The Business of Building Bridges
By Adela Mendoza and Lindsey Tabor
Bridge building is the art of connection. Bridge builders bring unacquainted groups closer, multiplying mutual knowledge and collaboration to create a shared path forward. The bridge between Hispanic businesses and the mainstream business community has been under construction for years in South Carolina. The current pandemic is catalyzing this work, de-emphasizing cultural differences and cutting through the status quo to create unprecedented common ground - ripe for bridge building.
Hispanic Alliance and Integrated Media, publisher of Greenville Business Magazine, Columbia Business Monthly and Charleston Business Magazine, are partnering on a statewide journey to strengthen these vital connections and to inspire local economies to build stronger bridges toward prosperity.
We begin with a snapshot of the Hispanic Alliance (HA) model of fostering cross-cultural business and community collaborations. Mutual benefit and empowerment undergird all HA initiatives and all good business partnerships. Canasta Básica demonstrates how to leverage the richness of the cultural traditions and values of Hispanic communities, honoring them to create trusting relationships and thriving communities.
Canasta Básica (“basic basket”) is a term well known across Latin America used by governments to monitor inflation and ensure food security. A canasta contains the staple ingredients underlying all family meals, and here in Greenville, it contains a message of hope, familiarity and solidarity. HA asked Hispanic grocers to contribute these food items at cost, supplemented by grant-funded vouchers for their store, which families used to choose their own fresh ingredients.
Intended to relieve rising food instability in the Hispanic community, Canasta Básica helps Hispanic businesses balance their own stability with feeding their neighbors. Local businesses received a bump in revenue, families can access food with dignity, and normalcy is returned to the relationship between proprietor and customer.
The trust and loyalty implicit in that relationship is an incredible asset. Jorge Celis, owner of Supermercado Los Arcos, HA’s first Canasta Básica partner, recalls how a man approached him his first day in Greenville to orient him to his role in the community: “The man gave me his hand, embraced me, and thanked me for setting up a store in this location.”
He had previously relied on his children to drive him a long distance to the nearest Latin grocer.
This is key to understanding the evolution happening in Hispanic communities. Entrepreneurs who step into a “Latin food desert” build a homey oasis for culture-fatigued Hispanic residents. Stores offer remittance services, familiar foods and products, fresh traditional breads and sometimes a small eatery. Supermercados and tiendas become the trusted center of their Hispanic neighborhoods, making their inclusion vital in any attempt to engage that community.
That’s why the passing of Hector Melendez, the owner of Tienda Guatemex, was so tragic. Hector succumbed to long-term health complications just as Hispanic Alliance launched Canasta Básica. His death affected a broad community of loyal customers of their three stores. Knowing that the world would not pause for her family’s grief, his wife Maria bravely maintained their businesses,honoring her husband’s legacy through what her stores can provide to those in need. “The business itself represents our life story,” Maria shares. “Our logo is a design that gave shape to our identity.”
Maria’s resilience is a tribute to Hector’s entrepreneurial fervor and determination to succeed for his family. Despite a devastating loss, Guatemex not only joined Canasta Básica, but donated all the food for the baskets, allowing the project budget to stretch to feed more families.
“Partnering with Hispanic Alliance speeds up the process, more than reaching out to individual people,” Maria explains. “We are each a medium to bring support to each other. We are doing more than just giving food; we are redistributing the support.”
At Supermercado El Sol, owner Samuel Castro and his whole team of nine stayed late to pack the “Canastas” for the next morning, sparing HA staff the labor.
“My family is from a lower socioeconomic class, not wealthy,” he says. “When you come from a ‘fighting’ family you learn to help everyone you can.”
Samuel is motivated by giving back to the customers who have supported his business. He sees an average of 600 customers a day and he knows the unspoken needs and struggles of those families. He joined Canasta Básica to return that loyalty.
La Esperanza and La Unica have also joined the collaborative, and as Hispanic Alliance nears the end of the project’s funding, it is important to consider how to maintain these new bridges.
Our point is this: We are striving to make philanthropy inclusive and accessible to all. As these Hispanic entrepreneurs experience these flourishing collaborations and the power of collaborative giving, we hope they’ll expand their sphere of trust even further and encourage other Hispanic businesses to do the same.
We are honored to serve as a trusted intermediary for this inclusive growth. These are unlikely partnerships, but they can uphold an entire community.
All businesses value recognition, and elevating the stories and cultural wealth of Hispanic businesses is a great way to motivate both communities to engage.
South Carolina cannot fully recover from this year without including and mobilizing all sectors and all participants in our economy.
Though the Hispanic community might currently be vulnerable, it has been and will be a source of incredible entrepreneurial energy.
Building bridges on common ground that is finally visible to all is the best strategy for outpacing the previous growth of our economy as we reach for a brighter future.
Adela Mendoza is executive director of The Hispanic Alliance of SC, based in Greenville. Lindsey Tabor is the alliance’s communications and PR manager.
Editor’s Note: Integrated Media, in partnership with Hispanic Alliance, over the next several months will profile several Hispanic businesses throughout the state to underscore their importance to our economy and our communities.