Co-Director, NLC South Texas Frontera
Co-Owner, Pulga Los Portales
Michelle Vallejo was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, living and working just eight minutes from the closest international bridge to Mexico.
She studied political science and history at Columbia University in New York City, and after nine years of living a commuter life between South Texas and NYC - traveling to and from every month to stay involved with her family business - she decided to permanently remain in South Texas and continue to grow in her profession as a social entrepreneur right alongside her home community and family.
Michelle is most proud of being a “pulgera” - this is someone who either works or frequents a unique kind of open-air flea market that encapsulates the Mexican and Mexican-American culture. This special place is most commonly known as a “pulga”.
Pulgas are pivotal to the culture and economic and social impact of the South Texas Region. They are places where you find produce, necessary household items, savory treats, and everything else you might find at your local Wal-Mart or shopping mall - just at a lower price and in a more community-centered environment. Before COVID-19 arrived at our doorsteps, you would also find people of all ages enjoying a dance party known as a “baile” every day at the pulga.
The communities that pulgas serve are mostly undocumented people or folks living in mix-status families. Pulgas provide access for people who are not allowed to be employed in this country to provide for themselves and their families and have a better chance of building up generational wealth with their loved ones.
Pulga Los Portales is a 25-acre flea market located in Alton, Texas that has been in operation for 23 years. It was founded by Michelle’s parents, Maribel and Daniel Vallejo, and today Michelle co-owns and co-manages the pulga with her father. Before COVID-19, Pulga Los Portales hosted 350+ vendors and 7-10K visitors every Thursday.
Since the coronavirus hit the South Texas Region, Pulga Los Portales has experienced being completely shut down for six weeks, operated a temporary online sales and delivery model, and as of June has partially reopened as a drive-thru concept.
You can learn more about Los Portales and our vendors by visiting our Instagram page @pulgalosportales.
Michelle is also a Founding Board Member and Co-director of the NLC South Texas Frontera Chapter.