Most evenings after the sun sets, Oscar Carrasco’s mind wanders back in time as his large, stout hands effortlessly mold pounds of yellow pastry dough. His plump fingers gently roll, knead and pound the sticky mixture before it’s flattened and cut into twelve even triangles which are used to make medialunas, Argentine croissants.
Remembering comes easy at this time of day for the native of Chile. Laboring in silence in his new Galesburg bakery with his wife and son, Carrasco recalls his family’s poverty when he was young: how as a 7-year-old boy he swept the floor of an Argentine bakery in exchange for day-old bread, how his eight siblings sold candy on trains in Buenos Aires and and how he migrated to the United States where he lived as an undocumented immigrant.
“Looking back at the 18 years that we’ve been here, all I see is regret,” he sighed, remembering all of the heartbreak and pain his family endured on their journey to America – one filled with financial uncertainty, lacking documentation and racial and ethnic discrimination – that brought him 5,600 miles from Argentina to western Illinois.
“It’s like moving from being in heaven and going to hell. [But] Galesburg is a different country. This place, I love,” the 63-year-old man said, gesturing towards his kitchen, which has introduced Galesburg residents to the pastries and sweets of his youth.
After years of laboring his way out of poverty, Carrasco began to hear stories of a new life in America. Through handwritten letters, Carrasco’s brother told him of new opportunities to earn money and live a more fulfilling life in the United States.
Carrasco recalled how his family filed for a religious workers visa and sold everything they owned – the furniture, the car, and finally, the house – to migrate to America and open a bakery in Chicago, Ill.
Counting on receiving the visa for continuing religious work in America, Carrasco deposited and converted all of their money into American dollars in a bank account. Despite his certainty that his family would receive the visa, he would soon learn that his family’s application for the religious worker visa was rejected.
“I had everything ready. My daughters cried, my wife cried and everybody was real sad because we couldn’t come [to America],” Carrasco said, shaking his head. With nothing left after selling his house, he applied for and received a tourist visa for his family.
In 2000, Carrasco and his family of eight traveled to the United States, where they would soon realize that not everything was as his brother had described in the letters. Outstaying their visa, racial discrimination and profiling against immigrants turned what was once a dream into a nightmare for his family.
Priscilla Salazar, Carrasco’s daughter, was only 16 years old when she began to understand the challenges of being an undocumented immigrant in America. Growing up in Chicago, the young woman just wanted to drive without the anxiety of being pulled over and deported.
For her, this was the worst part about staying in America after her visa expired – fear, anxiety, uncertainty and helplessness in the face of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“I guess that’s when it becomes a nightmare because you’re pretty much living under the shadows,” Salazar said. “Every time you get under the wheel you would pray that a police car wouldn’t get behind you, or you wouldn’t get pulled over. It’s a terrifying moment.”
Now married, Salazar is still working through her anxiety of driving. Despite now being a documented citizen, she can’t get over the habits she developed living undocumented in America.
The 28-year-old was not the only one in her family who experienced the difficulties of growing up in America as an immigrant. Her brother described several incidents when he was profiled and discriminated against. From being told to stop speaking Spanish in bars to being pulled over by the police for the color of his skin, Israel Carrasco faced the stark realities of living in America as a migrant.
“I’ve been profiled too, man, I’ve been pulled over for stupid [reasons]. They asked me all of these questions and when I ask why I was pulled over, it [was] because I have a little fragrance tree in my rearview mirror,” Israel chuckled, shaking his head. “You really pulled me over because of this? I don’t think so. He had to give me an excuse because I asked.”
Oscar is frustrated about the discrimination and profiling his family has faced since arriving in the states. Although they are now documented, he still believes the laws and treatment of immigrants are inhumane because there is no way for them to legally defend themselves in court without fear of deportation.
“How can a country that was built with immigrants, based off immigrants, [have] so much hate towards immigrants?” he asked. “What do you think human rights means to an immigrant? Should immigrants not have the same rights as [U.S.] citizens?”
Despite the incidents of racial discrimination and hardships his family has endured in America, Carrasco does not believe his family should move back to Argentina. America is where most of his family lives.
After traveling around the country for several years and starting a few family businesses, it was Israel who suggested they open a new bakery. Maria Carrasco, Israel’s mother, taught herself how to cook from a young age in Argentina and agreed to be the head chef while the 26-year-old managed the counter. His father would be the baker.
“I told my dad, when we closed the bakery [in Chicago] down, I said ‘one day I might get you [a new] one. I’ll help you get your business back.’ That was always at the back of my mind,” Israel said, grinning.
While searching for a place to open their new business in Peoria, the Carrascos were presented with an opportunity to rent space in Galesburg, where they now run their bakery. For the most part, they have moved past their issues with racial discrimination and are glad to live in a more accepting community.
“We have lived in many cities in my 18 years here, but Galesburg is different,” Oscar Carrasco said. “I’m not sad. [Immigrating here] was a bad experience, but now I love this place.”
Today, his family faces a new set of issues as they navigate the tension and pressure that comes with working together.
“There’s ups and downs just like everywhere else,” Israel explained. “People can be a bit rude sometimes. We get some Facebook hate sometimes.”
Even though there can be tension, Israel is glad he has the opportunity to run the bakery with his parents. While working with family can be hard sometimes, he enjoys spending time with them in the bakery.
“We’re thick blooded, we’re Italian descent,” Israel laughed. “Sometimes I get a little rowdy, my dad gets a little rowdy, my mom gets a little rowdy. It’s nothing too bad.”
On a typical day at the Buenos Aires Bakery & Café, several Knox students or faculty members might be seen eating Argentine sweets or doing homework over coffee. Senior Sofia Tagkalaglou loves the Buenos Aires Bakery and the Carrasco’s welcoming atmosphere. She thinks it’s a great place for Knox students to eat quality Argentine food.
Not only does the bakery offer Argentine sweets and home cooked food, Tagkalaglou especially enjoyed that there were Mediterranean as well as vegan and vegetarian options available. Tagkalaglou also mentioned that the Carrascos will be catering for the Bioneers event this weekend.
“It just reminds me of home,” Tagkalaglou said. “They make homemade hummus and falafel – those are things that I’m really used to eating in my home area. Middle Eastern food is something that really touches home.”