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Tania Molina, the architect who left her career for her chocolate dream

 Tania Molina is the founder and CEO of Villakuyaya Organic Dark Chocolate. Originally an architect by profession, Tania shifted her career in 2014 with the entrepreneurial dream to create her own chocolate brand. Drawing on her Ecuadorian roots, Tania created Villakuyaya with quality ingredients and sustainable practices as her guiding goals. 

Family and culture are at the heart of Villakuyaya chocolate 

Known for having some of the best quality cacao in the world, Ecuador is at the heart of Tania’s business. Her family and heritage play a huge role in Villakuyaya

“My home and  heart is always Ecuador, and Quito where I was born and resided. Now, I have found my family and my  new home is Rockland County, New York, where I manage my business in-between changing diapers and  teaching my son potty-training. In every chocolate bar and story I get to tell to my customers though, the chocolate and the heart of the business is and always will be Ecuadorian,” says Tania. 

Tania’s passion for chocolate-making and experimenting with flavors came from her grandmother, Juana, who had a natural gift with seeds, plants, and herbs. Tania remembers fond memories and experiences with her grandmother and cacao: memories of eating the cacao seed pulp, toasting in the crock, and the cacao powder with the hot milk. These memories remind Tania of her grandmother’s kindness, her love for her grandchildren, and her respect for nature–virtues that Tania has embedded into her business. 

“The heart of the business is and always will be Ecuadorian.” (Photo courtesy Tania Molina)

And Villakuyaya is very much a family business at heart. 

“My ‘employees’  are my husband, mother and father. We’ve traveled to do chocolate shows in Washington D.C., Seattle, London,  Amsterdam, Paris and other places. It’s not money or profit that’s the success, but it’s more about longevity, expanding the brand further, and sharing my chocolate with more people who will love it,” says Tania. “And  now, with my son, I would love to maintain the business and be able to tell him many years from now that mommy was able to survive and succeed in the business, and would love for him to be a part of it with us.”

You might be interested: Maya Jacquez shares Mexican food culture and heritage through The Pinole Project 

Defining success and offering a helping hand 

For Tania, success is about far more than just profit. Every sale makes a difference, and every repeat customer is a blessing and a joy. 

Villakuyaya

Success is about far more than just profit. Every sale makes a difference, and every repeat customer is a blessing and a joy. (Photo courtesy Tania Molina)

When she first began her journey into the chocolate industry, everything was new and Tania had to learn the ins and outs of the industry “on the fly.” There were many bumps along the way as she learned all about chocolate from cacao farmers in Ecuador, managing sustainability and quality, as well as the manufacturing aspects such as packaging, order requirements, importation and exportation taxes, and  USDA requirements on packaging. Deciding to focus on the US marketplace also posed a challenge at the time for Tania, who had only visited the country a handful of times. 

“Over time, after I reevaluated all my real goals for the  company, I was able to visualize everything in a way where I could raise my company into the black, all  the while learning about the industry, market and trends in the chocolate business. Of course, and then  Covid-19 happened, which gave the entire industry a massive challenge just to stay afloat.” 

However, despite the struggles early on, Tania continued with her dream. Now, after many years in the industry, Tania has learned many valuable lessons and knows what to expect. Her greatest strength is her vibrant personality and the quality and variety of her chocolate, she says. 

“I love to meet people at chocolate shows or events and talk about chocolate making, the business or what made me make a chocolate bar flavor the way that  I did. It’s a tough business, very competitive and also filled with nice people with big dreams.”  

Tania remembers her first chocolate show in the United States and how the kindness of a stranger saved her that day. 

“My mother, father, and I spent the whole week preparing everything for that day. We made a checklist of everything we would need, and when the day arrived we forgot the tablecloths! I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh, but I always seemed  to have an angel next to me, and this time a very kind Latin lady helped me with tablecloths and other things that I forgot. Amazing kindness from a stranger, but as you learn everyone is in the same boat at these shows and understands each other.” 

