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Chasing the American Dream on Richmond’s Southside

A man with a short-sleeved blue shirt, José Galo, is cooking meat and vegetables at a griddle at his restaurant.
Screen capture
VPM News Focal Point
José Galo told VPM News he always wanted to own his own business to chase the American dream.

Several businesses have cropped up to cater to the tastes of the migrants who’ve settled there.

A casual visitor to Pupuseria el Salvadoreño on Midlothian Turnpike would see a beehive of activity during lunch as people serve up chorizo, tacos, and the signature dish of El Salvador: pupusas — fried corn meal with fillings ranging from pork to cheese to zucchini inside. For owner José Galo, the 8-year-old restaurant represents the American dream.

“My dream was always to own my own business,” he told VPM News, speaking in Spanish.

His description of how he got to this country was harrowing. He crossed the border in 1996 at the age of 17, walking for days at a time through mountains and in the rain. “It was very hard,” he said.

He worked restaurant jobs in Maryland for a time and found an employer who would help him get naturalized. He relocated to Richmond’s Southside, where he now runs a business that serves a burgeoning Latin American community in the Southside-Chesterfield area.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 9% of people in Chesterfield County were born in another country.

In Virginia, more foreign-born residents are from El Salvador now than any other single country.

“Pretty much our core customer base is Latin,” said Galo’s son, Edwin, who was born in Gaithersburg, Maryland and is bilingual.

He takes a tremendous amount of pride in the journey his father took to get established in Richmond. “Someone who comes here without knowing anything about the country, someone who works hard to achieve his goals,” he said.

For 22-year-old Edwin, his father’s example drives his hours.

“I work 10, 11, 12 hours a day. Just because I’ve seen how hard my dad works,” he said. “Just building a legacy here.”

Billy Shields is a multimedia journalist with VPM News Focal Point.
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