The immigrant dream comes true

Back in 2008, Ariel Carbonell and Kirenia Barrios knew they had to find a way to better the future of their two children, Pedro and Jeysi. In Cuba, the economic and political situation was worsening. They decided to leave Pinar Del Rio, where they had lived for years, and start the dangerous trip to cross the Mexican border to make it to America.

Kirenia picked up the kids early from school without explanation. Then, they headed for a boat that would take them to Mexico. The first strike hit when they had to cross a dangerous swamp and Kirenia took a wrong step. She sunk in a mud bowl up to her chest. Her legs were left scratched and she was in pain. 

“I had never been so close to death,” she said. “But at that moment, the only thing on my mind was getting out for my children and the future that they deserve.” 

The Carbonell family had to endure lots of blood, sweat and tears to come to the United States from Cuba. In 2014, they started a successful body shop in Hialeah, and other families followed them. Today, 15 of them, from ages 22 to 45, work at Ariel Body Shop in Hialeah Gardens.

On a recent day, customer Juan Donoso said it was his fifth time coming to Ariel Body Shop in the past three years.

“This is the only place I trust to fix my car,”  he said. “They treat me as if I were part of their family, too.”

Back in Pinar del Rio, the family lived in a pretty rough environment. The couple married in 2000 and had two children named Jeysi and Pedro.

Ariel worked in their home selling pig meat to whoever he could to make ends meet. Cars were always his passion but he could not afford to open a business.

Kirenia took care of the children. They both knew that there was a better land for their children, so their voyage to the American dream began. Ariel’s older brother Abimael was already living in the U.S. by the time they decided to make the journey.

This risky trip left them in many dangerous situations. They left Cuba on a small boat and had to hide from the Coast Guard in the waters of Mexico for a full day. Once they finally reached Cancun, they had to stay in a house with narcos. They spent weeks there tip-toeing around the people in charge.

After several weeks, they were taken to the border. Crossing it was a whole other challenge. They had to bribe a Mexican cop with a bracelet and a ring, then ran across the Rio Grande and jumped a fence.

“I knew at that moment that we finally made it and that nothing would ever be the same,” Jeysi said. 

They took a bus to Miami and settled in with Abimael. For the first couple of months, they all regretted the decision to come. Living in a small Hialeah apartment, Kirenia worked as a minimum-wage cashier in a grocery store, and Ariel found a spot in the deli of another grocery store. 

Ariel started to repair and paint cars that were given to him by friends and family. This did not last very long. A neighbor smelled the paint, realized what was going on and called the police. The Carbonell family decided to find a location to grow the shop. 

In July 2014, they started renting the location for Ariel Bodyshop Inc. on 8715 NW 117th St. in Hialeah Gardens. They soon saw exponential growth in the business and signed up some car companies. 

Ariel Carbonell speaking with his employees about the work that needed to get done. (Photo courtesy of Laura Iglesias)

The story does not end there. This family business is today run by many family members who, in recent years, also crossed the border to reach Miami. Two other sets of families made the dangerous trip in 2020 and 2023, respectively, and now also work in the shop.

The first family to come from Pinar De Rio was Kirenia’s sister with her husband and 25-year-old son, Pedro Jorge Ruiz Zambrana, who is now one of Ariel’s right-hand men. The second family was the group that came in 2023 with Ariel’s sister, her husband and two children, ages 21 and 23. The third family got here months after, all the way from Canada. Ariel’s niece traveled with her husband and one-year-old daughter.  

The younger ones help fix cars. Ariel trains them with the basics. Ariel and Kirenia’s sisters, Taimi and Arelys, work in the office, keeping count of items and contacting customers.  

One of the cousins, Abraham Carbonell, who came in the 2023 group, said he loves working with his family because it allows him to stay connected to home and have a flexible schedule.

“Working with my family allows me to feel happiness in going to work,” says Abraham. “I enjoy the flexible schedules and having my uncle as my boss.”

This body shop is a safe space for this loving family to work side by side. Most of them have risked their lives numerous times to be here and they definitely do not take it for granted.

Not many people can truly say that their hard work has paid off, but Ariel can. He mentioned, “I am so grateful to be the one that gets to provide a workplace for my family.” 

Members of this grateful family posing under their business logo. (Photo taken by Alejandra Ranaudo)

Laura Iglesias is a sophomore majoring in TV & Broadcasting. After graduating, she dreams of pursuing a career in television to inform communities.

Alejandra Ranaudo is a junior majoring in Broadcast Journalism on a pre-law track. After her studies, she wishes to pursue a career as a political news reporter.