Walk into Fresco Tortillas for Mexican food and you’ll get a taste of China too. There is a prominently raised menu of Tex-Mex cuisine, but you’ll also notice details that confuse your cultural senses. On the counter sits a Hello Kitty tip box and bowl full of Chinese sweets. And behind the counter are two smiling immigrants, husband and wife Bing Xia and Kui Lin, also known as Kym and Kent Lin.
Ten years ago, the Lins left their home in Fozhou, China, for New York City. There they worked at a Chinese restaurant for eight years. But two years ago, after having run Fresco Torillas for more than a decade, Mr. Lin’s uncle retired.
This led Mr. and Mrs. Lin to come with their two children to Poughkeepsie to continue the dream of a family-owned business that Fresco Tortillas was.
On the surface, it might seem odd that the Lins run a Mexican kitchen. In fact, when Lin’s uncle was in charge many years ago, New York Times’ Eric Asimov wrote an article about the restaurant, addressing the common perception that you should cook and serve the food you grew up eating.
Asimov wonders, “A surprising ethnic formula? Not really, if you consider Jews who cook Italian food…or Asians who’ve become French chefs.” It’s also worth noting that New York is known as a place that bends and breaks the rules of “normalcy” to create an interesting blend of culture.
As for the Lins’ personal history, though, you would have to rewind back a generation.
Mr. Lin’s uncle had already established the business as Mexican before the Lins took over. As to why, the answer was simple. Mrs. Lin said, “He thought it was tasty.”
They also believe they attract more business by being one of few Mexican places as opposed to one of many Chinese places. In this sense, they have an advantage, especially being within walking distance from campus.
This becomes a compelling immigrant story; one in which immigrants come here and the American spirit of capitalism to diversify and create your own role breaks the barriers of cultural difference. But although economic opportunity is why the Lins came to America, it wasn’t out of greed. Mrs. Lin says her dream for the future is to raise her children well and keep the business running smoothly.
Thousands of miles away from their birthplace, for the Lins, home is where the family is. “We just had Chinese New Year!” Mrs. Lin exclaimed. To celebrate the holiday, the Lins closed the kitchen early and traveled to the city with their two young children.
There, they gathered with extended family in a small apartment. “My family,” Mrs. Lin beamed, “I’ll show you!” She pulled out her phone. In the picture was an army of smiling faces. She flipped to another picture from the previous year, which was taken in the same room, containing the same faces and smiles.
Mrs. Lin says she likes Poughkeepsie, suggesting that of all the places her family has lived, this area suits them best. She likes being close to the College and Vassar community, where the atmosphere is good and comfortable for their family.
When living in the city, things were too hectic, she said. Here in Poughkeepsie it is easier to take care of her kids. In New York City, “You have to pick up the kids somewhere, go back to the restaurant…” she lamented.
In the background, Mr. Lin flips tortillas on the grill. The sound of clanking and scraping metal and hungry customers evokes a sense of chaos, but Mrs. Lin doesn’t seem phased and steps behind the counter to help her husband for a few seconds.
In the background, popular American songs, such as Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” pulse through the small kitchen. It seems as if everything has been pounded into familiarity for the Lins.
In fact, they have habits that regular customers pick up on. For example, you can watch the idiosyncratic movements of Mr. Lin as he prepares fresh tortillas on the grill. Bubbles rise in the dough, Mr. Lin pats them down with a metal spatula, repeating this motion until the tortillas are golden and crispy.
Kelsey Domb ’15 said, “They always ask me if I want extra sour cream or extra salsa.” They do this for everybody, which Domb chalks up to a general desire to satisfy their costumers. “I feel like it is a very warm and comforting environment and they really strive to make the customer feel as if they are part of the family.”
It seems that for the Lins, home is now in Poughkeepsie. America and its culture have become familiar by now. If you ask Mrs. Lin what she finds strange about America, she’ll say, “Wait a second, let me look around.” She will grin, look out the giant glass window facing the street, search for something peculiar, and find nothing and say, “Nothing.”
Although the Lins speak minimal English and communication beyond ordering is difficult, if you get to know them—or even just interact with them—you will discover they value simplicity in an inherently complex world.
Among the everyday niceties of running a kitchen, satisfying customers and taking the orders of hungry Vassar students, family and kindness seems to be an overarching salvation. Mrs. Lin said, “We are good people. And the food is good.”