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The Language of Business

New initiatives seek to empower Spanish-speaking entrepreneurship in Santa Fe

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In episode two of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce’s new telenovela Entre El Negocio y El Amor, or Between Business and Love, hopeful entrepreneurs Carlos and Bella run into each other while each attempts to apply for a business license. As Bella finishes up her own application, she tells Carlos where he can find instructions in Spanish on how to fill out his own. Carlos takes the opportunity to invite her to lunch to learn more, a step in their pending love connection.

The YouTube miniseries, complete with its own original theme music, is one of several new initiatives for Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs from the chamber and the City of Santa Fe’s Office of Economic Development in an effort to alleviate boundaries for would-be business owners.

Chamber President Bridget Dixon says the city’s business group had not previously focused on Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs, but recently made a strategic decision to do so.

“It’s surprising to me as a community that is so rich in culture and the amount of Spanish speakers we have here that we haven’t tapped in sooner to support them,” Dixon tells SFR.

Statistics show the effort is well placed. The American Immigration Council estimates approximately 1,800 immigrant entrepreneurs generated over $35 million in business income for Santa Fe in 2019. While making up only 11% of the population, immigrants made up 15.2% of business owners in the county in the same year. Hispanic entrepreneurs made up around 66% of the total number of immigrant business owners within the city.

In the five-episode series co-starring local celebrity and comedian Carlos Medina and actress Nora Cazares, entrepreneurs can learn important information about opening a business while following the storyline of a budding romance between Carlos and Bella. The series’ first episode features a guest voice acting appearance from well-known former local newscaster Nelson Martinez.

Medina co-wrote the script with Liz Camacho, Economic Development and Communications administrator, along with ArtWalk Santa Fe co-founder Alejandra Streeper, who also worked on marketing the new programs. The city’s Office of Economic Development funded the project.

“This was [Medina’s] creative vision, and he very much went in the direction of something that was educational and entertainment and in a very culturally compelling way,” Camacho says.

The partnership with Medina and Streeper makes sense, Camacho says, because of their individual connections to the process of becoming an entrepreneur.

“What I really appreciate is that both of them are Hispanic, and both of them have businesses, so they understand how overwhelming the process can be,” she says.

Medina tells SFR his entrepreneurial journey promoting himself began with his brothers, who already had experience as contractors. He acknowledges his privilege in already having a bit of extra support in his path, but even in the times he struggled, he found a way. The telenovela, he says, tells a relatable story.

He jokes that “he’s always been in business” for himself. As an entertainer who markets his own brand, his job requires that he take on many different roles.

“I’m not saying I didn’t hit my head against the wall at times, but the point is that you find the way,” Medina says. “I think that speaks to the spirit of the immigrant community, because some of them go through amazing hardships to get here, but they almost always find a way. I wanted to speak to that in the show.”

Entering the entrepreneurial space

When Edmundo Kelley Mendoza lost his job as a bar manager during the pandemic, he had to come up with a plan. As a first generation Mexican-American man with a passion for cooking inherited from his mom, he eventually told his wife he wanted to open a food truck. There was just one issue: He had no idea where to begin. He spent his time in lockdown preparing, and eventually opened Mas Chile in 2021.

“I came up with a whole business plan and came up with my dream of opening up my food truck,” Mendoza says of the early stages. “We just kind of go through all the bumps and figure things out as we go, but I think we’ve progressed since our opening year.”

Though the food truck only has scheduled events on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Mendoza’s responsibilities fill his entire week. Monday is shopping day, and while lots can be found in Santa Fe, sometimes he makes a trip to Albuquerque to get all the necessary meats and vegetables. Tuesdays are prep days. Then, event days start early and can run until late, and on those days he spends most of the time in a neon green food truck that only spans a few feet wide. Inside, as he’s grilling meats and shuffling around for ingredients, temperatures reach blazing hot.

Despite the long hours and drives, Mendoza’s efforts are paying off. He enjoys serving his customers, who allow him to make a living.

“I want to show love to my community all the way through,” Mendoza says. “Everybody’s been cheering me on, they see my growth and they love it. It’s an awesome feeling.”

Obstacles exist for Latino first-time business owners regardless of a language barrier.

