An American dream

An American dream

By Anna Harris (Photo/Anna Harris)

Not a civil war, not even the brutal murder of his father could stop Bartolo Paz from realizing his dreams.

Growing up in a war-torn El Salvador, Paz wanted no part in the fighting. So he left his home for America at 15, intent on finding a better life for himself and the family he left behind.

Paz found that at Bugsy’s Pizza Restaurant and Sports Bar, and after 27 years of hard work, he bought the popular eatery over the summer.

“It’s an American dream,” said Bryan “Bugsy” Watson, a former NHL defenseman and the restaurant’s founder. “He deserves it. … He was the best at everything he did.”

Paz’s dreams of a better life began early. He wanted an education, imagining a career in medicine or science. But first he had to escape the war that erupted in his country.

A guerrilla movement known as the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front rose up against the government in 1979, sparking a 13-year civil war. The country has struggled ever since.

“In the late ’70s, it was a country of oppression,” Paz said. “There was no freedom. A group of people rose up and started fighting the government. I didn’t believe in fighting or weapons and didn’t want to be a part of it.”

Luckily, the closest the fighting ever came to his home was still 20 miles away.

“I knew the situation, but I didn’t physically see anyone fighting,” said Paz. “They used to fight every day. But the area that I was from, I never saw one guerrilla. I was lucky not to get in the middle of it.”

Though removed from the horrors of war, Paz’s life took a tragic turn when he was 10 years old. A border patrol officer murdered his father — at random — during an event at his local church.

“These people decided they wanted to kill someone from the community. [The border patrol officer] was a killer who killed for fun,” said Paz. “The government didn’t do anything about it. My father was literally waiting for the group to get together. It was a random shooting.”

With his father’s death, Paz worried his future dreams were slipping out of reach. But he forged ahead.

Five years later, he left for America for an education and began working toward his new vision of opening a business.

He started working at Bugsy’s after arriving in the United States and attended T.C. Williams. When he graduated, he was torn. He wanted to go on to higher education but hated the idea of leaving behind his loved ones, to whom he felt he owed a debt.

“Either I go to college and forget about my family or try to build a business so I can help them down the road,” Paz said. “That’s what I did, and I’m glad I did it.”

So he returned to El Salvador after receiving his diploma. Paz hoped the country would have gotten better. But while the war was over, the country remained in rough shape. Gangs roamed the streets and freedom of expression was scarce.

It wasn’t long before Paz was back in the United States. His new wife, whom he met on his visit, joined him three months later.

Recommitting himself to making life better for his family, Paz kept busy. By 2000, he had opened a successful hardware shop in El Salvador. All the while, he kept toiling at Bugsy’s.

Now, 27 years after he left his country and 32 years since the death of his father, Paz can say that dreams do come true. After all, he has two flourishing businesses to prove it.

“I hope to do well and try to help the community as best I can and be a good citizen,” he said.