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East Bay business Alicia's Tamales Los Mayas grows with help from local Latino nonprofits

Thriving Latino-based businesses still facing many challenges
Thriving Latino-based businesses still facing many challenges 03:30

HAYWARD (KPIX) - During Hispanic Heritage Month, advocates for Latino business owners say more can be done to support these entrepreneurs who still face barriers even with so much growth over the past decade. 

"We come to this country as an immigrant because we're looking for a better life and a good education for our kids," said Alicia Villanueva of Alicia's Tamales Los Mayas. "Everybody has a dream, in business, in everything, just work hard, and find the resources and it's going to come through, for sure."

Villaneuva came to the U.S. from Mexico in 2000 and started making tamales she could sell on her own about a year later. She was already working two jobs, but tried to earn more money selling her food on the street and knocking on doors. 

By 2007 she started to get help from nonprofits. La Cocina, the San Francisco incubator focused on helping women of color, accepted her into their training program in 2010. She graduated five years later. 

"That's why I say, 'Don't stop!' Whatever struggle you find, any barrier, just keep going for your dream or for your goal," she told KPIX. 

The most recent data available shows that Latino entrepreneurs are growing by more than 44 percent in the last 10 years, according to data cited recently by the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative. As a group, Latino business owners contribute more than $800 billion to the economy annually, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce reported. But Latinos are among the most underbanked communities, based on data from the FDIC, which has nonprofits looking for more inclusive policies. 

"They have plenty of grit, determination, and grace to work hard and deliver and all they need is a little bit of help from those of us who are there to help them."

Accion Opportunity Fund is a nonprofit that serves as a community development financial institution. Villanueva used the money from their loan to get a van for deliveries. In addition to loans, they give clients coaching to help navigate the process of owning a business. Part of the factors impacting Latino entrepreneurs include limited credit history, not having enough documentation, or lacking knowledge of the system. 

For Villanueva, there are still challenges more than 20 years after she started making tamales. She had to pivot in the pandemic from catering to larger contract orders from school districts and major corporations. Through the years, she says fresh ingredients without preservatives and a lot of love have kept her food products selling locally and nationally. 

"I say to my ladies that when they are cooking or preparing or assembly, do like you are doing for your family," she said. "Always I say 'pinch myself' to see if this is true. And it's true."

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