A Humble, Hard Working Mexican Latina Entrepreneur’s Version of Success
What’s for dinner? That’s how our conversation started as the sun began to set on the beach in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Stay with me for a minute and it will make sense.
To start this story, I have to go back in time a few days to when I first arrived at an inclusive resort in Mexico and made my way down to the beach to enjoy my first day. I had just arrived with my sister and parents and we were all looking forward to a week long tropical vacation. We spotted a woman walking the beach selling her beautiful handcrafted jewelry and accessories. Her artisan beaded bracelets, necklaces, headbands, and hair pieces caught our attention and we asked her to stop by to show us what she was selling. I absolutely love seeing locally made art and design. There’s nothing more fun than buying authentic and unique pieces to gift friends and family or keep as lovely reminders of a great trip.
We found out that her name was Estefani and we ended up chatting for quite some time. It dawned on me that this creative, hard working, humble woman is an entrepreneur in her own right, not only making these intricate pieces, but walking all day in the heat selling her goods, and making a living from the tourism industry. I was curious to find out more about her Latina business and asked her if she would mind to return the next day so I could interview her and capture some video of our conversation. She didn’t show up the following day, nor did I see her again for the rest of our time there. I thought that maybe she really didn’t want to do the interview and had just said yes to appease me.
Coincidentally, as our final beach day was coming to an end and we were getting ready to head in and get ready for our last dinner in Mexico, we saw her walking the beach selling her goods. She saw us as well and stopped by to say hello. She was really happy to see us one last time.
My father who loves talking to people from all walks of life helped interview Estefani and as he says when you open up conversation, “you gotta start somewhere” so his first question was “what’s for dinner?”. Estefani replied “huevos con chorizo” and that’s how it all started.
Estefani filled us in on her life saying that she’s been married for close to 6 years to a man whom she met locally and has 3 children, 5 year old daughter Estefani, 3 year old son Pedrito, and a 7 month old baby girl named Yessi.
She makes beautiful beaded bracelets, necklaces, hair ornaments and other accessories that she sells on the beach to tourists. She’s been making and selling them for 5 yrs. Her mother Andrea taught her how to make these detailed beautiful little pieces of art.
Her mother is still alive and her father passed away when she was 3 years old of an unknown cause. She completed primary school. My father being the comedian that he is asked her to recite the alphabet and Estefani got to N, before laughing it off and saying that was all she could remember.
She is Tsotsil (Tzotzil), which is one of the Mayan Indian cultures of Chiapas, Mexico and she speaks the Tzotzil language. She also speaks Spanish as a second language which allows her to communicate with many tourists and other locals. She says that it is very peaceful in the area between the native Mayans and her culture and everyone gets along well.
Her husband Liseo is originally from Guerrero. He owns a Hispanic business is also an artist, but he makes ceramics – pitchers, plates. Estefani told us that right now he isn’t working because he is being held by the police.
The police in the touristy beach areas monitor the local vendors. Vendors are supposed to have a permit in order to sell. Estefani told us that even when local vendors apply for a permit, it seems like the authorities in charge make the process very difficult – as though they are doing everything possible to prevent granting them permits. If vendors are caught selling their artisan wares without a permit, they can be detained in jail, have their goods confiscated sometimes, sometimes even destroying their goods. Getting out of jail is an expensive proposition.
With the types of artisan items that Estefani sells, a beaded necklace can take one whole day to make. Estafani says that she, her sister-in-law who is also in the same business and her husband, Liseo are not doing anything wrong. They are just trying to make a living.
Estefani loves what she does and she’s very happy living in Playa del Carmen. She loves speaking to the tourists and she makes about $3,500 pesos per week. It sounds like a lot, but at the exchange rate of approximately 20 pesos/$1.00 USD, it translates to about $167.00 a week.
We asked her what she wants for her children. Her answer was for them to have long good lives and go on to conventional professions such as teachers, lawyers, and doctors, but definitely not astronauts because she fears they will never come back from space. It was obvious that she wants more for her children.
Covid affected them greatly since her work relies heavily on the success of the tourism industry. They went hungry during the tough times eating mostly beans. She feels like things have returned to around 70% of what they were before the pandemic. She’s had her 2 rounds of vaccinations, but at the time of our interview, the booster shots had not been available. She was eager to get one. She says that everyone there wants the vaccines.
The last thing my father asked her was if she’d like to learn to work on the computer. and she said that she would definitely like to learn. My father shared his own personal story of having to enlist for the Vietnam war. He told her that what kept him from having to be on the front lines was that he knew how to type so his role in the military was making sure to order ammunition, food, and anything else that was needed. He feels fortunate that because of that, he is still here and the best you can want for your children and yourself is education. Education will help pull you up and out of difficult situations.
Estefani agrees and believes in her children getting ahead. She wants to give them what her parents couldn’t give her.
As a thank you for spending her time and personal story with us, we gave her some money which she didn’t want to take. She told us that she was not for sale. We told her it was a gift for spending her valuable time with us and to use it to buy something for her children.
Getting to talk to someone like Estefani puts so much perspective on my own life. I know that I am fortunate for what I have and that I have also worked hard for it, but some people will never even have access to the same opportunities that I was able to take advantage of. I truly respect hard working people like her trying to make a living in an incredibly tough environment but still loving life and able to smile and share so much with us. I feel like we can learn so much from others and how they live their lives.
Three tips from our conversation for anyone interested in starting a Hispanic business:
- Be engaging with customers. Sharing stories and always having a smile on your face help to create relationships and build a connection.
- Make sure your product is high quality and unique. Estefani sharing the process of how her pieces are each made, the time that goes into them to finish a piece, etc. all made us feel like we were getting something unique and lovingly made.
- The desire to learn more is a great quality in an entrepreneur. Estefani has no access to fancy technology, but if she were given the chance, she would jump on it to help improve her life as well as her children’s. Being open to new experiences and learnings is key in growing your business.
See Estefani a Latina entrepreneur in action…catch our video interview: