CHICAGO — When Yoni first arrived in this city 14 years ago from his home 20 miles outside of Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria, he only knew two words in the English language: “Pepsi” and “pizza.”
“I came here because my best friend said, ‘In America, no matter who you are, you can make something of yourself and make something good for your family if you just work hard,’” he says with a rich mixture of his native tongue and near-perfect English.
“So, I did.”
Along with him came his wife and his 5-year-old son; they immediately settled in the northwest suburbs of the city — a city, by the way, that is home to the largest Bulgarian immigrant population in the world. Census data shows around 20,000 Bulgarian-Chicagoans. The consulate general of Bulgaria claims nearly three times that many.
Yoni is part of a wave of Bulgarian immigrants who have arrived in the Windy City in the past 15 years — a wave that has embraced the American Dream with gusto. These are the folks who help make Chicago Chicago; they are builders and construction workers, artisans, business owners, and professionals. They learn trades, they attend college, and they feed into our unique American exceptionalism.
“We thrive because we love the opportunities we have here not just for ourselves but for our children. The key is, not to give up. The deadbolt is, even when everything conspires to work against you, you have to be willing to find a way to make a living another way,” he said.
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