Walking nto Carlo’s Pizzeria in Ridgewood, Ny around 4pm, the smell of pizza mixes with that of black beans and chicharrons. The T.V. is turned to a soccer match and Mexican Music comes from the speakers. Behind the counter, an employee opens the oven to expose a dozen tortillas warming beside a cheese pizza. The six employees gather at a back booth to share a meal between rushes.
Rosalio Fierro bought Carlo’s restaurant in partnership with his brother, Trinidad Fierro, 13 years ago after working there for 15 years. Fierro moved from Puebla, Mexico when he was 14 years old to escape the extreme poverty he was born into.
He said his life in New York City was very difficult at first. Fierro faced discrimination and had a difficult time learning both the English and Italian he needed to communicate.
“I did not know anything. I came from a field. Someone would tell me to bring a sauce and I just ran I did not know what to bring to my boss, was hard to learn.”
He said that he has noticed a more accepting, less discriminatory demeanor in the young generations. He still hears comments from people saying he can’t possibly know how to make pizza, since he is Mexican.
“They say, all you know how to cook is tacos, but I say, just try it and you’ll see for yourself,” Fierro said.
Carlo’s pizzeria has four and a half stars on Google, and they compete with the at least 19 other pizzerias in Queens that appear on Google Maps.
Fierro has found the security and success he sought in the U.S., but it’s come at a high price, with 12-hour work days, six or seven days a week. Long hours and hard work haven’t won Fierro a life of ease and luxury, but it has given him the opportunity to provide for his wife and children, aged 25, 12 and six, and employ his friends.
“If I was not the owner of this [building] I would not be able to have this team, because rent is so expensive. I would not be able to survive and keep my ‘muchachos’ on staff.”
The Office of Advocacy’s 2016 Small business profile states that small businesses make up 99 percent of all NYC businesses, with 38 percent of those having owners of Hispanic origins.
Jesus Lopez-Mendez, and employee and friend of Fierro’s, also works 12 hours a day, six days a week. He wakes up at dawn to get his kids, aged 12 and 11, ready and drive them to school. He won’t see them again until they repeat this routine in the morning. He’ll return home to share a cup of coffee with his wife before he walks the five minutes to Carlo’s, where he works with his brother and brother-in-law.
Lopez-Mendez is no stranger to hard work; he’s been working since he was six-years-old.
Lopez-Mendez comes from the same province as Fierro, the most rural part of the Puebla Provence, where there is little to no access to transportation and work.
His eyes became watery and his voice and body language softened as he described his life in Mexico. He said that he remembers going hungry often. Lopez-Mendez attended school only until the sixth grade, when he had to quit to contribute to his family’s meager income. He worked in the field, picking up flowers, helping in the field taking care of animals or picking up fruits.
Lopez-Mendez followed his brother to NYC in 1995, when he was 17-years-old. He hasn’t stepped foot on Mexican soil since, he said.
He has no regrets about moving to the U.S. and likes living in NYC, he said. He is surrounded by close family, and he is able to give his children better opportunities, but life in the states isn’t everything he expected.
“This country is an Illusion; it looks like you live good but you have to work and work and work,” Lopez-Mendez said.
Though Lopez-Mendez lives in the land of opportunity, he doesn’t get the chance to experience life outside of work much, at 72 hours a week. It’s all worth it though, he said, knowing that his children will experience more of the American dream because of his sacrifices.
He said that he gets his satisfaction from providing for his family and seeing that they are happy.
Fierro said he agrees with this sentiment, and he sees the results of his sacrifice with his 25-year-old son already.
“I feel so proud of my oldest son who became a police officer in New York City because I come from the field,” he said.
Even as a police officer, his son struggles financially, though. Fierro said that his son brings home about $500 weekly of his estimated $1,000 per week salary. With a median rent of $2,750 in Queens according to the Dec. 2016 Elliman Report, conducted by Douglas Elliman Real Estate, Fierro’s son still lives at home out of necessity.
Both Fierro and Lopez-Mendez have spent their lives in search of the American dream, not for themselves, but for their children and their children’s children, they said.