Byline: ALEJANDRO GUZMAN Valley News Writer
The proud owners of a chain of raspado shops, which sell shaved-ice treats in Pacoima, Panorama City, Pomona, East Los Angeles and Sun Valley, mother-and-son duo Lourdes Ruelas and Oscar Limon are prospering now.
But Ruelas says things were not always so great, recalling a time when she even had to take handouts from friends just to feed her kids.
She and her family came from Guadalajara, Mexico, to Baldwin Park -- and eventually to Sun Valley -- in search of a better life.
After having lived in Mexico for 34 years, they decided to leave behind their home and friends in pursuit of the American dream.
But her children were not happy with the move. In fact, she remembers lying to them just to get them to leave with her.
``I told them I would take them to Disneyland,'' Ruelas said. ``But my intention was for my children to learn different languages and be able to study.''
To add to the disappointment, her oldest son, Oscar, was hurt to learn he would be held back in seventh grade one more year. Mom was quick to explain that this would give him an advantage in learning English.
``I was a bit frustrated,'' Oscar said. ``But by eighth grade, I was taking regular English classes.''
At the time of the move, Ruelas had not planned on opening Raspado Xpress to sell shaved-ice treats drenched in flavored syrups, such as strawberry banana, vanilla and coconut. They used family recipes in creating the raspados.
She had arrived in California with the sole intention of settling down.
``The idea was to work and better one's life,'' Ruelas said.
Her husband, along with his family members, sold jewelry at El Tigre supermarket in Pacoima, where they rented a little stand.
But her relationship with her husband was in trouble and ended in separation.
Now faced with the sole responsibility of making a living for herself and her three children, Ruelas found herself in a make-or-break situation.
That's when she said she decided to swim rather than sink.
``Someone needed to grab the reins and move the family forward,'' Ruelas said.
The family had already established a reputation for selling delicious and authentic raspados out of a little cart in the parking lot of El Tigre.
She said many of her customers insisted that she find a location and start a real business.
The idea seemed beyond her capability at first.
But gradually, the thought became more feasible to her. She had recipes and plenty of customers.
``We had everything but the money and couldn't figure out where to start,'' Ruelas said.
Next, she was forced to do something that really hurt her: She asked Oscar whether he would join her in trying to start a business.
This required her son to leave Glendale College, where he was pursuing a career in graphic design. It would be the second time his education had been interrupted.
Oscar could see his family needed him and he would have to get involved if they were going to survive.
``I think all our lives we had been dependent economically on my dad,'' Oscar said. ``When he was no longer in the picture, we really had no choice but to move forward.''
He says the divorce really served as motivation, because it put them in a fight-for-survival situation.
The mother-and-son pair knew of a potential location for their business right across the street from El Tigre. They inquired about the space and paid the first month's rent.
It would be five months before they could open for business.
On a nonexistent budget, Ruelas, Oscar and her other kids, Omar and Octavio, were forced to learn how to set tile, fix plumbing and make other improvements.
They also had to satisfy city inspectors' standards, something they had to learn how to do through trial and error.
It was during this time that friends and neighbors played a vital role in the survival of the family, Ruelas said.
She says a friend would give her tortas (Mexican sandwiches) to feed her kids. These acts of kindness motivated her to pay back her friends.
``Many people were lending us money to get started,'' Ruelas said. ``We were just trying to pay them back for their help.''
The Raspado Xpress sign was up for five months before the family could open for business.
Once business got under way, the family's fortune changed dramatically.
Raspado Xpress office manager Paola Maldonado recalls good results and steady sales.
``The first summer was pretty successful,'' Maldonado said.
She gives much credit to the customers for the company's success.
``The reason it grew was through word of mouth,'' Maldonado said.
Maldonado says the project had required everyone to work really hard.
Ruelas even admits that Oscar complained to her because he did not receive pay the first year. But neither did she.
Oscar can laugh about that now.
Meanwhile, his mother reflects on their past hardships with a sigh of relief. Her only concern now is that her kids turn out to be good people and graduate from college.
She also wants other people to know that it is possible to fulfill their dreams, just as she and her family did, through hard work.
``If you're a single mother, there is nothing like desire,'' Ruelas said. ``When you're persistent and united to your labor, it's very possible.''