Fruits With a Hint of Oaxaca

Irma Sanchez, a Latino immigrant, shares her experience as a businesswoman.

Fruits With a Hint of Oaxaca
Irma Sanchez and her family.
Foto: Suministrada

Irma Sanchez always wanted to have her own business.

When she was a child, in her native Oaxaca, she used to think about possible businesses that would help her family. Her first business venture was at the age of 14, inspired by her father’s job.

“My dad knew how to prepare pork meat very well and I convinced him to begin a business as a pork butcher,” she recalled. “As my mother did not know how to read and do math, I was in charge of the business operation. We began with one pig on the first day and ended up selling everything,” she said.

Sanchez worked with her family for many years until she decided to leave Oaxaca, in 1993, to join her fiancé, Pedro Cruz, who had been waiting for her in the United States since 1987. Cruz is her current husband and father to her four children.

“I was 23 when I moved to Los Angeles in 1993. Pedro worked in a restaurant and I stayed in our little apartment. But I had been working all day in the pork shop we had in Oaxaca and I did not like the idea of doing nothing,” she recalled.

It was then when Cruz thought of starting his own business.

“We saw a pickup truck that sold fruits and he asked me if I wanted to do so. I did not know English or how to drive, but I loved the idea,” she said. The couple bought their first pickup truck and Cruz added a back compartment and a door to one of the sides.

It was not easy at the beginning but the couple never gave up, turning each experience into a lesson. Among other things, the couple had to learn where to buy the merchandise and the streets to park to sell them. They began at 5 a.m. very day, filling the pickup truck to drive around the streets of Hollywood, looking for a spot where to park.

Once parked, Cruz headed to his job at the restaurant and Sanchez stayed in the pickup truck until after 5 p.m., when he came back from his job and brought her something to eat. Then, they drove another couple of hours, trying to sell a little more.

“I tried not to eat or drink anything during the day to avoid going to the bathroom,” said Sanchez. When she had to move the pickup truck from that spot, she asked the neighbors if they could park the vehicle somewhere else.

“I spent the whole day and sometimes only two people bought something. The merchandise used to spoil. And if it rained, the truck filled up with water,” she said. “They were difficult times, but I would do it again,” said Sanchez.

Over the months, she began to see the fruits of their sacrifice. From getting $7 a day, the couple started to earn $800 daily. In a few years, they had four pickup trucks, driven by their own employees.

But street vending was not easy. Sanchez said that police and inspectors used to get there frequently, and that some apartment managers told them to move the truck from that place. Besides, other street vendors used to threaten Cruz with beating him if he stayed in the area, and tried to boycott their sales.

It was then that they decided to rent their first place in Santa Monica Boulevard, in Hollywood. It was the beginning of La Oaxaqueña Juices, a store to sell natural juices and smoothies. It was the first of other two stores that would be opened over the years.

“I believe that we are already born with the inclination to be a businessperson. We are people who enjoy independence, who want to work for ourselves”, said Irma. “Some people come to our store and say to me, `To have a business is going through martyrdom. I had a store and I sold it, but I do not see it like that”, she added.

According to Irma, It is necessary to love what you do in order to succeed. She also recommends being patient, to learn to wait and to understand that profits will not come from one day to the next.

“I still feel the same love I had when I began. I have not got bored after so many years. My work and my customers make me happy,” she said.