When the Local Steel Mill Closed, This Mexican Immigrant Started a Business and Hired Americans

When Racine Steel Castings laid off its workers in the 1990s, welder Lauro Davalos found himself better prepared than many. Long determined to give his children something he’d never had — a good education — Davalos had already started a business in downtown Racine, the Southeast Wisconsin town where he’d settled after leaving Mexico some two decades earlier.

By working two jobs for years — days at the factory, nights at his store — and investing in rental properties, Davalos succeeded in putting all five of his children through private school. One of his daughters now owns a Chicago insurance company with 60 employees, all of whom were born in America. “You need to put things down on paper that you want to accomplish,” her father once told her when she was young. He’d been drawing pictures of horses at the time. He now owns a farm with 32 Arabian horses, which he brings to “dance” every year in the town’s 4th of July parade.

This is the country of opportunity.

Davalos epitomizes the hard work that powers the American Dream for many immigrants. As a boy in rural Mexico, he’d had to leave school after the 1st grade to work on his family’s farm. At age 17 he lit out alone across the border, unsure exactly what he’d do but knowing he could achieve better in the United States.

After a circuitous route through California, Idaho, and Chicago, Davalos took root in Racine, where he landed a job as a grinder, welder and molder at Racine Steel, and met his wife. With the family growing, he and his wife used their savings to buy a tiny corner building in a gritty neighborhood downtown, selling candy and soda. A year later they added groceries, then homemade 99-cent tacos, which his wife let neighborhood children have for a quarter. Soon people across town had tasted those tacos, and by the time Racine Steel Casting closed its doors, ending Davalos’ job of more than 18 years, his rental properties and the restaurant could support the family.

Today that restaurant, La Tapatia, is known across the state for its flavorful ground-beef, hard-shell tacos. While still family run, the business has 10 employees, about half of whom were born in America. Davalos still works the late shift, and spends his days on his 34-acre ranch with his family and horses. It’s all possible, he says, because “this is the country of opportunity.”

“Work, work, work and save, save,” he told his children.

In an interview several years ago with a Wisconsin paper, Davalos said he knows that some people won’t understand his success. “But those are the people you have to look beyond,” he told the reporter. “They make you want to be more successful, look to the future more and work harder for what you have.”

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…