Hispanics in Business: Living the better life • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

Hispanics in Business: Living the better life

Hispanic entrepreneurs drive business growth by following their hearts

Yoloxochitl “Yolo” Lopez DeMarco is one of the many Hispanics in the Region who is taking her financial future into her own hands.

As the world began shutting down at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, she decided to start her own business.

“I saw an opportunity to help local organizations and businesses communicate more effectively about the pandemic,” said the 33-year-old Lopez DeMarco, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico. “I started providing translation services, from English to Spanish.”

Her company is among the 5 million Latino/Hispanic-owned businesses nationwide generating more than $800 billion in annual revenue, according to a report by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

The report shows that nearly 25 percent of entrepreneurs in 2021 were Latino/Hispanic. The U.S. Census Bureau, meanwhile, shows the number of Hispanic small businesses increased by more than 8 percent between 2020 and 2021.

In Indiana, Hispanics own 4 percent of businesses, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2022 Small Business Profile. A 2023 report by Purdue University shows Latinos increasing in population throughout the state, especially in northern and central Indiana.

VP of Strategic Planning Meeting at IUN
Symphony Raudry, Jennifer Rines and Susana Batres of IUN show T-shirts touting Indiana University Northwest’s designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution during a strategic planning meeting in October in Gary. (Photo by Tome Trajkovski/Indiana University)

In 2000, Lake County led the way among Indiana’s 92 counties with the most Hispanics at 59,128 and by percentage of the total population at 12.2 percent.

Lake County, home to East Chicago, Hammond and Gary, has historically attracted Latinos since the early 1900s, first with Mexicans during the Mexican Revolution, then in the 1950s with waves of Puerto Ricans, all looking to fill positions in manufacturing.

In 2000, Marion County, which includes Indianapolis, had 33,000 Hispanics, comprising 3.9 percent of the county’s total population.

As of 2020, Marion County was home to the highest number of Latinos at 129,000, with Lake County at just under 100,000, according to the Purdue report. Lake County still has the highest percentage of Latinos at 20 percent of the total population, with Marion County ranking sixth statewide at 13 percent.

The counties of Elkhart, Porter, St. Joseph and La Porte have all seen significant gains in Latino population over the past 20 years, which is why there’s a need for businesses to not only cater to Latinos but understand the culture and language.

Noe Najera of Notre Dame Federal Credit Union moved to the Michiana area 22 years ago.

“Our Hispanic population has grown phenomenally,” he said. “We are the fastest growing population in the state of Indiana, and we’re having an impact.”

His parents immigrated from Mexico.

“What’s really cool is that we don’t lose our culture,” Najera said. “I love keeping our culture alive, like our family history, the customs that we have that our parents taught us and that we bring over.”

Lopez DeMarco and Najera are two of the seven Hispanics in Business featured here who are leading the way in Northern Indiana. All are succeeding in business and in their communities. Here are their stories:

Yoloxochitl Lopez DeMarco

Yolo Vox

Yoloxochitl Lopez DeMarco, Yolo Vox
Yoloxochitl Lopez DeMarco

Lopez DeMarco is the founder and owner of Goshen-based Yolo Vox, a Hispanic marketing and advertising company that helps companies tap into the Hispanic market.

“Most of my clients are large companies: Hospital systems, financial and educational institutions that want something beyond translated materials,” said Lopez DeMarco, a former TV and radio journalist and a graduate of Goshen College.

She said her company is unique because they help clients understand their potential customers.

“We don’t just translate something,” she said. “We really dive into making an impactful message with nuances and cultural awareness.”

The explosion of the Hispanic community in Goshen forced local governments to scramble to communicate with them, especially during the pandemic. Lopez DeMarco produced an outreach program for the Elkhart County Health Department to reach Spanish-speaking residents. But it was more than just translating English into Spanish, she said.

“It’s not always correct just to translate the American message into Spanish because the Hispanic community is very different, very warm, very emotional,” she said. “We created a marketing campaign in Spanish around protecting your family. That’s where the knowledge of our culture comes into play, and it’s important that companies consider a customized theme and not just say, ‘OK, it’s in Spanish; we’re good.’”

Noe Najera

Notre Dame Federal Credit Union

Noe Najera
Noe Najera

Najera says he is “an accidental banker.” His first love was baseball.

He played minor league baseball with the Cleveland Guardians (formerly the Indians) organization.

“I went to school to study finance and economics because I thought that one day I was going to make millions of dollars, and I wanted to not be like a lot of athletes that waste their money,” said Najera, who grew up in southern California.

“Because we grew up very humble with immigrant parents, we wanted to make sure that with every nickel we learned to save,” Najera said. “I knew that I was going to be successful somewhere. I wanted to make sure I managed my money.”

When Najera’s playing days were over, he knew he wanted to stay in baseball somehow. He started working for a minor league baseball team owned by the San Diego Padres in Lake Elsinore, California.

“I used to run their marketing for them. I used to sell baseball to companies,” Najera said. “I would work with community banks, credit unions, factories, any manufacturing that would offer the whole packages of renting for your company picnic.”

After a year, the team was sold and then shut down. Najera became a free agent and marketed his talents to the clients he used to sell baseball to.

He then worked for a credit union in Riverside, California. The owner had ties to the South Bend area. Najera went to southwest Michigan to set up a finance program at a credit union there but eventually made his way to Michigan City and then South Bend. That was 22 years ago.

“I had two children at the time,” Najera said. “I did not want to live in a major metropolitan area. I wanted to be in a more rural, more family and community oriented. We ended up staying here.”

Najera spent several years with Horizon Bank before joining Notre Dame Federal Credit Union in November 2023.

Najera said Notre Dame Federal Credit Union is the largest Catholic, faith-based financial institution in the country.

“We’re proud of that. We don’t shy away from the dome,” Najera said.

Najera said the credit union does its best to assist Latino immigrants and migrant workers.

“I think that any immigrant that comes to this country, they want a better life,” Najera said. “That’s why my parents came here because they wanted an opportunity to provide for the children. I’m living proof of that.”

Patricia Carrillo

Blushy Behavior

Patricia Carrillo, Blushy Behavior
Patricia Carrillo

Trish Carrillo said she was an entrepreneur before she became one.

Originally from Boston, the 50-year-old Puerto Rican businesswoman now calls St. John home. She’s a maker of homemade candles, customized T-shirts and an independent hairstylist whose culture plays a part in everything she does.

“I service a diverse number of clients, and I’ve been doing this for over 20 years,” Carrillo said. She doesn’t sell just one or two candles.

“I get a lot of people that want me to make 60 candles for a birthday party or candle molds for an anniversary party or a wedding,” Carrillo said. “My homemade candles smell better than anyone else’s.”

By making homemade candles, Carrillo said she controls what goes in them.

“They are freshly made. They are handmade, which means I get to control the actual fragrance. When you burn my candle, it’s going to last longer, and it’s going to have a very rich scent,” Carrillo said. “I use wax that is not harmful to the environment or harmful to you. It’s better than anything else you’re going to buy in the store.”

Customizing her products is an expression of her creativity.

“I get to put my little flair on it,” she said. “… And sometimes I do that through my cultural roots. My candles are made customized to you. You get to decide on the scent. It’s more personalized. You can go to Amazon or Target and buy a candle, but they are all going to be the same.

“When you want something unique and different and personalized, you come to me.”

Carillo also makes personalized T-shirts, geared toward Latinas. She once owned a salon in Schererville but now does hairstyling independently. She began styling hair when she was in college.

She also has a business philosophy.

“It’s a hustle,” Carillo said. “It’s a way of figuring out how to do something that you love and that you’re passionate about. And also making money.”

She also has cultural freedom working for herself.

“Being an entrepreneur has allowed me to embrace my Latino heritage,” she said.

Michael Gonzalez

Steel Shores Media

Michael Gonzalez, Steel Shores Media
Michael Gonzalez

After nearly three decades as a newspaper reporter in Northwest Indiana, Michael Gonzalez felt it was time to venture out on his own.

Now, instead of covering the news, he helps his clients tell their own stories.

“I saw a need for government agencies and smaller nonprofits to get their messages out and to deal with the media,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez launched Steel Shores Media in 2019. Lake Station is his home.

“It became more and more clear to me that government agencies and nonprofits needed help with messaging and reaching out to the media to share their stories,” Gonzalez said. “And I realized that I had the experience to help them.”

Gonzalez has represented clients such as the cities of Gary and Portage, both in Indiana, and several local tourism bureaus.

A current client is United Way of Northwest Indiana.

“Nonprofits and governments have a story to tell,” Gonzalez said. “It’s an important story, and they shouldn’t have to gamble thousands of dollars on public relations agencies that may or may not hit for them.”