For eighth-generation Santa Fean Nicholas Peña, the idea to become an entrepreneur started with a trip to Phoenix.Peña had spent several years working as an assistant gallery director on Canyon Road after graduating from the University of New Mexico. However, after the La Ciénega native took his first food tour, “A Taste of Old Town Scottsdale,” while at a friend’s wedding, he knew he had to bring something like it to Santa Fe.

“I just thought it was such a cool concept,” Peña tells SFR. “Like how amazing is it that you can just eat and explore and experience what the city had to offer in a variety of avenues?”

Annie Hartley, a long-time friend with whom he graduated high school in Santa Fe, founded Arizona Food Tours in 2009. Peña started “picking her brain” immediately after the tour was over. By 2010, he founded his own: Food Tour New Mexico.

For the first three years after Peña opened, he was the sole employee, balancing working at a ski area and bartending at various downtown locations while also attempting to get the business off the ground. His first food tour launched in 2011. Since then, he’s created two more in Santa Fe. The company later expanded outside of the city limits, introducing an additional tour in Albuquerque in 2013.

Peña says the transition into the entrepreneurial space came with a lot of research, and at times he didn’t have much guidance about where to start.

“I think the learning curve was really steep,” Peña says. “Through a lot of trial and error, with no business understanding or background, I got to work and put it all together.”

He says he eventually realized how “second nature” it felt doing food tours. It reminded him of growing up and going to restaurants with visiting family members. The business has earned recognition as one of the best of its kind in the area. Its “New Mexican Flavors Tour of Santa Fe Plaza” currently tops TripAdvisor’s ranking of New Mexico food tours, and USA Today Readers’ Choice Awards recently ranked it No. 6 food tour company in the nation.

The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce honored both Mendoza and Peña last year during its inaugural “40 Under 40 Business Leaders Awards,” created to showcase young entrepreneurial success. David Fresquez, chamber president, says initiatives like these are long overdue for both chambers. The Hispanic chamber went through a slow period just before and during COVID, but has since returned to a more active role.

Fresquez tells SFR the two chambers have a working relationship on which they hope to build, but notes his chamber targets the Latino business market in the fastest-growing part of the city.

“I feel like the Southside business owner is going to come to us because they’re going to feel more at home,” he says. “They’re gonna say, ‘They’re speaking our language, and we can relate to them.’”

He suspects another difference may be his chamber’s ability to speak out on social issues, which he says can often blend with business issues. For example, the chamber in 2017 advocated for passage of a tax on sugary drinks that would have raised money for early childhood education.

Still, Fresquez emphasizes there is no competition between the chambers. He says entrepreneurs are best served to become members of both.

“They serve a different value, and I think that’s the highlight of it. The cool part about being in Santa Fe is it’s such an intimate community that you can benefit from both chambers,” Fresquez says.

Take me to the Feria

The Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce has also set up a physical presence on the Southside with its annual Feria Southside festival. The event debuted in 2022, and will return this month for its second go-around. It features live music, family activities and participation from mostly local vendors. More than 600 people attended the inaugural event in April of last year, where a total of 62 vendors and organizations promoted their businesses and learned more about entrepreneurship.

Smaller mercados occur on a bimonthly basis, giving entrepreneurs even more opportunities to hustle.

The city’s Office of Economic Development and the Chamber of Commerce worked together on the feria and mercados to highlight Spanish-speaking entrepreneurship in Santa Fe.

“It was really an opportunity to show the community that there was every single business sector available on Airport Road and on the Southside,” Dixon says, “and what we found is a lot of the businesses were owned by Spanish-speakers or immigrants, and they wanted to participate.”

In fact, Medina says the first feria led to the telenovela in part after several vendors were unable to participate at the first event because they lacked a license.

Even though the Hispanic Chamber isn’t part of the feria per se, Fresquez says he’s glad to see it return. He stresses the need for community-led efforts to support the Spanish-speaking business community.

“I think it’s critical from a social equity aspect, but also from a business commerce aspect,” Fresquez says. “If one demographic is suffering...they all need to work together to provide more commerce in the city and to provide more social equity.”

