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Crafting a new life, contractor builds his American dream

Crafting a new life, contractor builds his American dream

  • Ulises Salinas has relied on patience – both in learning his craft and the ways of a new country – to help him grow his business.
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Ulises Salinas stands in downtown York and motions toward the half dozen projects he’s finished on South Queen Street alone: a bathroom in that apartment there, a custom railing around the corner, a deck and fencing over there.

The 36-year-old contractor got into the business out of necessity, but he’s stayed in it for his love of the craft — and the long list of referrals that keep him busy.

“I’ve never had to advertise in 17 years,” he says, pointing out the U&E Finish Carpentry and Remodeling magnet he recently put on his work van, the first piece of marketing he’s ever done. “When you do good work and people are happy, more work comes your way.”

Working with his hands

Salinas left Mexico in 2004. His dad was already living in York.

While he went to William Penn Senior High School to finish his education, it was too challenging to be in the classroom, he says. He didn’t know any English.

Struggling in school, he decided to start working. At 18, he was painting houses. He met a guy who did trim work and asked him to help. He fell in love with the finish carpentry. Today, it’s still his favorite work to do.

Salinas was able to support himself, but the language barrier was still a challenge. He often found himself in situations where he couldn’t understand what was going on.

“I felt bad about it,” he says. “I didn’t want it to be like that anymore.”

He started taking English as a Second Language classes, so many that sometimes he was in a classroom for five hours a day while still managing to work full time.

What helped him the most was going to Martin Library and learning how to translate songs he heard on the radio. 

“It was a lot of work, but I had to do it,” he says. “Not everyone understands what it takes to work through that.”

A family business

Salinas says he works all the time. When it comes to the labor, U&E is a one-person show for now, but he’s hoping to bring on some help soon. His list of clients is growing, and he needs another set of hands.

His wife, Elaine, helps with administrative items, but she also cares for the couple’s three children, ages 3, 5, and 14. They two of them met in ESL classes. She’s from the Philippines.

The life they’re building for their family is one based on grit. They hope to someday move beyond the contracting work to eventually flipping houses.

“We all do things for our families,” he says. “All of this is for them.”

Los colores fluorescentes fluyen del pincel de Claudia Salazar para cubrir el swoosh de un par de Nikes. El espacio blanco se llena de azul, rosa y amarillo.

Nacida en Perú, pero residente en York desde hace ocho años, Salazar crea artículos que reflejan la vibrante herencia hispana que ha llevado consigo a través de los continentes.

Pero los hermosos colores que pone en un lienzo, en camisetas, en zapatillas o incluso en chaquetas de cuero son algo más que una representación de su origen: son un signo de su curación y de la vida que puede surgir del trauma.