Being A Latina Business Owner In Reno

Dec 30, 2016

For many, entrepreneurship can be a difficult process. Now, imagine trying to start a business in a foreign country.  

In Reno, some Latina business owners say this journey has been challenging for them due to cultural differences and language barriers.

While a few of Maury Centeno’s employees sand down a windshield, she’s in the white-walled office next door typing away on her computer. She owns Safety Glass, a windshield replacement company in Reno.

Originally from Mexico, Centeno moved to the U.S. 15 years ago. When she became the owner of Safety Glass, she quickly realized that there are significant differences conducting business in the U.S.

Maury Centeno (second from right) owns Safety Glass, a shop for replacing broken windshields.
Credit Natalie Van Hoozer

“En México, por ejemplo, tu puedes iniciar tu negocio desde tu casa, desde tu recámara, desde el comedor, desde la sala, desde la cocina, puedes hacer tu propio negocio,” dice ella. “Queremos hacer negocios aquí como se hace en México y hay que cambiar esta mentalidad.”

(“In Mexico, for example, you can start your business from your house, bedroom, dining room, living room or kitchen, you can make your own business,” she says. “We want to do businesses here like we do it in Mexico and we have to change this mentality.”)

Sandra Rentas is an advisor for the Nevada Small Business Development Center, which offers free assistance to community members in northern Nevada. Rentas works with Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs like Centeno to navigate the early stages of setting up shop.

“Si tienen preguntas con las licencias, les podemos ayudar con eso. Proyecciones financieras, plan de negocios,” dice ella. “Tenemos una variedad de recursos y tratamos de adaptarlos de acuerdo a lo que ellos necesiten.”

(“If people have questions about licenses, we can help them with this. Financial projections, business plans,” she says. “We have a variety of resources and we try to adapt them based on what people need,”)

Processes like financing are confusing for many entrepreneurs, and Rentas says it is key to become educated before making any large decisions. 

“Tengo una clienta, por ejemplo, que tiene un negocio en Sparks,” dice ella. “Cuando vino donde mí ya firmó el contrato, el contrato era muy largo, no tenía mucha experiencia en negocios, primago con el banco también, y no le fue bien.”

(“For example, I have a client who has a business in Sparks,” Rentas says. “When she came to me, she had already signed a large contract and did not have much business experience or experience with banks. It did not go well.”)

Rentas says the English language itself can be another obstacle when trying to find the needed information to open a business.

Beatriz Trejo takes a break from making fruit juices to write down an order for tortas.
Credit Natalie Van Hoozer

Beatriz Trejo, from Mexico, owns the restaurant Tortas Ebenezer. She prepares juices while her husband makes “tortas,” which are Mexican sandwiches served on a roll with toppings like avocado, meat, and Oaxaca cheese.

Trejo says she has often had to seek help from family friends to navigate English paperwork.

“Un joven, amigo de la familia nos hizo el favor, porque nosotros no hablamos muy bien inglés y ese fue nuestro primero obstáculo, el inglés.”

(“A young man, a family friend, did us a favor, because we do not speak English well, and that was our first obstacle: English.”)

However, cultural and language barriers aren’t stopping Latinas from being entrepreneurs. According to the U.S. Census, between 2007 and 2012, the number of businesses owned by Latinas increased by 87 percent.

Patricia Jiménez, from Bolivia, was motivated to start her own house cleaning service in order to provide for her family. She studied marketing in Bolivia and worked for years as a retail employee, but decided to become a business owner to support her daughter as much as possible.

“Pensé más que todo en regresar o quedarme vivir en este país porque tengo una niña deshabilitada,” dice ella. “Creo que es un país bastante grande como para ayudar a ella.”

(“I thought more than anything to return or stay and live in this country because I have a disabled daughter,” she says. “I think that this is a country with enough resources to help her.”)

Although house cleaning is physically demanding work, Jiménez feels she has been rewarded.

In addition to taking care of her family, Patricia Jiménez divides her time between cleaning houses, caring for children with disabilities and going to English classes.
Credit Natalie Van Hoozer

“Personalmente, es lindo, es un logro, es una satisfacción aparte, es sentirse productiva, sentirse que uno lo hizo, sola, pero lo hizo.”

(“Personally, it is nice, it is an achievement and an additional satisfaction, to feel productive, to feel that I did it by myself, alone, but did it.”)

These women say the control they have over their lives as business owners is something they never want to lose and they encourage other women to start their own companies, too.

In the future, they would like to see more places like the Nevada Small Business Development Center offer bilingual educational classes for entrepreneurs.

Reporting for this story was supported by the International Center for Journalists and S&P Global.

This report was produced in partnership with Noticiero Móvil, a Spanish-English multimedia news outlet for Northern Nevada.

Thank you to Andrea Linardi de Minten, Iris West and Agustina Almirón of the Latino Research Center at the University of Nevada, Reno for help with translation.