Gonzalez isn’t just using his knowledge to assist his clients, he’s teaching them his craft too.

His program is called “Best Nonprofit PR Method.”

“The idea is that most nonprofits can do this on their own with a little bit of extra guidance,” Gonzalez said.

Starting in May, Gonzalez said he planned to launch a website with several do-it-yourself courses for nonprofits.

“We are launching what is called ‘coaching cohorts’ where you can get actual coaching every week on the steps that are part of his process,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said he does work with some smaller and larger clients.

“Part of the company serves more established nonprofits. Different agencies have different needs, and we’re trying to meet those needs,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said there aren’t many Latinos in public relations in Northern Indiana. He recommends those looking to start a business and/or public relations to seek a mentor.

“Don’t be afraid to try. Don’t be afraid to think differently,” Gonzalez said. “I had to overcome the fear of rejection and of the unknown.”

Gladys Reynoso

Beautiful Hair & Sky Day Spa

Gladys Reynoso, Beautiful Hair & Sky Day Spa
Gladys Reynoso

Gladys Reynoso doesn’t quite remember why she decided to go into business for herself nearly four decades ago.

“Probably from working with other people. Then, one day, you just say it’s time for me,” Reynoso said. “You get tired of bosses treating you with a lack of respect.”

A native of Puerto Rico, Reynoso arrived in the U.S. with her father at the age of 3 not knowing a word of English.

“My father came over here (Northwest Indiana) for a job. He met a lady and left me there with her,” Reynoso said. “She raised me to the best of her ability. It was considered a foster home.”

Reynoso found herself living in another foster home before ending up at the Mayflower Home for Girls in Hammond.

“I’m telling you that was the best thing that ever happened to me. I had great mentors and 14 sisters. It was wonderful. Great house mothers. And that’s where I got my start in the beauty world. The director, may she rest in peace, saw something in me,” said Reynoso, a graduate of the former Hammond Tech High School.

Reynoso said opening Beautiful Hair & Sky Day Spa in Portage didn’t scare her.

“I was not intimidated. I was ready for the responsibility,” she said. “To this day, I really enjoy doing hair. I do manicures, pedicures. I do facials. I pretty much do it all.”

Despite new hair salons and spas opening, Reynoso doesn’t see them as competition.

“Our professionalism is a lot better than maybe some of them. I believe in giving the client what they’re looking for,” Reynoso said.

Reynoso also believes in finding a mentor for those new to the industry and continuing to learn through education. In the end, Reynoso, who spent much of her early years living on a farm in Puerto Rico and having little money, says life is what you make it.

“Every journey is a tough journey. It’s all up to you to make that journey happen. And here in the United States of America, which I love, you have opportunities, but it has to be up to you — whether you’re Latino, Black, white, whatever,” Reynoso said. “It’s up to you to succeed.”

Doreen Gonzalez Gaboyan

Industry Workforce Solutions

Doreen Gonzalez Gaboyan, Industry Workforce Solutions
Doreen Gonzalez Gaboyan

Gonzalez Gaboyan launched a cybersecurity business in 2020 after hearing about many Hispanics who missed opportunities to expand their businesses.

“We launched the business in 2020 after seeing we had so many gaps in cybersecurity readiness,” she said. “The readiness was having an effect on companies’ abilities to compete for federal contracting, and actually, any kind of contracting,” said Gonzalez Gaboyan, owner of Industry Workforce Solutions in Crown Point.

Before opening her business, Gonzalez Gaboyan spent 15 years working with Purdue University in several capacities at both its Northwest Indiana and West Lafayette campuses. Before 2019, she was the assistant director of minority and women engagement and development for Purdue in West Lafayette for seven years.

At Purdue, she ran its cybersecurity apprenticeship program, recruiting minorities and women into its cybersecurity education program — the perfect training and experience for opening her own firm.

“What we want to do is make sure we can work with small and medium-sized businesses, primarily minority and women-owned businesses, to help them thrive in awareness and cybersecurity,” Gonzalez Gaboyan said. “We help them learn what cybersecurity readiness is, so they’re prepared and ready to compete, and to do business with the government as well as corporations.”

Gonzalez Gaboyan said she’s managed to thrive in an industry where there are few women-owned businesses, and even fewer Latina-owned businesses.

“There’s been no pushback for what I’m doing. It is quite the opposite., Gonzalez Gaboyan said. “I’m dealing with a lot of large corporations that look to the program to help understand their supply chain readiness.”

