From Undocumented Immigrant To Business Owner: Meet Luis Carlos Serapio

May 7, 2018

Luis Carlos Serapio is an entreprenuer and advocate for Asheville's Latinx community.
Credit Courtesy of Luis Carlos Serapio

Luis Carlos Serapio crossed the border from Mexico as an undocumented immigrant in the early 1990s. He was looking for a better life. He moved around, from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Utah, and then to the East Coast. After visiting Asheville for a wedding, he and his first wife fell in love with the city. They soon decided to take a leap of faith and just move there.

Serapio got his green card, and he and his wife started a business in downtown Asheville selling furniture and home decor from around the world. After the recession hit, Serapio closed the business and became a court interpreter. He also created Descubre Asheville, a bilingual website dedicated to advertising the businesses of Asheville to the larger Latinx community.

Credit Courtesy of Luis Carlos Serapio

Host Frank Stasio talks to Serapio about his journey to the U.S and how Serapio hopes Descubre Asheville can change what he calls the common perception of Latinx people as construction and service workers.

Interview Highlights

On his mother’s encouragement that he go out and see the world:
She always wanted to travel. She always felt like she had very limited opportunities because she was a woman ... She would push me and would tell me that I was her only son and would try to push me to do things that she had dreamed of and she couldn't do.

On crossing the border as an undocumented immigrant:
The night that I crossed the border it felt like it was in a football game, and when I say football game really I'm talking about American football … They had the guys that stop you, and you have the guys that will need to make it to the other side. And then it was very lit. There was a lot of light. There was a helicopter with the light on people, and there were immigration officers in blazers, four wheelers. I don't remember what else, but for a kid like me that was not scary. That was exciting.

On seeing Disneyland for the first time:
My welcoming to America was the sight of Disneyland … So I see this sign of Disneyland, and I just thought it was exciting because my dad always tried to take my oldest sister and me there, and that was kind of like a dream come true to see it. But then here I am in this car, and then I see that the driver is making a joint, and he's also putting cocaine in it. And I only know this because I can hear them talking, and they're speaking Spanish, and that was scary … And that's when I started realizing how dangerous that was.

On what surprised him when he got to Los Angeles:
What really was surprising to me is to see white people homeless. I had never seen a white person homeless in Mexico … [White people] usually hold a certain status in society in Mexico, and they are usually not poor. So to me to see a white person that was homeless was bizarre.

On applying for his green card after marrying his first wife:
It wasn't easy, and it wasn't fast like most people think. A lot of people think that when you marry an American citizen you by default you have some kind of a status that allows you to be here, which is a lie. That doesn't happen. I don't know when that happened, but it's an urban legend type of thing that is very rooted in the mentality of a lot of people.

[The main goal of Descubre Asheville] would be for people that are not Latinos, [for] American entrepreneurs, business owners, to realize how they are overlooking and underestimating a market that is very powerful. - Luis Carlos Serapio

Why he wanted to move to Asheville:
I like the energy. I like the people here. And also coming from New York, I was very amazed and surprised by the willingness of the people to be nice to each other. I remember really even before I moved,  I came from New York, and I didn't have a quarter for the parking meter, and somebody that saw me that I was looking for change [and] just gave me some quarters. And I just thought this would never happen in New York. So little things that made me want to be here, and the mountains are beautiful.

What companies who target the Latinx community with advertisements realize:
They understand that we are a powerful demographic and that we are more than just laborers or construction workers, or people that don't have the means to be able to have the purchasing power that everybody else has. So in other words, we come in different shapes and different jobs and different levels of education.