I was 21, so I'm very much Swiss but then there's a lot of things that I've become very American about it. Here's an example. I'm very precise. I'm always on time. I have asked one eye spread sheets that are color coded and and lists and things and stuff, but then I was so I very much embrace the American Life of easiness and and you know, you can have everything Drive delivered to your doorstep. You can go to dinner at anytime of the night. You can go grocery stop shopping and you know 3 a.m. If you want to that's not something insulting everything closes at 6, but Sunday is everything is closed. So yeah, it's an interesting life.

24:31 Anything else

24:38 Take to somebody who?

24:40 What it is great. I can't so it's so it's a social Enterprise we run at three different styles in 1 Kitchen sort of like cafeteria-style you come up and you know, the food is already prepared, but don't let it fool you with all very fresh homemade recipes when people come in and ask me what my favorite is. I tell them it's so, you know, one of the dishes that if he makes because the reference are they make the letters because every bite of it is it remind you about your mom and your grandma put together for you with like scrap kind of thing. It's it's a simple basic dish with a very very complex result to it's it's awesome. You have three different styles right now. We have a lady from Syria. We have lady from Sudan and we have a lady from Venezuela.

25:40 Ted Speer the three different switch one kitchen. They share the same stove a share the same oven. We have the same walk-in we order for, you know, the same food order. If one of them runs out of carrots, everybody's had a carrots. If one of them, you know runs out of one thing then we're all out of the same thing. We operate as one team we run everything as one team but they're so small division in the kitchen that splits the three stalls notice how he refused to use the word wall. There's three separation small separations that I'll give them a little bit of identity in privacy sort of thing. And so then they run their own menu from their home country and then we have a full bar. Once you first walk in and you see the signs of lead you to the food you order your food you come check out with you know, the bartender, which is me 90% of the time.

26:40 We have our own menu of handcrafted cocktails to offer something for everybody from all walks of life. Whether you like a traditional, you know cocktail that is been around for 80 years or whether you are a hipster and you want something new and trendy we offer drinks that honorees country. We have a Syrian sangria. We have a Venezuela De Noche and the Sudanese Sundance. They're all signature recipes. I belong to the restaurant and they all tell you a story of their home country. Once you taste it even by looking at it. It's got a little bit of a piece of their home country kind of thing and they're their backgrounds and their belief kind of thing. So we have a large community dining table in the concept with bad is that you can sit there and if you're by yourself,

27:40 Four winds blow your friend or two friends. You can join the other person who's by himself or the other person with their two or three friends that table sets about 14 people and it's in the middle of the restaurant in the car. So you can sit there with a complete stranger and share whatever you want to stay with him. We have music speakers and we have you know, the the provider for music we use a very seldom because we want people to listen to each other instead of listening to music. We have the option to have TVs how far we walked away from it because we want people to look at each other and we don't offer Wi-Fi. We have a private secure line for the credit cards obviously, but we do not offer it to the customers because we want them to make the connection with them Health. We have a large patio.

28:36 I think that covers kind of sort of my vision in my perspective of the restaurant. We did make a lot of choices on purpose like you were saying like we chose not to have TVs we chose to not separate sales by the three different countries. He doesn't matter if one day Syria cells weigh more than Sudan or if 1 students is more than Venezuela Venezuela more than Siri. It's it's truly a group effort. We didn't want people to kind of elbow each other out of the way and get that competitive spirit and any really shows that the women are working together. If somebody runs out of her, I still go grab right next door if somebody's overwhelmed because they have 10 customers and there's nobody at one stall Dale just help each other and it's pretty cool to see

29:30 When will the home run satirize to go to the other side of the wall and grab rice really quick? When you come in you can you can see that there's three different stalls. I think if you don't people pick up I'm on to it right away that you can kind of mix and match and you can visit with all three of them or just one of them or two of them or whatever you want to do and it makes a kind of cool and interesting especially when there's when there's two groups of people they got to go to all three of them they get their share and so it's a pretty unique experience because you know, there's at least as far as I'm concerned. There's no other place around us that you can go and enjoy a traditional homemade, you know, truly Venezuelan Cuisine or or Syrian Cuisine or Sudanese cuisine in the same building never mind under the same roof and with you don't handcrafted cocktails in a full bar and wine and drive.

30:30 Beer in and Patio seating and and then I think it's worth noting that the building where in is an amazing place. It's mind-blowing to wrap your head around what was done with it in the history that entails to the building so you can come to a place you can enjoy Multicultural food. You can drop in and talk to any of the employees in in the building and hear our story as much or as little as you are interested in kind of thing. We're always happy to engage with people and sharing good intentions what we have to offer and where we come from type of thing and then you can Venture off to a brewery down the street. You can go get some ice cream inside of the building up few hundred feet down. You can go set up your appointment that you know Church Health Clinic you can go get a workout in before at the YMCA to not feel guilty about the calorie in

31:30 You can go to church in the building you can I mean it's pretty incredible what the building has to offer and the history that it has behind it. I encourage anybody anybody and everybody who gets the opportunity to come and check not only Level Cafe but the crosstown Concourse before I forget a quick note that I would like to add to this. If or when anybody listens to this, please please please please take I'm not asking you to change your stand or I'm not asking you to believe anything or to take us out of to do any of that. All I'm asking you is that you please take a minute to educate yourself with the immigration phenomenon and everything that surrounds it and circulates around it. I'm not asking you to to to change your mind to change your perspective. I'm not asking you to do, you know anyting?

32:30 I just I'm asking you to understand what it is about.

32:38 Yeah.