Cinco de Mayo, Spanish for the 5th of May, is not Mexico’s Independence Day! It is actually a celebration of Mexican heritage. This day remembers a battle in 1862 where an outnumbered Mexican militia defeated the well-armed French soldiers at the city of Puebla in Mexico1. Since it is perhaps celebrated more in the southwestern United States than even Mexico, I thought I would take the time to spotlight two individuals of Mexican heritage who, through hard work and determination, found success in the Houston area.
Ninfa Laurenzo, otherwise known as “Mama Ninfa”, was born in Harlingen, Texas. Mama Ninfa and her husband eventually made their way to Houston and began operating a tortilla factory on the east side in 1949. After the death of her husband, Mama Ninfa was left alone to run the tortilla factory and support her five children. This led her to set aside a front room of the factory, gather some pots and pans from her personal kitchen, and open a small 10-table Mexican food restaurant that grew and developed into a Houston landmark called Ninfa’s2. This landmark is still there today. Mama Ninfa became a symbol of diversity and acted as a goodwill ambassador of the United States on the Pope’s visit to Puerto Rico.
Jose Carmarena immigrated to the United States from Jalisco, Mexico in 1979. He worked in Chicago for two years until he was able to save $5,000 and purchase his own taco truck in Houston. Soon after he arrived Jose noticed the area had very few taquerias, an informal Mexican restaurant specializing in tacos. He then sold his taco truck, pawned some personal items in his home, and opened his first 8-table restaurant called Taqueria Arandas. By 2006, the Taqueria Arandas chain of restaurants had grown to 35 locations throughout Texas.
Both stories demonstrate success on a large scale. People identified a need, took a chance, and built upon their skills through hard work and determination. Keep in mind that although these two individuals reached success on a larger scale, the same mechanics can be used to reach success on a smaller scale, and it can be just as meaningful.
As you celebrate Cinco de Mayo, raise a toast to the “flavor” Mexican heritage has added to our region.
1 “Cinco de Mayo.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July 2004.
2 Poole, Claire. “Tortilla Flat.” Texas Monthly, Dec. 1997.
David Spears is a member of the Workforce Solutions Navigator team for the Texas Gulf Coast Region. Combining training and education to real world examples, David brings personal and professional experience with disabilities to the table in order to help job seekers with disabilities realize their potential. David has a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Business Administration with over 20 years of experience in the business world.