During the 2008 financial crisis, my award-winning Italian restaurant Le Virtù in South Philly might have closed had it not been for the financial support of my Chinese-born mother-in-law. After coming to the United States on a student visa in 1953, she managed to build a comfortable life as a stock trader. Her success and her generosity allowed my wife and me to open this restaurant and keep it running during the recession.
But the restaurant never would have existed in the first place had my grandfather Alfonso Cretarola not immigrated here from Abruzzo, Italy in 1909. He spent years as a manual laborer, even mining coal in Pennsylvania, before Americanizing his name to Francis Cratil and working for Firestone. I'm named after him and opened Le Virtù to honor our shared legacy.
The fact that Le Virtù was inspired by one immigrant and made financially viable by another, speaks volumes about Philadelphia. New American Economy's just-released Cities Index, a new tool measuring how effectively the largest 100 U.S. cities are integrating immigrants, truly affirms that we are the city of Brotherly Love. We ranked sixth nationwide. Specifically, we did well in the categories of "Government Leadership," which considers municipal support of immigrant-centered organizations and active outreach to their communities; "Economic Empowerment," which looks at such factors as immigrant-focused vocational training and entrepreneurship support programs; and "Job Opportunities," which accounts for employment rates and the share of high-prestige occupations, part-time workers, and entrepreneurs.
Our success is due, at least in part, to our city's Office of Immigrant Affairs, which my South Philly immigrant neighbors consider a giant welcoming flag. The office provides crucial information and resources, large and small, like how to secure housing and where to pay a parking ticket. As important is the vocal support and policy actions of our municipal government.
In July, Mayor Jim Kenney announced that the city will no longer give U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement access to the real-time arrest database. Before, many immigrants — both documented and undocumented — were afraid to report crimes because they feared that any interaction with law enforcement could put them and their families at risk for deportation. By ending this agreement, immigrants will not only be less vulnerable to crime, but more likely to speak up and report criminal activity. This will make Philadelphia a safer place for everyone.
Additionally, when it comes to job opportunities, there are plenty to go around, and immigrants are seizing these opportunities. An analysis of the 2016 Census data by Pew Charitable Trusts found nearly one in five Philadelphians in the labor force are foreign-born, the majority working in service jobs in the health-care, education, hospitality, and retail sectors. Clearly, our immigrant population is not just important to local businesses, but a cornerstone of our city's economy. Le Virtù is a good example. Over the years, our employees have hailed from Mexico, Nicaragua, and Canada, in addition to Italy and the United States, and our offerings are better for it.
I would not have a bustling restaurant today were it not for the dedication and hard work of my immigrant cooks, back servers, and wait staff. And I'd like to return their generosity — I think we all should — by continuing to welcome new Americans with open arms. Who we are as a country is a product of their hard work, just as it is the hard work of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents — whomever from your family first came to this country. It would be a tragedy to forget that. I'm proud of Philly for not just remembering this, but for celebrating the immigrant roots that ground us all.
Francis Cratil-Cretarola is owner of South Philly restaurants Le Virtù and Brigantessa.