The COVID-19 pandemic has affected so many, in our community and beyond. In this time of stay-at-home mandates, it’s no surprise that small businesses are struggling to keep their doors open.
Currently, The Next Door supports over 60 small, Latino-owned businesses in the Gorge through the Promoting Prosperity Program (PPP). PPP provides education, business planning, and guidance to help Latino entrepreneurs start or grow their own business. Resilient as these business owners are, they are struggling now more than ever to provide for their families.
I wanted a better life. I wanted more for my children than what our life in Mexico would give them. Growing up, my mom always taught me the importance of cooking, how I needed to learn so I could feed my family. When I was young, my sisters and I would spend hours making food for our dad and brothers who worked in the fields. Their work was our family’s only financial support. We would make them lunch, then walk one hour each way to bring it to them so they could keep working and didn’t have to take a break to eat. With every meal I helped cook, I felt like I was doing my part to support the family.
I carried on this work ethic when I had a family of my own. But when our children were very young, my husband was shot and killed. At the time, I was a stay at home mom. But after my husband passed away, I was all alone and needed money to support my family. I started working eight hour shifts at a packing house. The pay wasn’t enough, so I sold fruit in the evenings after I got off work. My days were long, exhausting and didn’t include much time with my kids, who now needed me more than ever.
I looked into my kids’ futures and didn’t see opportunities beyond the tiring and unfulfilling work I was doing. So my kids and I set off for a better life in the United States. I felt relieved when we arrived in the U.S., like a weight had been lifted off my chest, but I was still working harder than I wanted for low pay. Working two jobs meant long days, but one of those jobs allowed me to cook, which was nice.
My kids always loved my cooking. They didn’t like the food in the U.S. and always wanted me to cook for them instead. They’d been telling me for years that I should open up my own restaurant and start working hard for myself. Even working two jobs, I made time to make food for friends and family on the side. I enjoyed it. And it was nice to make some extra money. It really got me thinking about whether I could quit my jobs and run my own food business. I did the math and figured out I could spend just a few hours making food to sell on my own and earn as much as I would for a full day’s work at my other jobs. The math worked out, and I knew I had the cooking skills to do it, but I didn’t know where to start.
Then a friend told me about The Next Door’s Promoting Prosperity Program. They helped me develop a business plan, apply for a business license, research where I could buy bulk foods from, and more.
Around this time, my kids saw a food cart for sale and encouraged me to buy it. They knew more than anyone how hard I was working and how good my cooking was. I wanted it more than anything, but I couldn’t afford the food cart. My kids knew this and loaned me the money to buy it. I was touched. They really believed in me.
Now I’m happy and living my dream. I’m working for myself and making my kids proud. They come to my food cart all the time and insist on paying for their food. But I never let them. They’ve always been my support and my reason to succeed, the least I can do is feed them. Like I always have.
During the summer months, I take a break from my usual location on the Hood River heights to bring food to workers in the cherry orchards. It reminds me of when I was younger and I cooked for my dad and my brothers in the fields. I make something different everyday and wrap everything so it stays warm. I know the workers appreciate it. And it makes me happy to think about the families of the 100 workers I feed everyday; those workers have the energy to provide for their families. The orchard owner pays me well and invites me back each summer.
Me and my kids went through a lot. I’m sad for all we went through, but it was all worth it for the life we have today. All of my kids have good jobs or are in school working toward their own success. If we’d stayed in Mexico, the best I could hope for them would be a hard manual labor job making very little money.
I wanted a better life for us. And now we have one.
If you’re craving take-out for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, consider supporting a PPP business like Camila’s. For a complete list of PPP businesses, visit nextdoorinc.org/latino-small-business-development. If you want to do more, give a gift at nextdoorinc.org/donate to support all of the PPP businesses, as well as The Next Door.