by Kevin Ford


- Across the Harbor, a slice of El Salvador.

- Miguel Andrade: A real estate pioneer

- Benevides' treasure

- Achieving the American dream

Achieving the American dream

Sandra Barrera de López and her daughter, Cassandra, at Topacio

Carlos López was 19, unemployed and alone when he arrived in Los Angeles from El Salvador in 1984. Almost 20 years later, he and his wife run one of the more popular Salvadoran restaurants in East Boston. Now he is preparing to open another one in Lynn. Lopez has struggled hard to achieve the American dream, and he says he does it all for his two daughters, Karen, 13, and Cassandra, 4.

"I don't want them to have to do what I do," says López, who works seven days a week with little vacation time.

From El Salvador to Massachusetts

In 1984, López flew to Boston from L.A. and found a cheap apartment in Cambridge. He moved to East Boston later that year.

He worked a number of jobs downtown, mostly as a cook or busboy. He met his wife, Sandra, also Salvadoran, in 1987. They married two years later.

López and his wife's brother pooled their resources together to purchase Topacio in 1995. After four years, López bought out his brother-in-law's share and now runs the restaurant with Sandra. Now he says he is ready to expand.

"I feel like I can do it," says López. "I'm doing pretty good now. I figure, you get a couple of dollars in your pocket, you'll be all right."

Fun to have Salvadoran background

López beams with pride when he talks about the test his daughter, Karen, passed to get into the John D. O'Bryant School in Roxbury. "A hundred questions!" he says.

Karen calls growing up in a Salvadoran household "fun" and talks excitedly about the trips she took to El Salvador when she was 6 and 8. Despite the opportunities she enjoys now, Karen says she'll never forget her roots.

"I know I have an advantage," she says. "My parents had to work hard to get me where I am now and I appreciate that."

She says she's thinking of becoming either a lawyer or a pediatrician, no doubt to her parents' delight.




- cumbia


- Topacio restaurant

- Exotic El Salvador

- The El Salvador flag in storefronts


- The web site of East Boston

- East Boston demographics from the Mauricio Gaston Institute [in .pdf]

- Info on the Salvadorian civil war

- The Salvadorian consular offices in Boston

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