Overcoming business barriers? Si

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Published: March 19,2007

No doubt about it, the state’s Hispanic population is a growing segment and that includes more Hispanic-owned businesses. Facing language barriers and bureaucracy they may not understand, opening a business can be daunting.

Pete Castorena owns two food/television stores called Festival in the metro Jackson area. Even though he had some hurdles to jump, he feels fortunate. He was born in the Rio Grand Valley town of Donna, Texas, of Mexican parents and is bi-lingual. Things weren’t so bad for him, but his Hispanic friends tell him their difficulties.

“There is a lot of red tape and it’s hard to borrow any money. I never asked for a grant, only loans,” he said. “There are a lot of obstacles if you’re not from here and you’re Hispanic. It’s a different way of doing things.”

A major problem is that a business owner must get a tax license before he or she can open a bank account, and Castorena says they immediately have trouble.

“Everything fights everything else. It’s hard to get the license without a bank account,” he said. “Not knowing English and running all over the place are problems, too. It’s hard, and some put their dreams on hold because of the obstacles.”

Even with several factors in his favor, he had to pay three months rent before he could open his business.

Castorena credits the Mississippi Development Authority’s Minority & Small Business Development Department staff with being very helpful in helping him get his business open.

“We are working with Hispanic businesses every day, and local Hispanic associations,” says Richard Speights, director of that department for MDA. “Twice a year we hold an outreach event for them. It’s like a fiesta and goes over very well.”

Statistics from the 2000 Census show a Hispanic population of 39,569, representing a 60% increase since 1980. That number has surely grown as Hispanic construction workers play a major role in Coastal rebuilding.

Some Hispanic-owned businesses cater to Spanish-speaking customers and clients, while others appeal to a wider population. Elsa Baughman, who’s active with the Mississippi Hispanic Association, says the organization is made up of a wide variety of members.

“We have members from many Spanish-speaking countries, and a number of them are in business for themselves,” she said. “There are quite a few restaurant owners, retailers, a translator and a Realtor. It’s a diverse group.”

A.J.’s Restaurant and Grill on County Line Road in Jackson is owned by John and Lucy Taylor. Lucy, who runs the day-to-day operations, immigrated to Miami from Colombia 23 years ago. The former Luz Dary Eslava came alone, not knowing anyone or any English.

“She was very brave to do that,” John Taylor says. “She couldn’t learn English in Miami, and moved to Jackson at the suggestion of a friend. Now she’s living the American dream and doing it the right way.”

After several years in Jackson, she was able to bring her mother and two brothers to America. Still a bit hesitant about speaking English, Lucy defers questions to John.
The couple met in the food court at Northpark Mall in 1990. They opened their restaurant in 1999 by mortgaging their home. John says that like most small businesses, they never have enough money, but the business has flourished. The restaurant predominantly serves seafood with a South American twist. It is named for their children, Alyssa and Johnny. Now the family is preparing to open another location on the Township on Highland Colony Parkway in Ridgeland.

Castorena’s Festival store sells Mexican food items that include spices, chips, flour, cookies and cheese, along with Sony TVs and Dish Network TV. There is also a coffee shop. One Festival is located on Terry Road and the other is on Spillway Road near the reservoir. Additionally, he serves the growing Hispanic market with Dish Spanish Network all over Mississippi.

Being from the same Texas town as Freddie Fender, naturally Castorena sings and plays the guitar. He is pleased that he will be giving a concert for the military at Camp Shelby April 20.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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