Sonoma County Latino community sows seeds of entrepreneurship

Neil Pacheco smiled as he unrolled the banana leaf on one of the specialty tamales he sells at his Tamales Oaxaqueños stand outside the Mitote Food Park on Sebastopol Road in Roseland.

Pacheco, a second-generation Latino entrepreneur, and a business partner have a kitchen where a team of five prepares fresh tamales 24 hours a day, about 2,500 a day. Farmers and construction workers in the area stop by his stall from 5 a.m. to noon for a tamale, usually for breakfast.

His tamales are what can be found in southern Mexico, in the Oaxaca region, where he grew up after being born near San Antonio, Texas. What makes them special and different from most other products sold in the county, Pacheco said, is the variety of red, green and dark moles, the mixture of sauces and meats inside the tamales – and the presentation.

He tops them with a pinch of herbs, grated cheese, edible flowers, pumpkin seeds and extra virgin olive oil.

Across the parking lot, just inside the front door of the Mercadito Roseland market, Janet Sanchez runs Sanchez Artesanias, a small variety store. The mother of five started a year ago, selling handmade aprons and masks in Mexico.

The two members of the burgeoning Latin American community represent the strong entrepreneurial bent of their Latin American heritage.

They are among the 6,760 Latino-owned businesses in Sonoma County, accounting for 13% of total businesses, with large numbers in food, landscaping and construction and a growing group supplying a variety of personal and professional services such as car washing and real estate.

In the Mercadito, Sanchez is one of nearly 20 micro-retailers operating out of the mini-market that serves as an incubator for startups offering a range of clothing for children and adults, sneakers, jewelry, toys, handbags, kitchen utensils and works of art, among other goods.

Her shop features items made by family artisans representing 18 of Mexico’s 31 states as well as the nation’s capital, Mexico City. Sanchez started the business after having an accident while pregnant with her youngest child and could no longer work as an adult caregiver.

Like Pacheco, Sanchez told me that she was determined to bring “a little bit of Mexico, things that we don’t see every day” to the region.

Marlene Orozco, senior research analyst at the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative, said Latinos are twice as likely as other ethnic groups to become business owners, whether or not their family has operated a business.

An economic sociologist hired to work on entrepreneurship research for the local Latino executive group Los Cien, Orozco said that America’s growth of Latin American businesses is a two-decade trend that coincides with population growth. Indeed, the county’s Latino population grew by 17.4%, from 120,430 in 2010 to 141,438 in 2020, according to new US Census data released in August.

Latinos now make up nearly 29% of Sonoma County residents, up from a decade earlier, when their share was just under 25%. White residents make up just under 59% of the total local population of 488,863. This is a sharp drop from 66% 10 years ago.

Although the county’s population growth has slowed dramatically to just 1% over the past decade, it’s clear that Latinos continue to settle here.

As a result, the latest estimate of the aggregate annual household income of Latinos was $ 2.3 billion in 2019, which represents strong consumer purchasing power that is increasing, according to Orozco’s research.

Despite the economic and health challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, which has dealt a well-documented disproportionate blow to Latinos, they have remained resilient rather than giving up, and more of them have still been successful in starting their own businesses.

“They’ve been through a lot of challenges just to come to this country, coming from next to nothing,” Marcos Suarez, business diversity program manager at the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, told me. “After that, you know how to persevere and move on.”

In fact, the trend for starting a business among Latinos has accelerated during the pandemic, Suarez said, noting that after the job losses, many have chosen to take the entrepreneurial leap, rather than take the lead. risk of going back to work for someone else.

Creation of micro-enterprises

The Mercadito de Roseland and the Mitote Food Park outside, with picnic tables for patrons to dine under an awning while listening to Spanish music, are great examples of giving budding Latino entrepreneurs and food truck suppliers the chance to fend for themselves in the pandemic and celebrate their culture – and food is a big part of it. Both opened a few months after the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

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