That, she said is a bigger barrier than being Latina. But she concedes that she is unique to her industry.

“It’s difficult for minority companies to break barriers in cybersecurity. … We’ve built an ecosystem which I think is the shining star,” she said. “My motto is: ‘The only barriers are those that you place on yourself.’”

Gonzalez Gaboyan, who is both Mexican and Irish, got her work ethic from her father. He worked for Inland Steel Co. in East Chicago for 35 years. He encouraged her to venture off on her own.

“I was born in the Region, working in Chicago for 15 years before going to the university,” Gonzalez Gaboyan said. “My dad said to me, ‘It’s about time that you launch (your business) to help minorities.”

She said he thought she should share what she learned at PNW.

“He said, ‘It’s about time because with all that knowledge that you gained from university, you can’t just keep giving it to them. You need to give it to somebody else now.’”

Edward Garza

El Popular Inc.

Edward Garza, El Popular Inc.
Edward Garza

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 20 percent of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 45 percent during the first five years and 65 percent within 10 years of opening.

El Popular has not only defied the odds, but it’s also done so for nearly 100 years.

El Popular, makers of authentic Mexican chorizo, got its start in 1925 in East Chicago, making it the oldest Hispanic-owned business in Indiana.

“My grandfather migrated from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, in the early 1920s. This is back when they were looking for people to work in the mills,” said Edward Garza, grandson of Vicente Garza, who started the business. “He saw there was a need for the more native foods of the Mexican people.”

Vicente Garza was born in 1890. He immigrated to the U.S. when he was in his early 20s.

During this time, Vicente Garza began manufacturing a line of Mexican chorizo, a kind of spicy sausage, and other products. His wife and their four sons and three daughters all helped with the wholesale Mexican food business.

“The whole family got involved, but the sons were more involved,” Edward Garza said.

In 1968, Vicente Garza died and left the operation of the company to his four sons, with Edward Garza’s father, Richard, eventually becoming the sole owner in 1981.

“My father, my brother (Richard Jr.) and I helped my father run the business up until 2002,” Edward Garza said. “We were still a wholesale food business. We sold about 400 to 500 items.”

In 2002, Edward Garza took over as the sole owner. That’s when he decided to focus on the company’s main products: chorizo, molé and chocolate.

“We were more of a Northwest Indiana-Chicagoland area company. My goal was to become a national company,” Edward Garza said. “Today, we are not only national, but we also sell internationally.”

The company opened a U.S.D.A. meat plant in Valparaiso to process the chorizo, which can be found in major grocery chains throughout the Chicago area and beyond and come in a variety of ways: pork, chicken, beef or vegetarian.

Today, the company is operated by four generations of the Garza family, while Edward’s father, Richard, remains active at age 95.

“The one thing that I wanted to make sure I never lost touch with was the core items that my grandfather started.”

Resources

Many organizations in the Region focus on helping Hispanic entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. They provide education, mentorship and opportunities for networking. Here is a short list:

Hispanic Alliance of Career Enhancement

Website: haceonline.org

Hispanic Association of Small Businesses

Website: www.hasb.org

Hispanic Retail Chamber of Commerce

Website: hispanicretailchamber.org

IUN’s Small Business Institute

Website: northwest.iu.edu/business/business-community/index.html

Latin American Chamber of Commerce

Website: laccsjc.org

Latinas Think Big

Website: latinasthinkbig.com

Latino Business Support Network

Website: www.latinobusinesssupportnetwork.org

Minority Business Development Agency, DOC

Website: www.mbda.gov

NWI BizHub

Website: nwibizhub.com

NWI Small Business Development Center

Website: isbdc.org/locations/northwest-indiana-sbdc

PNW Office of Hispanic Serving Institution Initiatives

Website: www.pnw.edu/student-life/inclusive-and-welcoming-pnw/office-of-hispanic-serving-institution-initiatives/

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Website: www.ushcc.com

Read more stories from the current issue of Northwest Indiana Business Magazine.

Author

  • Michael Puente

    Michael Puente works full time for WBEZ 91.5 FM Chicago Public Radio. He covers politics, environment and features in Northwest Indiana, southwest Michigan and Chicago’s South Side. For 11 years, Michael wrote for the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana. Michael also spent two years writing for the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill., covering Chicago’s northwest suburbs. Michael is a contributing writer for Cafe Latino Lifestyles Magazine in Chicago and an adjunct faculty instructor at Calumet College of St. Joseph in Hammond.

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