The Deportees Taking Our Calls (The New Yorker)
Eddie Anzora was sitting in his cubicle at a call center in El Salvador one day a couple of years ago, making a hotel reservation for an impatient American customer, when he spotted someone he knew from a past life. The man, who was part of a group of new employees on a tour of the office, was tall, with a tattoo of a rose on the back of his neck. His loping stride caught Anzora’s attention. Salvadorans didn’t walk like that.
“Where you from?” Anzora asked, when the man reached his desk.
“Sunland Park,” he replied. It was a neighborhood in Los Angeles, more than two thousand miles away, but Anzora knew it. A decade earlier, when the two men belonged to rival street crews, they had got into a fistfight there. Now they were both deportees, sizing each other up in a country they barely knew.
Anzora, who is thirty-nine, is thick-armed and barrel-chested; his hair is trimmed to a fade. He was born in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, but he lived in California between the ages of two and twenty-nine, when he was deported for drug possession. “I got real American-culturized from the beginning,” he told me recently.
By the time Anzora returned to El Salvador, in 2007, it had become one of the most dangerous countries in the world, gripped by an intractable gang war. On the plane, Anzora had been handcuffed, his legs shackled. Once he stepped outside, police officers inspected him to see if he had any tattoos that suggested gang ties. Anzora’s Spanish was “all beat up,” he said, a second language that he spoke with a Chicano accent. A cousin he knew from L.A., who had been deported a year earlier, picked him up from the San Salvador airport and let him stay in his apartment while he figured out what to do. Over dinner that night, Anzora’s cousin told him about a company called Sykes, which ran one of the two largest call centers in San Salvador. Sykes, which is based in Florida, has call centers in twenty countries and employs about three thousand Salvadorans, who provide customer service and technical support to American businesses. In El Salvador, Sykes came to be known, in English, as “homieland,” because so many of its employees were deportees from the United States.