It’s a story that repeats itself in countless restaurants across the country.
“They may come into a job from a lowly position, but, because they tend to be reliable and very eager to learn, they get noticed and they get promoted,” said Presilla.
This illustrates the trajectory of Chicago-based sushi chef Roberto Piña, 51. He was still in high school when he took a part-time job at a sushi restaurant just a few years after immigrating to the U.S. from Mexico. As one of the only Spanish speakers at a Japanese restaurant, Piña had a hard time communicating with his colleagues and didn’t care for the work. Eventually, the head chef took him under his wing, and the more he learned about making sushi, the more he enjoyed the process.
“It was difficult to adapt to the culture and hard for them to adapt to me. They scolded me a lot but I started liking it so I stayed,” remembered Piña with a laugh.
In 1989, Piña landed a job at Midori in Chicago’s northwest side and was promoted to head chef in less than a year, where he works to this day. Piña has passed on his knowledge to other Latinos, now known as susheros.
Most have continued to work as sushi chefs though Piña remembers a time when customers would walk into the restaurant, see him working the sushi counter, and leave. “Mexican sushi man? - hell no - they’d think,” laughed Piña. “The same ones who left are my regulars to this day.”