Through the imposing windows of her large, award-winning Mexican restaurant, Guadalupe Carson — her friends call her Lupita — could see it was a windy, rainy afternoon. Bad weather never helps; no customers sat on the lonely wooden tables dressed with floral tablecloths.
Still, the 60-year-old mother of five and grandmother of one, was cautiously putting wet roses into vases, telling the cooks in Spanish how to make salsa with vinegar while taking care of a delivery.
Looking back at her risky journey 30 years ago from Mexico to Evanston, when she left her three children to her mother, Carson said her dream came true.
“Working hard, being in the restaurant: I have my own rules, my house, my kids. I never thought that one day I would have my car. There is nothing more I can ask for. I am so happy.”
Carson illegally arrived in Evanston during the great blizzard of 1979. She wore on her back the few items she owned: a blouse, dress pants, a light sweater and open-toe shoes. She spoke no English.
“I remember taking English class in Mexico as a kid, thinking, ‘Why am I doing this, I won’t go to the U.S. anyway,”’ said Carson. “I was wrong, see? I have been embarrassed when my husband took me out.” One year after Carson arrived, she married an African-American man she met through a colleague at her nursing job.
Hennon Carson, who died of cancer in 2008, took care of Guadalupe’s three children, legalized their U.S. citizenship and offered his wife a place to achieve her dream: owning a Mexican restaurant.
Meanwhile, the couple had two children. “They look so beautiful with the mix of their parents’ origins,” said Rebeca Mendoza, of the Evanston Coalition for Latino Resource. “Everyone knows Lupita in Evanston, she even has the letters, L.U.P.I.T.A on her license plate.”
Jacquelyn Carson, 29, is the age her mother was when she crossed the border. “I admire my mother so much for being brave and coming here. Without this decision, I wouldn’t be here,” Jacquelyn said.
Jacquelyn’s three older step-siblings arrived in Evanston when they were between six and 12 years old. Carson was afraid because “they didn’t speak nothing,” but her husband helped the kids with their schoolwork. They all graduated from college.
“I see clients coming from poor and rural areas, seeking economic opportunities in the U.S. Their kids are often the first member of the family to graduate from high school,” said immigration lawyer Emily Love.
In the last 10 years, Evanston’s Hispanic population grew by 48 percent and reached 9 percent of the total population — according to Census figures. “That’s only the reported number”, said Mendoza, who said the number was higher because of many Hispanics that didn’t fill the census because of their illegal situations.
Between 2010 and 2011, Evanston Township High School’s Hispanic population grew by 30 percent.
“When my children started going to middle school in Evanston. There was no more than eight Hispanics in the school,” Carson said, adding, “today I bring my grand-daughter to Washington Middle School and I see a majority of Hispanics.”