Villakuyaya

Chocolate shows with the whole family. (Photo courtesy Tania Molina)

Offering a helping hand to others is sometimes the best thing you can do for someone else. Each entrepreneur knows how challenging and lonely the journey can be at times. For those starting out, seeking others and gathering the necessary tools and knowledge is the first step toward success. 

“Over the last 5 years or so, I think women have  come together to help support and protect each other more than ever before, and to help give each of us  an opportunity to succeed,” says Tania. “I would advise new entrepreneurs to make a business plan, take their time, do research and learn all the angles and  then jump in over prepared for a slow start. It’s not just the company or the career itself, but  also the tools around the company that make it successful.” 

In 2021, there are many ways to gain information and resources for new business owners and entrepreneurs, from YouTube videos, conferences and workshops, mentorship, and guidance from other businesses.

“Take that advice and help, and good luck to all of us wonderful women and  to our dreams.”

Monica Olivera shares resources for Hispanic families homeschooling post-pandemic

Monica Olivera is an author, a freelance education writer/materials creator, and founder of the educational resources site MommyMaestra.com where she focuses on resources for Hispanic homeschoolers, bilingual educators, and parents who simply want to be more involved in their children’s education. 

She has been writing about education for the last decade with a special emphasis on education for Hispanic families and bilingual education. Her articles have appeared on sites such as NBC.com, PBS Parents, and Woo! Jr. 

Hispanic heritage, homeschooling, and building a business 

Homeschooling has been a popular topic in the past year since the Covid-19 pandemic swept the globe and schools shut down long-term. Virtual learning became a divisive topic, with many parents expressing frustration with homeschooling while other parents readily embraced the change. 

According to a recent article from the Washington Post, the percentage of children in homeschooling has nearly tripled since mid-2019. The U.S. Census Bureau found that as of May 2021, more than 1 out of every 12 students is being homeschooled. 

Monica Olivera, author, a freelance education writer/materials creator, and founder of MommyMaestra.com (Photo courtesy Monica Olivera)

For Monica, her journey in the world of homeschooling began long before the pandemic, nearly a decade ago. Her choice to homeschool her young children was spurred by her desire to share her Hispanic heritage with her children and give them a culturally diverse curriculum that public schools were lacking. 

After moving to a small farming community away from family, Monica wished to nurture her children’s knowledge of Hispanic heritage and culture but struggled to find resources. She never planned to homeschool her children, but living in a failed school district where the state had closed one school and taken over the other, homeschooling seemed like the only option available. 

“I was terrified,” Monica said. “But I quickly grew to love it and realized that it provided the perfect opportunity to teach my kids about their heritage.” 

When searching for resources for Hispanic homeschoolers online proved to be difficult, Monica decided to start her own blog as a way to share what she was finding with other Hispanic homeschooling families. Soon, she began creating her own downloadable materials and her unexpected business took off.

“The cultural experiences of my childhood completely shaped my business. I wanted to pass on my heritage to my own children, and that passion grew until I one day realized that I didn’t want a great education with an emphasis on heritage just for my kids, but for all Hispanic children,” said Monica. 

Over the years, Monica has expanded her knowledge and appreciation beyond her own Spanish Mexican American heritage to encompass all Hispanic cultures and share the beauty of Hispanic heritage with a greater audience. 

“I love learning about and creating materials about other Spanish-speaking countries and cultures,” she said. “Helping children learn about and embrace their family’s heritage benefits everyone. Teaching non-Hispanic children about the culture also nurtures appreciation and breaks down stereotypes.”

MommyMaestra.com provides hundreds of resources for Hispanic homeschooling families.

Why homeschooling increased during the pandemic 

For parents who have recently embraced homeschooling due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there are a variety of factors that led to their choice, the pandemic of course being the most prominent one. 

However, while homeschooling has been most commonly found among White, religious families in the past, the recent increase in homeschooling has been seen among Black, Latino, and Asian families. For Black and Latino students, the homeschooling rate of increase has been dramatic. Between 2019 and May 2021 the homeschooling rate went from 1 percent to 8 percent for Black students and from 2 percent to 9 percent for Hispanic students, the Washington Post reported. 

