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An Immigrant’s Tale

The story of my friend, a self-made man who came to Belmont

I wanted to share a story with you about my friend, Juan Taco.

Juan was born in Ecuador 51 years ago. As a boy, he shared a modest home with his parents and nine brothers and sisters. About the time Juan was a newly-minted teen, his father died. Juan, who had always worked in some capacity, began working to help support his family. At the tender age of 14, he supported himself fully. And by the time he turned 24, Juan had launched several small businesses: a trucking company, a bakery and a butcher shop. His favorite of the three, he told me once, was the bakery.

Juan worked long hours but still found time to marry his sweetheart, Amelia, and become father to three beautiful daughters: Karla, Alejandra and Andrea.  He labored hard and his life was full. Until, that is, it all fell apart. When he was 28, Juan’s businesses began to fail one by one. With a young family to support, Juan, like so many millions before and after, looked to emigration as a way out of the morass.

Amelia and Juan made the excruciating decision to leave their young daughters in Ecuador with family while they headed North with the hope of landing in the United States to start their lives over. Juan and Amelia left their hometown of Quito and, via a circuitous route, eventually landed in Boston around 1990.

It was rough going for Juan and Amelia. They knew almost no one, ran dangerously low on money, spoke very little English, and pined for their family back in Ecuador. In time, Juan and Amelia started a construction business and settled here in Belmont – when it was time to send for their daughters, Juan once explained to me, he wanted to bring them to a diverse community, one that valued education.

As the years went by, Juan and Amelia worked from dawn until dusk six days a week and their construction business prospered. Juan handily financed his daughters’ college educations and continued to assist many family members and friends in their dreams to obtain a better life here in the United States.

Our two families became friendly when we met the Tacos at church one morning. Karla became our beloved babysitter, and we happily enlisted Juan’s professional contracting services to help us make the most out of our small living space. He guided us gently and expertly through two home renovations. 

Over time, we enjoyed various cookouts, graduations, and Halloween parties with Juan and his family. Throughout our interactions, I was always impressed with this family’s warmth and generosity. And more specifically, I have always been struck by Juan’s personal story.

That he left his home and children and moved to the US, as a young man, to pursue his dream speaks to Juan’s amazing courage, his determination, and his desire to create a better life for himself and for his family.  That he worked doggedly to make that business a booming success speaks to Juan’s tireless work ethic. And that he did all of this with the utmost of kindness and in unstinting good humor is a tribute to the sweet, warm, and generous man I came to know.

In these days when immigration reform is a hot topic, Juan’s story serves as an example of immigration at its best: the desire for a better life, the will to succeed, the perseverance to see it through.

It pains me to write that my friend is now gone.

Juan died suddenly last month of a cerebral aneurysm. He was 51 and leaves behind a heartbroken family and a slew of shattered friends. I believe with all my soul, though, that Juan’s legacy will live on.  It will live on wherever there is a commitment to courage, to working hard and to gracing this Earth with thoughtful affection for others.

Thank you, Juan. Adios mi amigo.

Robin Cushman Phillips February 12, 2013 at 05:58 PM
Oh, Lisa. Halfway through your article I realized you were talking about your friend who recently died. What a tribute to a very courageous man who will obviously be greatly missed.
Margaret Graham February 13, 2013 at 12:03 PM
Lisa, what a wonderful story. Such a loss to lose a wonderful and courageous friend. Thank you for all the wonderful stories you have given us, all these years, I hope you continue. Margaret E. Graham
Francesca Fifis February 22, 2013 at 03:42 PM
Juan was a very kind soul who leapt into the hearts of everyone he met. His patience with customers and gentle and tactile way of seeking solutions to problems was brilliant. Nothing was impossible with Juan, just a temporary puzzle to solve. His time on this earth was too short, and he will be missed by everyone who knew him. Francesca Fifis

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