What does it take to embody the American Dream? Ricardo Parra, a proud Hispanic immigrant and entrepreneur, reminds us of the best qualities that immigrants – from all backgrounds – bring to our nation.
As a young man in Veracruz, Mexico, Ricardo’s pursuit of the American Dream was inspired by his study of early pioneers, who shaped the United States with nothing but the strength of their will. Though he had a supportive family and a comfortable life, and was running a successful business by the remarkably young age of 22, comfort was not enough.
“I am the one in the family that is always looking for a challenge. I needed something more aggressive in my life to feel proud of,” he admits.
In full pursuit of his future, Ricardo arrived in Georgia in 1999. He immediately adapted to surviving through basic labor, holding at least three jobs at once, and living with six other men on the floor of his cousin’s apartment. He persisted in fighting a battle he could have avoided, because he dreamed of making a difference with his life.
“I had to go through that to feel the value of what I had back in Mexico and what I have built on my own in this country,” he explains.
Ricardo only looked forward, teaching himself English on his day off, and saving his wages so that he could marry his fiancée. After their wedding in Mexico, Ricardo was convinced that his future achievements lay in sales, so the newlyweds returned to Georgia.
To find a job, his strategy was radical, but simple. He waited tables, and during his midday break, he would change into a suit in the restroom, grab his resumes, and walk door-to-door to companies, trying, essentially, to sell himself. However, no one believed that a baby-faced 23-year-old, waiting tables in Georgia, was a successful business owner in Mexico.
Landing a rare interview with a large Hispanic food sales company, Ricardo put all his cards on the table, and told them, “If you won’t give me a chance as a sales rep, give me a chance as a truck driver. Even more, if you don’t believe that what I said on my resume is true, let me work for you for a month, for free.”
Impressed by Ricardo’s bravery, the company owner assigned him as the sales rep to North Carolina and Tennessee. Ricardo was ecstatic as he drove around new territories, rebuilding old relationships and planting new ones on charm and the sweat of his brow alone.
During his fruitful tenure at the company, he became the General Manager and grew his sales staff from three to sixteen.
Not one to get too comfortable, Ricardo stayed open to opportunity. When a friend asked him to manage his La Esperanza grocery store in Greenville, he was torn. The change would cut his income in half, so he needed to do some soul searching.
“I went to my church, and talked to God. I said, ‘This is a huge challenge, but if this is meant for me, I will take it. I promise You that if I become successful, I will help every person who is on my way to also become successful.’”
Beginning in 2014, Ricardo grew La Esperanza through collaborations with local vendors, a wildly popular taco truck, and the convenience of having all the basics of life under one roof. He bought out his friend, becoming the sole proprietor, and is working to open La Esperanza #2 in Mauldin this Fall.
In 2017, he opened his restaurant, Los Portales, in downtown Greer. With a large outdoor patio, Ricardo is crafting it into a family-friendly atmosphere where people can eat, dance, and create community.
In Ricardo’s version of the American Dream, the old notion of “rugged individualism” is profoundly reinterpreted.
“We create this nation together,” he insists. “We are strong when we are together. It is the multiculturalism and diversity of American that has made it great.”
In pursuit of stronger collaborations, Ricardo accepted a position on the Board of the South Carolina Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a role that allows him to speak on behalf of his community at a national level, and to assist local Hispanic entrepreneurs.
Even at this level of influence, Ricardo is still most concerned with how his three daughters will view his legacy of work and leadership.
“I tell my daughters, ‘Do not allow anybody to break your dreams. Nobody has the right to stop you in your journey. The only one who is able to do that is yourself.’”
A statement made all the more inspiring by Ricardo’s very human journey, one that proves that the determination and undying optimism of immigrants still shapes the American Dream, and always will.