‘Beyond inclusivity’

Streeper says the team behind the initiatives sought to create a culturally specific, Spanish-first approach. Some features of this include promotional efforts, such as the telenovela series being subtitled in English, but presented primarily in Spanish. Other aspects include free childcare offered at educational workshops.

“It’s a whole ecosystem of resources geared more towards the people in the Southside who otherwise wouldn’t know how to start,” Streeper says.

Medina says these are especially beneficial to Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs, who often have family-run businesses.

“In our culture, if you start a business, it’s more than likely going to involve everyone in the family,” he says. “I appreciate that [Camacho and Streeper] have taken into consideration the fact that when you have seminars like this, sometimes it’s the matriarch of the family who’s the entrepreneur because the dad is busy working construction, and she needs the childcare.”

Camacho added that women made up 100% of attendees to one of the most recent workshops. That tracks with data from the National Women’s Business Council, which indicates there are over 2 million Latina-owned businesses in the US—a sector that has grown by 87% since 2007.

Streeper remembers how overwhelming it felt when first transitioning into an entrepreneurial role. She moved from Los Angeles to Santa Fe in 2016 and worked in marketing in both places, but once the pandemic hit and events stopped, her focus shifted to art.

Streeper does embroidery and beading, making earrings and necklaces. She and glass artist Mara Saxer decided to go to Albuquerque to sell all the art they had made during the pandemic. Given Streeper’s background in events and Saxer’s lengthy background in art, they were ready to put a much-needed Santa Fe spin on it, Streeper says.

“Here it’s a little hard to become part of the markets in Santa Fe, and there aren’t that many for people who are just starting,” she says. “We said, ‘Why don’t we just start something here and do a test to see if people show up?’”

In 2021, the pair founded ArtWalk Santa Fe, an outdoor arts and crafts market for artists of all experience levels and backgrounds to sell products and gain exposure. The organization will hold their second annual Rufina Block Party 4-8 pm Aug. 12 at and around Paseo Pottery, located at 1278 Calle de Comercio.

In addition to her art, Streeper also uses her language skills to do translation work, and she established an LLC for a translation business. But as a native of Mexico with Spanish as her primary language, she didn’t find many bilingual resources to explain the process thoroughly.

“I didn’t even know where to start, so I looked on the web for classes on how you start a business,” Streeper says. “It’s already hard enough to figure out how to be a business when you speak, or sort of speak, English, and I never saw a lot of information in Spanish or directed towards me at all.”

Dixon says more Spanish-first initiative ideas are brewing, such as an entrepreneurial educational program specifically designed for Spanish-speaking and immigrant business owners. In addition to this, Camacho notes the city’s Office of Economic Development is drafting an economic development plan for Santa Fe’s immigrant populations with the help of a data project from the American Immigration Council.

The plan, Camacho says, should be finished this winter and will address barriers for immigrants entering the entrepreneurial space and the workforce. The city hopes the strategy will create more high-paying jobs for immigrants and subsequently help solve employee scarcity.

“For us, it’s important to create high-wage jobs for people to be able to live in Santa Fe, and I think that we can from the point of view of workforce development,” Camacho tells SFR. “In economic development, we have a lot of tourism, and just as we saw in the pandemic, you don’t have as much resilience if you don’t have a diverse economy.”

She says the city started the process of translating into Spanish applications such as special events licensing and legislation including the Homemade Food Act, which allows individuals to prepare certain low-risk food items in their residence and sell them directly to consumers without a permit.

Gretel Barrita, member of the community-based and immigrant-led organization Somos Un Pueblo Unido, which promotes worker and racial justice, underscores the need for many different types of resources, not only translations.

“There are times where you have to fill out forms that you don’t understand, even sometimes when the words are written in Spanish, in order to fill out an application for a license or permit, and you end up asking yourself, ‘What is this? What do I have to put here?’” Barrita tells SFR. “It’s a hard road.”

With so many initiatives and translations still in the works, Medina is thankful for his position today. He hopes the educational series and additional resource will help others get there too. He highlighted the value of moving “beyond inclusivity.”

“People do need that help to be included, but it’s easy to just stay in that step, but then you’re never really given the agency,” he says. “I’m hoping that with this initiative that we started with the city, it helps those businesses get to the point where they can call their accountant and say, ‘Hey, I need another LLC.’”


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