My mother Rosa and I, Carolina, were both born in Oaxaca, Mexico. Oaxaca is one of the most remote regions in the country, a place where the presence of Indigenous culture is everywhere. For my mom, growing up in Oaxaca in the 1950’s meant long days working the land. There was no expectation that a young woman like her would ever go into higher education. In her village, there was no elementary school, which meant that she had to travel to another town where her godmother lived just to complete her primary education. Her godmother, Margarita Surita, infused my mother with a passion for the amazing cuisine of Oaxaca. Even though she became a high-end seamstress, her love for her people’s cuisine and her strong sense of entrepreneurship ultimately brought her to California.
My mother’s struggles share many parallels with my own. We are both dreamers, trying to achieve what many tell us is unattainable. I dream of getting into higher education, and of being part of a generation that makes
a difference in the world. And, I dream of helping my mother accomplish her goal of establishing a successful business sharing her cuisine, and creating an opportunity for me to go back into school to pursue my own dreams.
I want to learn more about the ancient cultures in the Americas, their philosophy and perceptions of life. During the golden era of the Maya, one of the main principles to live by was having balance in the community, which is tragically missing in our world today. I would like to be a vessel to bring healing to my community by going back to the roots of our ancestors.
For the past three years, my mother and I have been working side-by-side creating traditional tamales and moles from our homeland. As two immigrant women of color, we face many challenges in getting our business off the ground: finding the capital to rent a kitchen, buy the ingredients, transport the food, and establish ourselves in various farmers’ markets. Branding and marketing also take capital. But our tamales and mole are unique and very much appreciated by the many who buy our food wherever we offer them.
The business brings a much needed slice of ethnic diversity to the Oakland food scene by providing delicious, wholesome, handmade tamales to the community.
In 2011, my mother and I were both out of work, and like many people during recent economic crisis we were looking for creative ways to sustain ourselves and the family. In the summer by chance a neighbor who loves my mom’s cooking suggested that we try to become a vendor at the Fire and Arts festival that is organized by the Crucible, in West Oakland. We applied and were accepted. Our tamales were a hit we made back all the money we invested in the day and actually made a profit. It was at that point that we decided to give the food business a try.
Some of our biggest challenges are not having a website, resources for outreach and marketing, and not having a delivery service.
Our customers are located in San Francisco, they hear of us from a middle man company. We have sold tamales to tech companies and start-ups and also giants like Yahoo, Linked In, and Lyft. We also serve the local West Oakland neighborhood, where our restaurant resides. This business provides more of a day to day, bread and butter clientele.
We want to create an infrastructure for our business that will provide the sustainability that is lacking right now. Currently we are taking part in every element of our business, including balancing books, cooking, delivering, clean-up, marketing, advertising and outreach. We see a business, that through our various networks helping to build and maintain capacity, will become sustainable and manageable.
We are an inter-generational, woman-run business that brings flavors from a whole different region of the world; but because the food is delicious and fresh and made with love, it unites.
Thank you so much for your consideration in support of Tamales La Oaxaquena. We’ve been grateful for Kiva Zip’s crowdfunding assistance in helping us grow our business. Thanks to you we have a new outdoor signage and in marketing our storefront to keep customers feeling welcomed into our space, which has remained a persistent challenge at our location in West Oakland, where graffiti and security at large are a constant issue. We are in need of funding primarily for marketing – building a website and our social media presence, as well as promoting our business by becoming mobile with a working food truck (we own one but it needs engine repair). With your help, we would like to do some work on the storefront facade, as well as purchase security lights and cameras to discourage recurring graffiti. If we raise enough money, we’ll use the resources to improve our kitchen facilities, through improve ventilation, acquiring a commercial walk-in freezer, and replacing a large commercial refrigerator. My mother and I employ three workers including ourselves, and build community and other business opportunities by attracting people and business to the area. We hear all the time from our customers and neighbors that they are so happy to have such unique, healthy, locally grown food available in this food desert region. We know our work is important to keep diverse culture and community alive for affordable prices in West Oakland–thank you for your support!