This jump was influenced by more than just the pandemic. Other factors such as racism, discrimination, and a lack of cultural diversity in school curriculums influenced parents in their decision to homeschool their children full-time. 

You might be interested: So-called ‘good’ suburban schools often require trade-offs for Latino students

Many parents, like Monica, were inspired to use homeschooling as an opportunity to teach their children about their culture and heritage and provide them with a less biased curriculum. For many, the pandemic was simply the catalyst they needed to take the plunge into homeschooling. 

The Latino Family’s Guide to Homeschooling is a comprehensive guide to help families get started on their homeschooling journeys. (Photo courtesy Monica Olivera)

“I wrote my first book – The Latino Family’s Guide to Homeschooling – completely unaware that a pandemic was coming,” Monica shared. “When Covid hit, Hispanic families began flocking to homeschooling, especially when they realized that it was an opportunity to nurture their children’s bilingualism.” 

Monica’s book and printable downloads of reading passages, games, and activities that feature Hispanic figures, holidays, and traditions have been sought after by families across the country. 

Creating a community for Hispanic homeschooling families 

As more and more families embark on their homeschooling journeys, Monica’s resources continue to provide Hispanic families with the necessary tools to navigate homeschooling with ease. 

It’s never too early to start homeschooling. This guide helps caregivers homeschool the youngest of students. (Photo courtesy Monica Olivera)

For Monica, each of her own successes in her business means children across the country are learning to appreciate the beauty of Hispanic cultures and to be proud of their heritage. 

“I know that by helping parents help their kids, I’m helping individuals and families succeed and be happy,” she said. 

“I think what I love most about my business is reading the testimonials/reviews made by people who use my education materials. I also love hearing from parents and educators who write to me asking for help or guidance to find materials or asking where to start with homeschooling. I’m especially proud of the active Hispanic & Bilingual Homeschoolers group that I started on Facebook. There are so many great parents helping each other in that group.” 

When Monica started out, she was alone searching for resources to help teach her children. Now, a decade later, Monica has built a community for Hispanic homeschooling families to share and grow. 

For those who are at the beginning of their own journeys as homeschooling parents or entrepreneurs, Monica encourages that you continue to persist. 

“It’s okay to get discouraged from time to time. And you will most likely have days that you consider giving up. But if you believe in yourself and what you can do – especially if others try to convince you otherwise – you can achieve greatness. Always be honest and always help others. It will come back to you in abundance.”

Hispanic Heritage Month: Celebrating and honoring the contributions of Hispanic Americans

Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated each year from September 15th to October 15th in the United States. The month is a celebration of Hispanic Heritage and  a time to recognize and honor the contributions of Hispanic Americans in the nation’s history, culture, and achievements. 

The history and why we celebrate 

National Hispanic Heritage Month began in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson.  Twenty years later in 1988 it was expanded to cover a 30-day period by President Ronald Reagan. 

Many who are unfamiliar with Hispanic Heritage Month often wonder why the celebration begins in the middle of September rather than at the beginning. September 15th was chosen as the start date to recognize and commemorate the anniversary of  the independence day for various Latin American countries. 

September 15th marks the independence of five Hispanic countries who declared their independence in 1821: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Additionally, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16th and September 18th, respectively. 

Hispanic Heritage Month

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

In addition to recognizing the independence of various Latin American countries, the month is a celebration of Hispanic accomplishment. We celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month as a reminder of all that Hispanic Americans have achieved and helped shape the nation. 

“Our communities are represented by Hispanic elected officials, and our children are taught by Hispanic teachers.  Our future will be shaped by Hispanic engineers who are working to develop new technology that will help us grasp our clean energy future and by the skilled union workers who are going to build it,” said President Biden in White House proclamation

The U.S. Hispanic population is a powerhouse that continues to grow to new heights. According to the 2020 census data, the Hispanic population reached 62.1 million, or 18.7% of the total population in 2020. Additionally, the 2020 State of Latino Entrepreneurship Report conducted by Stanford Graduate School of Business in collaboration with the Latino Business Action Network revealed that the number of Latino-owned businesses has grown 34% over the last 10 years compared to just 1% for all other small businesses. Were it not for the growth in the number of Latino-owned firms, the total number of small businesses in the U.S. would actually have declined between 2007 and 2012.

