TIME Immigration

The Family Fireworks Sellers of South Texas

Around the Fourth of July, a few families near the Mexican border devote their lives to selling sparklers

When it came time to name Nelson Zamora, his paternal Mexican grandmother had just one request: give him a name that sounds American, but is easy to pronounce in Spanish. Like many Americans with roots in Mexico, Nelson and his wife Cynthia Fuentes straddle two worlds, even if they mostly stay on one side of the border.

In Mission, Texas, a small city not far from the southern border where Nelson and Cynthia live, the demarcation between the U.S. and Mexico can seem fluid. Travelers pass back and forth, sometimes legally through a checkpoint and sometimes in the dark of night through the waters of the Rio Grande. Cynthia has seen new arrivals around town, mothers with babies looking dazed and others desperately in need of water. She helps when she can.

Every summer since 1998, Cynthia and Nelson, who were both born in Texas, have operated a stall selling fireworks for the Fourth of July. Fireworks are illegal in the state, except at this time of year and just before New Year’s Eve.

Working on 20 percent commission, the couple can earn as much as $3,000 a season. “We’ve made good money,” says Cynthia. “It’s kept us coming back.”

When they’re not selling fireworks, Cynthia runs a home-based business making and selling piñatas. Nelson drives a forklift for a citrus company, seasonal work that won’t begin again until August. To accommodate their daughter and two grandchildren who’ve come with them to the fireworks stall this year, Cynthia and Nelson built a makeshift camper in the bed of their pickup truck. They are required to stay on site 24 hours a day.

“We brought our AC from the house, the television and the DVD for the kids,” says Cynthia. “It’s fun. We’re all together and we’re talking.”

On July 4th, after the last customers have gone, Cynthia and Nelson will buy some fireworks for themselves, close up the stall and go celebrate American independence as a family.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser