Mexican restaurant in the Bronx run by undocumented immigrants serves up authentic Oaxacan

SOUTH BRONX (WABC) -- The deep purple walls are covered with pro-immigration banners. There's a free lending library in the back. The front door says 'REFUGEES WELCOME' in bright red paint.

You could forgive yourself for mistaking La Morada for an immigrant refuge.

Don't be fooled. This Mexican restaurant, run by a family of proud undocumented immigrants, is serving up authentic Oaxacan fare with a side of social consciousness.

"The secret ingredient is activism," says Carolina Saavedra, La Morada's chef and younger daughter of the restaurant's married co-founders, Natalia Mendez and Antonio Saavedra. They began their journey as farmers in Oaxaca (wuh-HAH-kah) in southern Mexico, one of the country's poorest states with perhaps it's richest food tradition.

Oaxaca is known for mole (MOE-lay), a complex sauce often including chocolate and a variety of chilies whose flavors deepen the longer it's cooked.

It's a good metaphor for the plight of the Saavedra family, whose restaurant has blossomed in the South Bronx, garnering awards and national recognition, while the family members themselves have faced continued hardships outside of the kitchen.

Yajaira Saavedra, the elder daughter, was arrested recently for filming plainclothes officers acting, as she described it, "unfairly," towards a neighbor. Yajaira and Carolina's brother Marco Saavedra currently has an immigration case pending. If things don't go in his favor, he could be sent back to Mexico, foreign land to him where he hasn't lived since he was three years old.

But you'd never know the struggles the Saavedra family is facing from the smiles on their faces as they dole out tacos and flan and shoot the breeze with their loyal customers.

Yajaira explains this mindset, and the family's willingness to proudly proclaim their undocumented status, with a quote from Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. "Nos quitaron tanto que nos quitaron el miedo," she says. "They've taken away so much, they even took away our fear."

To hear more amazing stories of community leaders in our area, join ABC7 in celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month.
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Darla Miles reports on the the Mexican restaurant in the South Bronx.

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