Julio Cesar Baeza was not yet one year old in 1994, when his parents brought him from Mexico across the Rio Grande into the United States.
His father, Jose Baeza, spent most of the family’s savings on a broken-down old car he found in New Mexico and got it up and running for the long trip to Florida, where he and his wife, Rosa Luna, hoped to move in with relatives and find work picking oranges or peppers.
They only made it as far as Albertville, a north Alabama town which at the time was home to about 15,000 mostly white residents. The Baezas were part of the front crest of a wave of more than 5,000 Latino immigrants who settled in Albertville – and thousands more who arrived in other Sand Mountain communities – over the past 25 years.
They lived in a stranger’s house with multiple families at first, eventually upgraded to sharing a mobile home with another family, then got their own trailer and ultimately were able to buy their own house.
The close-knit family from the central Mexican state of Guanajuato had achieved their version of the American dream.
Julio Cesar Baeza poses outside of El Rinconcito, the Mexican restaurant his family owns in Albertville. (Connor Sheets | [email protected])
‘We aren’t going anywhere’
Both of Julio Baeza’s parents worked in the chicken plants at the beginning, but his father was a skilled welder so after about a year he shifted into metalworking. In 2001, the Baezas opened a restaurant called El Rinconcito in an Albertville strip mall, building the business over the ensuing years into a cornerstone of the local Mexican community.
Over time, Jose Baeza came to be seen as a man new arrivals could go to for help securing housing, getting jobs and establishing lives in Marshall County. And in 2006 a group of high schoolers went to him when they wanted to find a way to make a strong political statement.