“National Hispanic Heritage Month is an important reminder of how much strength we draw as a Nation from our immigrant roots and our values as a Nation of immigrants,” President Biden continued. 

Ways to observe Hispanic Heritage Month 

Hispanic Heritage Month can be observed in many ways. As a celebration of culture and history, individuals can honor the month by engaging with Hispanic created content such as books, films, music, and more. The National Hispanic Heritage Month website, hosted by The Library of Congress, offers many activities, events, and resources to help celebrate and educate. 

Another way to honor the month is to support Hispanic-owned small businesses. Minority small businesses have suffered the most in the past year due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Many Hispanic-owned businesses struggled to stay afloat or are still struggling. Supporting these businesses helps put money back into the community and honor the work of Hispanic Americans, ensuring that these businesses will continue. 

You might be interested: 10 Books by Latinx authors to read summer 2021 

Hispanic Heritage Month asks us to look around and take in all that Hispanic Americans have achieved, both in history and today. It asks us to remember we are a diverse and extraordinary community. It asks us to be visible and speak our history. We celebrate by remembering. We celebrate by learning. We celebrate by supporting.

Andrea Giraldo celebrates Colombian heritage through coffee

For many, coffee is a ritual. It marks the beginning of a new day. It offers some warmth and comfort before one’s morning commute or provides a moment of peaceful morning meditation and contemplation.

Coffee is also a culture. The culture surrounding coffee-making is rich and meaningful. For countries like Colombia, coffee is not only culture, but a way of life.

To celebrate that lifestyle, Andrea Giraldo set out to create a brand: Giraldo Farms. Specializing in instant coffee blends, Giraldo Farms is a stand-out brand for quality instant coffee, having been ranked number six nationwide by the Huffington Post for best soluble coffee. Made from 100% Colombian coffee imported directly from Colombia, Giraldo Farms values quality as its main focus.

Giraldo Farms Logo

The Colombian Dream

Andre Giraldo, Owner and President of Giraldo Farms.

Born and raised in New York, Andrea spent much of her formative years visiting her parents’ native Colombia. She refers to these early times as her “Latina Development Period.”

“I learned the language, ate the food, and most importantly learned the idiosyncrasy of the culture, which you truly learn when you actually live in another country,” says Andrea.

Later in life, Andrea returned to live out her “Colombian Dream” and plant roots in her family’s native land. She planned to live there the rest of her life. She and her husband settled down and started a family. Andrea took a position as a regional executive director for an internet company. She became immersed in Colombia’s culture and made many connections. She never imagined that her Colombian Dream would come to an abrupt end.

However, in 2003, at the height of the Colombian guerrilla wars, she and her family were forced to relocate back to the U.S.

Celebrating Heritage

Andrea at one of her NYC client’s gourmet store with Giraldo Farms products on Display

The period that followed was a time of adjustment and reevaluations.  Having left behind their careers in Colombia, Andrea and her husband were forced to begin anew.

After much contemplation, the couple realized they could utilize their many connections in Colombia to offer something that would benefit the country they loved so dearly and create a business for them in the U.S.

Together they created A&G Trading Corp, the parent company of Giraldo Farms. Through this company, Andrea consults, represents, and wholesales food products.

Then, after the success of her first company, Andrea conceived another idea: a brand that would fully represent her love and appreciation for her Colombian heritage.

The brand would focus on the touchstone of Colombian culture: coffee.

With the expertise of her husband, an agricultural engineer who knows more about coffee cultivation than most people, the two once again brought together their various connections to create Giraldo Farms.

