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Latinos: The Engine Of Beverly Hills

Latino workers and business owners are the strength of this city. With their dedication and honesty, they are paving the way for fellow countrymen.

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Por Isaías Alvarado / La Opinión de Los Ángeles

Beverly Hills wakes up with the roar of an exotic car crossing Rodeo Drive, followed by the parade of men in elegant suits and women wearing dark glasses walking into high-end fashion stores.

Nothing out of the ordinary for the most glamorous city in the country, which according to Forbes Magazine, has one of the wealthiest zip codes in the world and is home to the stars of Hollywood.

What is interesting, however, is what's happening behind the scenes, in the kitchens of luxurious restaurants, in the halls of local mansions, in hotel rooms, even in police departments and municipal offices. More Spanish is being spoken than ever before.

"We are already part of this, we are not a separate class," says Arthur Viecco, a Colombian who works as a stylist at Salon Umberto. For 13 years, he has been one of the 2,000 Latinos (5.7% of the population) living in that city, the second fastest growing group.

But the biggest jump has been observed within Beverly Hills' government, where 20% of the payroll is of Hispanic descent. In the police department, 13% of agents belong to this ethnic group. "Over the years the department has diversified," said Sergeant Renato Moreno.

During his childhood, Moreno cruised the wide city streets pushing a lawnmower, helping his father to earn money for their home. Now he does it in a patrol car,  carrying a badge. "I am proud to have started humbly and now be an officer in Beverly Hills," he says.

Brown is not the only one who has started at the bottom. Doin Valle, a Salvadoran who came to the United States to escape the war in his country, was employed for ten years at a cafe in Canyon Drive. Today, he owns a business that often caters to celebrities.

"The importance of Latinos is great, without us this country would be in a major crisis," Valle said.

Others, like Nayzeth Carrillo, have only recently ventured into the business world in the city. Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Carrillo founded "Nayzeth Beverly Hills" two years ago, her own cosmetics company which distributes its products not only locally, but in the Middle East as well.

"Being in Beverly Hills and creating a business can inspire more people," explained Carrillo.

Some shops are already established, such as Frida Mexican restaurant on Beverly Drive. For ten years, it has been a mandatory stop for Hollywood stars. Their meat, spices and chilies are brought from Mexico City, where owner and chef Vicente Del Rio hails from.

"Wherever we go, we are on the ball," said Jesus Vazquez, business manager for the restaurant, about the active presence of Latin Americans in different areas of the exclusive metropolis.

According to Megan Roach, Marketing and Economic Sustainability Manager for the City, Hispanics are involved in all levels of the local economy, "which helps keep the City running efficiently."

There is no precise figure for the number of Latinos who work making beds in hotels, serving food in restaurants or parking cars. Even less is known about those who maintain a lower profile, like babysitters, pool cleaners or yard workers for luxury homes.

The latter have given artist Ramiro Gomez inspiration for his "Happy Hills" works. Gomez, who worked as a babysitter in the city, has drawn these people doing different activities: pushing strollers, cleaning floors, or folding laundry. It is a recognition, he stresses, to their tireless work.

One of his works depicts a woman with her head down, motionless, holding her bag with her hands. Titled "Caridad waits for her check," Gomez says it is the most humble moment for these "invisible workers".

"It is interesting that many tourists visit Beverly Hills wanting to see celebrities, but the image that they take back to their countries is the Latino gardeners working in the mansions," said the artist.

Straight from Oaxaca to Rodeo Drive

Many did not make any stops, they came directly from farming communities in Oaxaca, Mexico, to the elegant restaurants and cafes of Beverly Hills, supported by the dedication and honesty of his countrymen who came first.

Ivan Robles originally came from the community of Santa Gertrudis Zimatlán, in Mexico's southern valley. Nine years ago, he left the fields of Oaxaca to come to work at Frida Mexican restaurant on Beverly Drive.

"I did not know where it was; over time I realized that Beverly Hills is totally different from the rest of the country," said Robles, 32, who is now the head waiter at the restaurant.

It has been a long time since that abrupt change in his life, but Robles, who lives in Mar Vista, recognizes that it still feels strange to be among all that luxury.

"I cannot get used to it, too many cars, too many computers," he says.

His relatives in Oaxaca have proudly received the photographs Ivan sends, posing with his famous clients: Salma Hayek, Enrique Iglesias, Mike Tyson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Demi Moore, Jackie Chan. In the most recent one, he was with the president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, who recently visited the business.

At Frida alone, 20 people from Oaxaca are on the staff, making them more than 65% of the workforce. But they are also in kitchens and cafeterias in many other parts of the city.

"Because they know each other, they call each other to work here, and they are all very active so the restaurants that hire them don't want to let them go," says Jesus Vazquez, manager at Frida.

For eight years, Adrian Lopez, from the town of San Juan Guelavía, has been a cook at a cafe on Canyon Drive. His story is similar: the hard farm work left behind to pursue the American dream, to come to fascinating Beverly Hills .

"I was nervous about not knowing anything in the city, but getting here is a great opportunity to meet people," says Lopez, 31. He has also attended many celebrities.

Each morning, Lopez sees dozens of Oaxacans in buses cruising the streets of Beverly Hills. He has met at least 50 compatriots who work as waiters, busboys, chefs, and in other trades, all around the Rodeo Drive shopping district, world famous for its chic boutiques and elegant style.

"We are the ones who talk it up the most, to work here. In Oaxaca, people ask, 'Where did you work?' and we get to say Beverly Hills, the big city. Not everyone can make it here," Lopez says proudly.

It is estimated that the Los Angeles metropolitan area is home to some 700,000 Oaxacans. It is not known how many of them work in Beverly Hills.

"The general perception is that Oaxacan workers are good and honest," says Mauro Hernandez, president of Regional Organizations of Oaxaca.

The activist is not surprised to learn of the remarkable presence of his countrymen on Rodeo Drive. "Oaxacans are virtually in all businesses," says Hernandez.

Fausto Manuel, a 25-year-old from Sierra Juárez, was hired four years ago at a food establishment on busy Beverly Drive. He was recommended by an acquaintance, and is now one of the leading chefs.

"My teammates are hard workers and restaurant owners notice it, so they stay here," he explains.

The interview with Manuel is brief, lasting just two minutes. The young man apologizes because customers expect their dishes and it is his duty to prepare them as soon as possible.

"Sorry to be rude," he says shyly before leaving. Such is the tenacity of the Oaxacans working non-stop in Rodeo Drive.

This story originally appeared in Spanish, in La Opinion de Los Angeles.

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