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Culture creates community: Why businesses closing affects more than the economy

hispanic vendors
Posted at 10:44 AM, Oct 04, 2021

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — The smell within Lada Ladies food truck will make your mouth water. For a second, your senses are transported to Mexico, but then you realize this food fusion goes beyond that.

Enchiladas have always held a special place in Elaine Lira-Dean's heart, and her sister's, Sandra. They are the co-owners of Lada Ladies. When opening Lada Ladies Food Truck, they knew their business needed to tell their story.

“So, we took the traditional enchilada and we started making bowls, we started making plates, we started putting sauce on our quesadillas and everything is enchilada style on our food truck," Lira-Dean said. “We’re actually second-generation Mexican American, so our parents were born here but their parents were born in Mexico. Our parents were grown up and raised to be more American. They were told don’t speak Spanish, go to school, educate yourself, read, learn how to read. It was frowned upon to speak Spanish. We didn’t learn Spanish until we grew up. My sister learned it when she was cooking in the kitchen with the line cooks who spoke nothing but Spanish. Having those experiences in our lives it really hit us hard, like what are we doing, why are we erasing this? If anything, we should be promoting it, we should not be hiding from it or looking down upon it.”

Mexican flavors with American ways of cooking. Mexican staples with American styles. Two languages are highlighted on one menu.

“Having that history and growing up with those, I guess, types of Mexican foods, and then incorporating the American part of it," Lira-Dean said.

Lada Ladies is just one example of the thousands of Hispanic businesses throughout the country, introducing their culture to the community.

The latest estimates from the U.S. Census 2019 annual business survey show Hispanic-owned businesses made up about 5.8% of all businesses. They had an estimated $455.6 billion in annual receipts and about 3 million employees.

“You can learn so much from each other. I mean we learn the American way and they can learn the Mexican way," Lira-Dean said.

San Antonio shows us what can happen when a city embraces the cultures within it.

“San Antonio is known for Hispanic culture, it is," Lira-Dean said.

Emma Hernandez with the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce says the cultural fusion can help cities form a unique identity.

“What we want to be an example of for the country at large is really making sure is our Hispanic businesses, Hispanic-owned businesses and Hispanic community are in the mainstream. They're not just having a seat at the table, they are the table," Hernandez said. “So, when businesses that are locally-owned that have historically been her for generations close down, what that really does is it impacts the very nature of the city.”

"It’s embraced here so if it were gone, I don’t know what San Antonio would be like," Lira-Dean said.

San Antonio is an exception. While 5.8% of U.S. businesses are Hispanic-owned, Hispanics make up nearly 20% of the country, which is another reason families like these take their jobs so seriously.

“We are very proud to be Mexican American entrepreneurs," Lira-Dean said. “It’s not just, oh we’re a food truck. We also come with a story, we also come with a reason behind why we do things.”

“Everyone’s watching out for each other, wanting to make sure that their neighbors are succeeding, and having all of the resources that they can and that’s really coming from, I believe, that Hispanic culture," Hernandez said.