Latinos create small businesses and help boost the Memphis economy

Tamales are wrapped in corn husks and then deep fried. Lopez sifts through her buckets of corn husks to find the perfect ones for her tamales. She says that they need a wide bottom and a slight point at the end, or they will fall apart when you cook them.
On Tuesday, Lopez starts preparing for a busy weekend as she pre-cooks her homemade tamales. This weekend, not only will Lopez sell at the Cooper/Young Farmer’s Market, but she will also sell at an event on Sunday afternoon.

On Tuesday, Lopez starts preparing for a busy weekend as she pre-cooks her homemade tamales. This weekend, not only will Lopez sell at the Cooper/Young Farmer’s Market, but she will also sell at an event on Sunday afternoon.

Occasionally, Eneydi Lopez will cook her famous tamales for special events. In October of 2014 she set her personal record.

800 vegan tamales.

Lopez sold her tamales for an event in Midtown. The host of the event asked her to only sell her vegan tamales, to cater to the crowd that they served. Later that day, she sold at the Cooper/Young Farmer’s Market. And that afternoon, she sold her tamales at another event.

She also sold other types of tamales at the Farmer’s Market, but she only kept count of the vegan tamales for of the events.

Lopez suspects she sold closer to 1000 tamales that day, but there is no way to know for sure.

Making and selling tamales started as a job Lopez created for herself to provide for her family. Now, this is her career. What was once something she hated, is now her career and a way to provide for her family.

For Lopez, the most important part is she can maintain her dignity.

“I know a lot of people make drugs and everything- its easy money,” Lopez said. “But I think my kids need something clear, something clean. So that’s why I do that.”

According to Elena Delavega, an assistant professor in the anthropology department at the University of Memphis, many first generation Latinos move to the United States to find jobs and to find more opportunities. She said that Latinos come to the U.S. to work.

“These are people who are not going to be engaged in crime, they’re people who want to work and are people who want to better themselves,” Delavega said.

Because the Latino population is new to Memphis, some Latinos do not know English well enough to know their rights as employees. Jeshua Schuster, the workers’ rights coordinator at Worker’s Interfaith Network– a non-profit organization that provides training and works along-side immigrant workers when they have problems at their jobs.

Lopez focuses on chopping the vegetables for her ground beef tamales. Normally she cooks the tamales from her house, but as business grows, she needs a commercial kitchen to cook larger batches of tamales.

Lopez focuses on chopping the vegetables for her ground beef tamales. Normally she cooks the tamales from her house, but as business grows, she needs a commercial kitchen to cook larger batches of tamales.

According to Schuster, wage-theft, discrimination or failure to receive worker’s compensation are problems that Latinos run into when they don’t know their rights.

“Sometimes, you’ll see workers do a project, especially in construction, and they just won’t get paid for two weeks or for a few months of work,” Schuster said. “They [the employers] just refuse to pay.”

Schuster said that the mission of the non-profit organization is to teach the workers their rights, and to walk them through issues they face at work. The idea is that after one worker knows how to handle a certain situation, he or she can help someone else going through a similar issue.

Delavega said the day laborers are basically independent contractors. The Latinos who create and sell things from their homes are starting their own businesses. Entrepreneurs and small business owners are necessary for a strong economy.

“We [Latinos] are a very big market, and in general Latinos are small business owners,” Delavega said.

The problem, according to Delavega, is that a majority of Latino small businesses are hidden because many of the owners can’t afford store fronts. Without visible store fronts, the businesses aren’t counted- the businesses and owners are therefore, invisible in the census.

In order to make enough tamales for the weekend, Lopez makes buckets full of dough. This is an all-day process for Lopez, but she has a system of working in order to be time-efficient.

In order to make enough tamales for the weekend, Lopez makes buckets full of dough. This is an all-day process for Lopez, but she has a system of working in order to be time-efficient.

Once the business owners save enough money, they’re able to buy small lots and create store fronts for their businesses.

To make this process happen more quickly and to allow these businesses reflect in data censuses, Delevaga said that there needs to be a way to provide small loans to Latinos to start their own businesses.

“We need a Latino office [in city government] that looks at promoting small businesses for Latinos,” Delavega said. “It’s all about providing small loans for those businesses. What you will see is that Latino poverty will go down over time and the middle class in Memphis will be increasingly formed by the Latino community.”

Right now, Delavega said that Memphis is at the front end of this growth, so now is the best time to starting putting these ideas into action.

“This is just the beginning,” Delavega said. “The Latino community will save Memphis financially.”

Small businesses are the backbone of the free market economy Delavega said. By providing small loans to the Latino community to create small businesses, the community would be able to thrive and give support to the growing middle class in Memphis.

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About the Author

Anna Joy Batchelor

Anna Joy Batchelor speaks almost fluent Spanish and loves traveling. She recently returned home from spending her summer in Costa Rica. During her time away from school, Anna Joy has traveled to several Central American countries learning the language, absorbing the culture and working along-side people in those countries. Anna Joy had internships with the Memphis Tiger Network and with Life Choices. She had stories published in the Daily Helmsman and the Lone Grove Ledger in Lone Grove, Oklahoma. She grew up in Memphis and will graduate in December with a double major in Spanish and broadcast journalism.

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