EVANS MILLS, N.Y. (WWTI) — Basing his menu on what he experienced growing up in Mexico, first-generation immigrant Juan DiBella is now sharing his Hispanic culture with the North Country.

Both of DiBella’s parents were born in Mexico, as well as many of his other family members. From age one to seven DiBella lived in Mexico with his family and moved back to the country as a teenager. He explained that the community was close-knit, which is something he’s carried with him throughout his life.

“It’s all about family and community and, you know, taking care of each other. The biggest thing is family first, and passing down traditions, and making sure that culture stays alive,” DiBella said.

When he was around seven years old, DiBella moved to the United States where he was challenged to learn English as a second language. DiBella said it was difficult learning to speak English with the few resources that were available at the time.

“Those days there wasn’t like English as a Second Language or anything that they have now,” DiBella said. “I literally learned it by watching cartoons in English and forcing myself to understand what they were saying. It was a little difficult.”

However, being bilingual would be a valuable skill for DiBella’s future in federal law enforcement. It was a career that brought DiBella, his Hispanic traditions and his family across the United States and eventually to the North Country. After moving to the area, DiBella noticed that there weren’t a lot of places where his Hispanic culture was represented.

“We’ve always talked about opening a food truck, but we never thought it was the right time or the right place. Then when we got here, we saw that there was a lack of Mexican places to eat,” DiBella said.

It was a realization that inspired DiBella to open his own business, Elm Street Tacos, with the goal of sharing his recipes and traditions with the area, and a chance for him to give others a taste of home.

“We have customers all the time, especially here on Fort Drum, they come over and they eat and the first thing they say is ‘Wow, this takes me back to when I was a kid, reminds me of my mom or my grandma,’ and that’s what really makes our day. That’s when we know that we’ve done our job,” DiBella said.

“As far as keeping those traditions alive, people cry, literally cry, when they taste the food because it just brings them back to that special memory of a loved one or family or whatever. That’s what it’s all about.”

According to DiBella, the response he receives from others reminds him of his own family and memories from growing up in Mexico.

The Elm Street Tacos food truck can be found outside of Fort Drum in Evans Mills and at various events across upstate New York. According to DiBella, it’s his goal to not only remind others of home through his recipes but also share his food and culture with others from different cultural backgrounds.

“We want to give our food to people that have never had it before,” DiBella said. “You know, that exposure to new people has been great. It’s a blessing.”