Soon it became a nostalgic brand for other Colombians based in the U.S. though Andrea never planned for that. Her only intent at the time was to develop a line of coffee that she would be proud to carry and call her own, where quality was the main focus.

You may be interested:  Babies of Hispanic heritage find bonding to traditions in unique clothing line

Carving A Name

Giraldo Farms has since become a success, lauded as New York City’s favorite Colombian instant coffee. But as with most new businesses, there are sure to be obstacles.

Andrea consulting with a company in Colombia (Courtesy Andrea Giraldo)

For Andrea, the beginning stages were the most difficult. Being an unknown name in the industry, a Latina business owner in the early 2000s, and a woman carving her way into the food industry at the time was bold. Dealing with distributors and clients was difficult at first because many were reluctant to take a chance on a newcomer. But Andrea always remained persistent.

“There was one particular client, whom I knew was important to feature my products in his store. It probably took me six months to convince him and over ten years later we still do business,” says Andrea.

Through all these obstacles and challenges, from finding funding to attaining connections and resources, the important thing Andrea has learned is to always stay focused and positive. You will eventually figure it out. Have faith in yourself.

“You must realize that only you will be your biggest cheerleader,” says Andrea. “Latinas are resourceful, it is in our culture to figure it out. We are smart, savvy, and most importantly hard workers.”

Realizing New Dreams

Her hard work has paid off in many ways and offered her amazing opportunities. She loves traveling to other countries to meet with business owners and hear firsthand their struggles and dreams, as well as share her own experiences and expertise with them. One such moment that Andrea shares with us is her trip to Egypt, something that had always been a lifelong dream. She, along with various other entrepreneurs from all over the world, were invited to the country by the Egyptian Department of State and Department of Commerce to attend a trade mission. Here, Andrea came as a buyer and consultant and met with fellow entrepreneurs where they attended events hosted by the Egyptian government. The entire trip was a dream come true for Andrea, who always wished to visit Egypt and see the deserts.

“A funny story from this trip,” says Andrea, “was the escorted motorcade for the group I was with, to attend the Sinai Desert for a dinner with Boudin, which was hosted by the equivalent of the U.S. Secretary of State for Egypt.”

As Andrea and her group of fellow entrepreneurs were escorted to the dinner, she could not believe that this was happening to her. It was completely surreal.

“Yes, I felt very a la Hillary Clinton,” she says, “minus the pantsuit.”

100% Colombian Vanilla Coffee

In addition to the many adventures she has had thanks to her job, Andrea is happy to share her expertise and experiences with newcomers. Having been there herself, she knows how intimidating it can be to start out.

Some key tips Andrea always stresses when consulting small businesses is the importance of doing research and knowing your industry.

“Know everything about the industry you plan on entering, your product, or service. Even professionally it says a lot about a person when they can discuss their industry and not only their jobs–two very different things.”

Additionally she reminds aspiring business owners to remember that it might not be always be as glamorous as you imagined, and at times you will be wearing many hats, working 24/7, but to never become discouraged.

“Keep going and have faith in yourself.”

Andrea’s journey toward coffee making was an unexpected twist in her story. It was not part of her original “Colombian Dream.” But like many Colombians, she is now part of the extensive coffee-making culture, celebrating her heritage and bringing rich, quality Colombian coffee to the U.S.

babies of Hispanic heritage

Babies of Hispanic heritage find bonding to traditions in unique clothing line

Ramona Ferreyra, recent winner of the 2018 Latinas in Business Inc. Pitch Competition and founder and CEO of Ojala Threads — a unique clothing line for babies of Hispanic heritage– shares her journey as a Latina entrepreneur. 

babies of Hispanic heritage

Babies of Hispanic heritage now have options they can wear with pride!

A Dominican-American born to a single mom in New York City and raised by extended family in the Dominican Republic, Ramona was instilled with resilience, boldness, imagination, and strategic thinking from an early age. 

“Growing up with very little, I would make things for myself all the time,” Ramona explains.

