When I was a child, my biggest influence was my father, Jesus Leonardo. My father set a wonderful example for his two children. He was a business man and a true visionary. He inspired me with his incredible drive and strong work ethic. I always wanted to follow in his footsteps and become an entrepreneur.
During my childhood in Mexico, it was instilled into me that respecting and honoring your father and your husband is very important. In our culture, there is deep meaning in this. It helps hold the family together. At the same time, it's not easy for women in our culture to find themselves. You have to learn to believe not only in your father and your husband, but also to believe in yourself.
Years ago, my husband Salud dreamed of starting his own business. He has always had a passion for traditional Mexican dishes, and was intrigued by chorizo, a savory Mexican sausage. He worked hard to research and perfect the recipe, and shared his final product with me. It was exquisite, the best chorizo I had ever tasted.
During that time, I stayed in the background and helped from the sidelines, which is common for women. I was happy to support him and watch his ideas grow.
Then, in 2011, we met Adelante Mujeres. Salud enrolled in their Empresas Small Business class and he learned so much about how to run a business. Adelante Mujeres mentored us with one-on-one business coaching as we created a business plan.
With Adelante's support, we launched our business, Don Felipe Products, in 2012. Their business coaches were there every step of the way. They helped us find the start-up capital we needed to grow. And Adelante provided access to a certified commercial kitchen, where we could make bigger batches of chorizo to sell.
In those early years of our business, I still worked my day job. At the same time, there was chorizo to make. I believed in our business, and with Adelante's encouragement, I started to take on a bigger and more active role. I started to find my own voice as an entrepreneur. I started to have my own ideas and to act on them.
We knew how hard it was to build a business from the ground up. I witnessed my father build many businesses from scratch. I still had my job, and the commercial kitchen had limited availability, so we had to make the chorizo in the middle of the night. My husband, our two sons and I would go together and work until 3 in the morning. It was an endless effort of making chorizo and packaging it for sale. We didn't even know what the outcome would be. But we believed in it. I believed in it.
Your support for Adelante Mujeres helped me to grow and it helped our business grow. Today, my involvement in our business has changed. In 2013, I became a leader in our business by coming on full-time. Now, I'm the Chief Operating Officer. I manage sales and meet with potential customers. I lead our work team and oversee production, quality assurance, marketing, and distribution. And I do research on business expansion so we can continue to grow. I am connected to our mission to bring delicious food to our community and I have a better idea of how this fits into my mission and goals.
Today, our business is thriving! We sell at 3 farmers markets and our chorizo is currently found on the shelves of specialty food stores like Green Zebra and World Foods and on the menu of recognized restaurants like Elephants Delicatessen and food service companies like Bon Appetit. My husband and I have many dreams for our business, but thanks to your support, and Adelante, we know we can achieve those dreams.
There is a lot on my shoulders now. But with your support, I'm doing things I never imagined I would be doing. As a woman, we are taught to be humble, to be demure. It's okay for men to talk about themselves, but not for women. It's a challenge to be humble and strong at the same time. At Adelante Mujeres, the amount of learning that takes place on a daily basis has helped me learn to lead with confidence and to use the strength of my voice.
My father passed away in 2011. But he is still present with me today, especially when I'm feeling challenged. Then I remember how he handled things and I try to do the same. I think he's proud of me now, but also knows I can do more.
I can say that I am proud of myself. I've become a strong woman. I am a survivor. It's important for me to say it and to claim it.
And isn't that what we need today? Individuals and communities, women and immigrants who are proud to be who they are and have the courage to lead? I believe it is.
Angelica Pizano of Hillsboro is an entrepreneur and a leader in her family business. She shared her story at Fiesta of Hope, an event sponsored annually by Forest Grove nonprofit Adelante Mujeres, in April.