Leaving it all for a brighter future is a decision Regino Gerardo has taken more than once in his life. Today, in London, he finally gives you a smile.
Text and photos: Marcos Ortiz F.
Being an immigrant is something Regino Gerardo knows well. At 52, this native Dominican from Santo Domingo has been one not once but twice. The first time was at the age of 26, when he landed in Madrid; the second, 10 years later, when he made it to London.
Regino recounts his adventures and misfortunes, with the care which the road well-travelled has given him. While he talks, the ceiling shakes with the din. It is the noisy London train that crosses the city from north to south and rushes past mere centimetres from his head. Underneath the railway line, where today he has set up his business, everything shakes, but he appears not to notice.
The handful of tables of the tropical corner dazzle covered in plastic tablecloths with a fruit design and mark a break with the grey winter sky and nearby streets.
“I managed two semesters studying psychology”, Regino remembers of his youth in Central America. “But I later devoted myself to agriculture”, he adds. Harvesting bananas, cassava, corn and other fruit, dreaming of a distinct future, one on the other side of the Atlantic.
Since the early 80s, Spain was the most sought-after destination for the wave of Dominican migrants seeking a better fate in Europe. At the start of the 90s, with inflation at 80% and unemployment at about 20%, migrating was a recurrent alternative.
In Spain bricklaying gave Regino his first income, but he soon moved onto cooking in various Spanish food restaurants. At home, he had three children to feed, in addition to three others from his wife. Regino was also trying to help his parents, who had stayed in the Dominican Republic.
The situation at the turn of the millennium was not easy and accompanied by a friend, he decided to take a new leap. Now it was the English Channel he crossed to reach London. But the arrival would be even harder.
Regino’s eyes do not blink while he remembers the first nights sleeping in the bad weather in the vicinity of a shopping centre in the south of London. Just a few days later, a helping hand from a Colombian friend allowed him to sleep under a roof and take a shower. “I never thought that I would go through anything like that”, he confesses. At 36, it was not the bright future he was dreaming of back in the Dominican fields.
But perseverance bore fruit and, without really learning the language, he managed to get various jobs. “Up till now I speak hardly any English”, he affirms.
Regino does not stop dreaming of one day returning to his native Dominican Republic. In fact, it is an enormous flag of his country that provides the welcome to his restaurant in which Dominican cooking also makes room for Colombian dishes.
Settled mere metres from the same shopping centre that housed him during his first nights in the city, Regino serves moro de habichuelas, moro de guandules every day, and la bandera a typical dish based on rice, kidney beans and cooked meat.
Regino poses for the obligatory photo while squeezing out a small smile of satisfaction. A new train shakes the tiled ceiling covered with hats and small flags.
(Translated by Claire Donneky – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)