She learned how to be strategic with her resources, using them effectively and economically. For instance, in high school she would recycle old shirts to make herself cardigans. This eventually helped her build her business where she is able to utilize her resources on a tight budget.

Upon returning to the U.S., Ramona managed the first urban Gap Kids and Baby while completing her BA at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She then moved to Hawaii where she lived for ten years and also completed her Masters Degree and two additional graduate certificates at Hawaii Pacific University. Ramona has also undergone leadership training at the Kennedy School at Harvard and the Center for Creative Leadership.

Throughout her career, Ramona has led outreach efforts for the FBI and Department of Defense, focused on community engagement and environmental resilience.

Clothing for babies of Hispanic Heritage, motivation found in the family

babies of Hispanic Heritage

Onesies Ojala Threads

In 2017, she decided it was time to start something new: her clothing company Ojala Threads, which creates unisex bodysuits inspired by and for babies of Hispanic heritage. The idea came about after volunteering to watch her nephew, Jadiel, for a week as he recovered from meningitis.

During that week Ramona realized that the clothes her nephew wore did not reflect who he was. They did not speak to his identity as a baby of Hispanic heritage. She recalled how when living in Hawaii, she would regularly purchase baby onesies inspired by the local culture.

“The pieces were unique and beautifully allowed parents to reflect their pride,” says Ramona.

She was inspired to launch her own line that would do the same for Hispanics and so, that very same week, she began to research the feasibility of starting her business.

Born from this idea that one’s clothing should reflect their identity and heritage, Ojala Threads is more than just clothes. They are  also a “parenting tool” as Ramona says.

“Our products are recognition that our children are an extension of our identity, a living legacy. As parents we are responsible for instilling upon them lessons and stories that eventually mold them.”

Ramona’s idea that Hispanic babies can and should have their own clothing that reflects their heritage is a “bold one” but one that is catching on. She comments how whenever she does pop up events “folks are shocked that they have this option.”

Lack of funding, a common thread for Latina entrepreneurs

babies of Hispanic heritage

Ojala Threads creates unique designs for babies of Hispanic heritage clothing

As with any new business ventures, there are always some obstacles. A lack of funding was the main struggle Ramona encountered early on. No longer able to hold traditional employment due to health reasons, Ramona has been on disability for three years now and saving money to put toward the business was difficult.  

“After applying to numerous business competitions and losing every single time, I decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign,” says Ramona.

The campaign was a “humbling” experience. The goal was $15,000 but in the end only $2,600 was raised.

“The emotional side effects of missing my goal, and not being supported by the majority of my friends and family, were a huge hit to my ego. I was pretty demoralized and simply stopped asking for help. But I decided to do what I could with the money we raised.”

With that money, Ojala Threads ran their first design for babies of Hispanic heritage in 250 shirts. For the second round of inventory Ramona had to take on credit card debt.

After losing, I finally won!

Ramona Ferreyra pitch Competition

Ramona Ferreyra, founder of Ojala Threads, winner of the Latinas in Business Inc Pitch Competition

“I would advise anyone in my position to hang on, after losing non stop I finally won!” says Ramona of winning the 2018 Latinas In Business Pitch Competition. The winnings will go toward printing two additional designs for Ojala Threads.  

Despite the struggles, Ramona has never let them get her down. She is always looking to the positive.

“I love how far we’ve gotten with so little. I know one day I’ll have employees, achieve our corporate responsibility goals and think back to operating with a $100 monthly budget.”

She encourages anyone to go for their ideas that they are passionate about. There may be rough patches, but in the end it will be worth it. “Remind yourself daily of why you are pursuing your business idea. My inspiration was my nephew; whenever I felt like I couldn’t go on I looked at his pictures wearing my first design and kept going!”

She believes it is also important to find mentors and resources to guide one throughout the process as these become invaluable when times are tough. Make a business plan, too, she advises as it is important to establish the key pillars of your business before you start spending money.

Ojala Threads has been quite the journey so far, but it is one that Ramona loves and would not trade for anything. “This entire experience is my favorite story!” she exclaims.