For most Americans, earning a college degree and obtaining a promising job sounds like the ideal start for a professional life, but Alberto Gutiérrez, an immigrant from Mexico, had bigger plans for himself. At the ripe age of 43, Gutiérrez has already owned two restaurants, one grocery store, and two auto body shops.
Perhaps Gutiérrez got his business niche from his father, who owned different properties and businesses in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Gutiérrez worked for his father as a young boy, but as he aged, the itch to find his own adventure grew. “It’s not uncommon to have your own business in Mexico, so I think that’s where I got my ambition,” Gutiérrez said.
Gutiérrez might appear like any other hard-working Hispanic, but his story is much more complex and inspiring. When he was 15, Gutiérrez left home in search of his own adventure. He traveled to different towns in Mexico, but business opportunities lacked. When a family member invited him to come to America, like most, he accepted.
At the time, border security was not as tight as now, but nonetheless dangerous. His first attempt to cross into America wasn’t easy; a Border Patrol officer stopped him. The officer pointed a gun to his head and he was told never to return. “I was scared, but I tried again,” he said. With determination and the desire of a better life, Gutiérrez succeeded.
He went to Texas and stayed with family. “Being 16 years old stopped me from working. I did chores around the house and helped out where I could,” he said. At 18, Gutiérrez began working as a construction worker. He’s always dreamed of owning his own business one day and did what he needed for the time being.
Gutiérrez left Texas to visit his stepbrother in Chicago, where met the love of his life, Carmen. “As Carmen says, it was love at first sight,” Gutiérrez said. They met at a party, when a family member introduced them, but their love was cut short when Gutiérrez had to leave and go back to Texas.
“I was crossing the street and heard my name and there she was,” said Gutiérrez, a year later on 26th Street, in an area known as Little Village. “It was the second time I saw her and we’ve been together ever since.” After a few months, they married. “At the time I wasn’t a citizen, and we knew one of us had to go back to school,” Gutiérrez said. The soon-t0-be power couple worked as a team, while Carmen went to college to finish up a degree in education.
“My mom was raised in a different culture, she had a different upbringing than my dad,” said José Gutiérrez, one of their five children. “My mom was a big enforcer for education, she knew the opportunities that could arise.”
José, 23, is the eldest of his brothers, Abel, 21, Adrian, 19, Ivan, 17, and Isaac, 12. He graduated from Purdue Calumet in May of 2011, and double majored in political science and international studies. “My dad always had me help him at his businesses. He made me learn what he was doing when he was fixing cars, because he said that he wanted me to know what it meant to work hard and he didn’t want me to do what he did for a living,” José said.
José remembers his father working long hours. He recalls a time when his father found a job at the morgue. “… He brought the dead bodies into the lab to be prepared for burial, I suppose. He quit that same day. I guess there is a job out that that even immigrants don’t want to take!” he said.
“Typically people think immigrants want to work and go back to Mexico without contributing to society. My father has the willingness to go out there and gives it all he has. He takes risks. He opened one business after the other,” he said.
“My dad has raised the bar pretty high,” said.