© 2020 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Fronteras: COVID's Deadly Toll In Maquilas; COVID Impacts Mexican Tortillera In The Netherlands

  • COVID-19 has taken a deadly toll on factory workers in Mexico, as several employees at a Lear Corporation manufacturing plant in Ciudad Juárez have died. One family shares their story, from the beginning stages of the COVID-19 diagnosis to his eventual passing.

  • The traditional process for corn tortillas dates back centuries and is still widely practiced in Mexico to this day. Now, nixtamalization has made its way across the Atlantic Ocean to one country that, up until a few years ago, was mostly a taco-free zone: the Netherlands.

Credit Monica Rosales
Monica Rosales with her father Raul Rosales. Raul Rosales, a supervisor at a Lear Corporation maquiladora in Ciudad Juárez, died in an El Paso hospital of COVID-19 on April 21.

Juárez Maquiladora Supervisor Dies Of COVID-19 In El Paso

Raul Rosales, a supervisor at a Lear Corporation maquiladora in Ciudad Juárez, died in an El Paso hospital of COVID-19 on April 21.

The 57-year-old had been on a ventilator since his family had him transported by ambulance April 11 from a hospital in Juárez to El Paso in a frantic attempt to save his life. His family lives in El Paso and he was a legal permanent resident of the United States.

Many of those sickened by COVID-19, including Rosales, are being treated at the Juárez Social Security hospital designated for workers in Mexico. 

Rosales and six other Lear supervisors and managers were at the same private Juárez hospital where he was initially treated. As many as 20 employees at the Rio Bravo manufacturing plant where he worked have died. 

Lear Corporation makes automotive seating and electrical systems and employs 24,000 people at 10 facilities in Ciudad Juárez.

The Fortune 500 company based in Michigan has repeatedly declined to provide an exact number of employees in Ciudad Juárez who have died or been sickened by COVID-19.

“Given the overwhelming demand at the Social Security Mexican Institute, we have moved all those employees who were admitted to the government social security hospital IMSS #66, who were willing and able to be transferred to private care facilities. Lear is covering all medical costs,” Lear said in a statement.

Credit Tortilleria Taiyari
Karla Plancarte Solorzano is the owner of Tortilleria Tayairi, the only authentic Mexican tortilleria in the Netherlands.

The Only Mexican Tortillera In The Netherlands Faces Economic Fight Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic

Flour or corn? That’s a debate that can lead to heated discussion.

But it all started with the corn tortilla, dating back to pre-Columbian times in what we know now as Mexico and Central America. It often involves soaking corn kernels in an alkaline solution, hulling the corn and grinding it with a volcanic stone wheel in a mill, a molino, into a masa.

Today, we can grab those tortillas off a grocery store shelf or if we make them ourselves, we can use Maseca flour and add a little water and salt. 

Karla Plancarte Solorzano took the traditional nixtamalization process from her little town near Mexico City to the international hub that is the Netherlands. 

Plancarte Solorzano started her business, Tortilleria Tayairi, with her former partner Kelly van Harten. The two met in Mexico and decided to open a business in Kelly’s home country of the Netherlands.

They opened a tortilleria, a tortilla factory, in the Benelux, the economic intersection of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. The couple eventually broke off romantically and professionally. Plancarte is now the sole owner of the tortilleria, the only one in the Netherlands making authentic corn tortillas.

Tortilleria Tayairi is one of many businesses around the world struggling to keep its head above water during the pandemic, but Plancarte is doing whatever it takes to keep her tortilleria alive.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter @NormDog1 and Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter @terrazas_lauren.

TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter at @terrazas_lauren