This Family Came to Down East Maine as Migrant Workers, but Left their Mark as Entrepreneurs

When Juana Rodriguez Vazquez moved to the United States at age four, her father was already something of a go-getter. For years, he’d been spending time in the United States—traveling from state to state as a migrant laborer, following the blueberries and oranges that were ripening in the fields. By the time Juana and her mother moved up from their home state of Guanajuato in Mexico to join him, he was leading a crew of workers that picked fresh fruit and vegetables in multiple states. He had also found homes where his family of eight could stay with him during his harvests. “He was up her so often,” Juana says, “He brought us up so we could be together.”

Juana’s first years in the United States, however, were not initially easy. The family continued to move with the seasons, spending half the year in Florida and the other half in Michigan. The constant migration disrupted Juana’s learning, and made it hard to make friends. Then, in 1998, a friend urged the family to move to the small town of Milbridge, Maine to work on a sea cucumber harvest. Although the Latino population in Down East Maine back then was incredibly small, Juana warmed to her new home. She says it felt safer and less crowded than in Florida. The attentiveness of school officials also helped her greatly improve her English. “Once we came to Maine the first time,” Juana says, “We liked it so much we never left.”

My mom saw there was a demand for Mexican food and thought, why work for someone else when she could open her own business?

Once settled, the Vazquez family began, like many immigrants before them, to see bigger possibilities for their future. Juana’s mother, who had worked in the food business back in Mexico, began to sell her home-cooked food to the Milbridge community. “My mom saw there was a demand for Mexican food and thought, why work for someone else when she could open her own business?” Juana explains. In the early years, her mother sold food out of an old bus the family had converted to a food truck. Three years ago, the family bought a rundown house on Main Street, heavily renovated it, and turned it into an official restaurant.

Today, Vazquez Mexican Takeout offers chimichangas, burritos, and tacos made from flour and corn tortillas the family makes from scratch, as well as American food. “We get people from Bangor, Bar Harbor – from all over,” Juana says, “Some people speak Spanish, others don’t. We get a mix of everything.” Juana and her three sisters work with their mother at the restaurant. Vazquez Mexican Takeout has also created jobs for locals: The family has hired three employees to help with cleaning, cooking, and dishwashing in the kitchen.

The Vazquez children quickly followed their mother’s lead. After studying mechanics in college and working for a local garage, Juana’s brother Roberto decided to open a small auto shop out of his house in 2011. His business has since grown to a three-door garage with two lifts on Route 1, right outside of Milbridge. Roberto’s Auto Shop and Sales repairs cars, buys and sells used cars, and resells pieces of junk cars. “He sells and fixes tires,” Juana says. “A while back, he became licensed to do car inspections, so he does that now too.” That business employs three outside workers. Juana’s father, who no longer works in the blueberry fields, now works with Roberto as well.

One of Juana’s sisters also started a small interior and exterior painting business three years ago. Another sister owned a small daycare business for a few years. Juana credits her parents and family history for the evident self-starter spirit. “It’s always been in the family,” Juana says, “We saw it throughout our childhood.” Even one of her grandfathers had the entrepreneurial drive: He sold wood in his hometown of Apaseo el Alto when the kids were little.

Juana herself has her own plans for the future. The area where she lives has changed dramatically in recent years, as immigrants have settled along Maine’s coast to fill agriculture and lobster processing roles that would otherwise remain unfilled. Juana says she’d love to stay in the community long term. She worries though about the political climate, and would love to see immigration reform that makes it easier for entrepreneurial immigrants like her family to stay and contribute. For now, though, she stays focused on her own plans. A rising junior the University of Maine, she wants to be an elementary school teacher focused on either English or Art helping the next generation succeed.

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…