In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Lakeview Roscoe Village Chamber of Commerce featured Rick Batista of JJ Nate Real Estate & Mgmt highlighting Rick’s story about being Hispanic in the business world!

To express what it means to be Hispanic in the business world, I must first give a brief family history for a better understanding.

My family, on both sides, came to the States and Chicago decades ago, planting roots in the Roscoe Village neighborhood back in the 1960s. Most of our family members made Chicago their new home when they came to the U.S. after fleeing communism. They left their families, lives, and established careers in Cuba in search of the freedom they had lost to Castro. Most of the men in the family found work at United Airlines. And a few women found work close to home at the Pencil Factory on Roscoe (now Pencil Factory Lofts, 1800 W. Roscoe).

wedding day in Holguin, Cuba 1951
Abuelito’s Wedding Day

My grandfather was a significant influence in my life. He fled Cuba in 1962 when rumors spread that Castro was hunting and killing all those who fought against him. His brother-in-law quickly worked to get him to the U.S. and flee persecution. He often told me stories of how the communist regime forced him to work in a meat packing facility. And how awful it made him feel since he had been a veterinarian, caring for and healing animals before communism. He was able to rely on the support of family already in Chicago to get a job packing meals for United’s flights. During his first two years in the U.S., he worked every shift possible to bring my grandma, mom, and uncle over. Earning a modest wage, he saved up enough money to send my mom to Catholic school and buy their first property in the early ’70s at 1945 W. Newport Ave. Later they moved down the street to 1907 W. Newport, where my sister and I share many wonderful childhood memories.

Liz & Ricky with Abuelita Lucy, Chicago
Liz & Ricky with Abuelita Lucy

I was born into 2135 W. School St., a classic Chicago brick two-flat purchased back in 1974 by my parents and paternal grandmother. At that time, it was challenging for a widow to buy real estate independently, let alone a Hispanic widow who didn’t speak much English. So she and my parents joined forces to purchase their own home. My grandmother was another excellent example of Hispanic influence in my life. She lost her husband in Cuba when my father was just months old. She found the courage to leave everything behind and come to a new country with a small child, all for the American dream. For years she worked at the Palmer House kitchen downtown. This was one of her few options regarding work, given her language and education limitations. But she worked relentlessly to provide for herself and my father and eventually purchased a home. She worked at the Palmer House until retirement. After retirement, she devoted her time volunteering at Casa Central in Humboldt Park to help those in need and give back to the Hispanic community.

living room of 1945 Newport, Chicago
Living room of 1945 Newport

My parents, born in ’50 (Dad) and ’54 (Mom), grew up in drastically changing times in America: The civil rights era, Vietnam, and significant technological advances. Coming of age in the 60s and 70s was challenging, especially as a minority when being “different” was not as widely embraced as it is today. Although my parents spent most of their lives in the U.S., I saw how being Hispanic impacted them differently.

Dad was raised to “go to school, get a degree, get a good job, and enjoy retirement” and to be as American as possible. My grandmother encouraged him to primarily speak English to be accomplished and successful. Although that served him well, having worked for the City’s Comptroller’s office for over 30 years, I know it also saddened him as he greatly loves his heritage. Over the years, he has worked hard to learn about Latin history and accomplishments, strengthen his Spanish, and embrace his roots.

Front steps of 1945 Newport, Chcago
Front steps of 1945 Newport

Mom grew up entirely differently. Perhaps because of the pressures put on Hispanic women, she was raised to focus on family and culture first and career second. Despite her dream of becoming a doctor, she was restricted by cultural norms and obligations and married young. When she married my father, he was the one who encouraged her to get an education. He saw how his mother struggled and knew how important education was, especially for minority women. She studied radiology at Ravenswood Hospital, which led to a long career in the medical field. She had successful careers in radiology and real estate throughout Chicago, from 1987 through her retirement in 2019.

Liz & Ricky in Roscoe Village, Chicago
Liz & Ricky in Roscoe Village

Being Hispanic in business may be a bit different for me than others. Why? Because most people can’t even tell that I am Hispanic! It’s almost like my superpower. While I am as American as can be, I also have the lessons and stories of my family guiding me. I know the importance of adapting to changing circumstances, the power of empathizing with people of all backgrounds, and the importance of the hustle. I understand the struggles of those coming to a new country and those of their children trying to find their way between two cultures. It allows me to communicate with a broader range of people (Spanish or English) and help those with a similar family history (whether Hispanic or of any other descent). I know what it means to have a family that’s new to this country, realizing the difference between the stories you hear from the reality of chasing the American dream once you arrive. I understand the challenges of the balancing act that comes from wanting to stay true to your heritage while establishing roots in a new country. I know the pressures put on the first generation [fill-in-the-blank]-American to “make us proud” or “do something with your life” to justify the sacrifices that were made to give us a better life.

backyard of 1945 Newport, Chicago
Backyard of 1945 Newport

To me being Hispanic-American is appreciating all the sacrifices made to give me and the next generations a better life. It’s knowing how to go from having everything to having nothing or very little to rebuilding your life again. It’s persistence, perseverance, and determination. It’s understanding that you may have each foot in separate worlds, but you must find the right balance of preserving the past while respectfully moving toward the future. It’s doing the most you can to help those who share your story and those who will never understand the struggles of being “brown” in America. Being Hispanic-American is a great honor and responsibility, and I utilize my heritage to do my part to build a better sense of community for all. Because even though I love and am proud of my Hispanic heritage, I know we’re all humans, first and foremost, and we’re all connected somehow.

1907 W Newport Ave Chicago
1945 W. Newport Ave., Chicago
3416 N. Damen Ave., Chicago