By: Analía Weber
Let me tell you a story about a little girl who just wanted to inspire others. Little Vanessa spent her days observing her abuela* at her little store in Zacatecas, Mexico. Vanessa was in awe of her abuela. She saw her not only as the only latina business owner she knew but as a pillar in her community.
The tiendita* served their community with perishable and nonperishable items. The humble place was more than just a store, in it neighbors would gather and say hello to each other, they would gossip on the latest town news and they would make sure everybody was doing ok. The smell of produce and pan dulce* filled the store and the vibrant colors and textures made the tiendita feel like a second home to Vanessa. “She instilled in me the value of hard work, I saw her working very hard for her business and the family”, Vanessa reminisces about seeing her abuela work in the late eighties and early nineties.
As it happens with many families, Vanessa’s father and mother decide to move their family to the United States to pursue a better life and endless opportunities. Vanessa starts to grow up in a different culture far away from her abuela’s tiendita. What Vanessa did not know then was that the tiendita had planted a seed in her heart and that seed needed a different soil to grow on: Fort Collins.
After high school Vanessa, decides to pursue her Fashion Merchandising degree in Denver and later decides to push on to business school. Vanessa was studying for her business degree and at the same time navigating living alone in a big city while also working a full time job. “It all just became too much, I became overwhelmed and put school on hold” she recalls as she tells me about her time in business school and work.
During that time Vanessa’s memories of her abuela’s tiendita and dreams of becoming a latina business owner herself were still burning in her heart but that seed was still not ready to grow for her. From there, Vanessa meets her husband and they later have two beautiful boys. Through her pregnancy and her boy’s birth Vanessa continued to work. Fast forward a bit and as it happens in many households, the conversation of ‘is me, the mom, going to work worth it?’ took place.
As a couple, Vanessa and her husband decide that for now, it is best if she stays at home with the boys. Vanessa and I shared some tears over a cortadito* from Babalu’s Cuban Café, a restaurant in Old Town Fort Collins owned by her husband’s parents. As we talked about the loneliness of motherhood, we discussed the importance of the need to continue to live our dreams and passions so that our kids see us as women and not just as drivers and ‘boo boo’ healers.
Through her 8 years of working as a stay at home mother, Vanessa found ways to stay creative. She remembers getting crafty for her kid’s birthdays and sharing her love of cooking and fashion through social media. During those years, the memories of her abuela’s tiendita were very present in Vanessa’s mind and heart. It was time to let the seed grow. It needed to be replanted from her heart to firm soil. Her family, always encouraging her to pursue her dreams, jumped head first when a space became available at 140 West Oak Street in Old Town Fort Collins. The seed the tiendita planted grew to become Frida Azul.
In preparing for my time with Vanessa, I watched Frida Azul’s social media videos and came upon one that really stuck with me. In the video, you see the empty Frida Azul store and Vanessa’s kids helping their dad clean the floors and install walls for a stock room. The video has music and you see them smiling but what really sticks out is the love they are pouring into making their mom’s dream of owning her store a reality. Just writing briefly about it now brings tears to my eyes. The impact Vanessa has already had on her kids is the same that Vanessa’s abuela had on her from a young age. Vanessa, a mother, that like many others is giving it all to her family while many times having had to put her dreams on hold. In return, her husband and kids stand strong by her side to fulfill her dream as a family.
I can tell you why Frida Azul is an important addition to the Fort Collins community. That amount of love and dedication that has gone into building this gem in Fort Collins makes Frida Azul that much more special to me. What Vanessa wants her store to do is to celebrate her culture and inspire other women, regardless of cultural background, to pursue their dreams at any stage in their life. I invite you to visit Frida Azul. When you enter the store, you are at home.
*tiendita- small local shop
*pan dulce-sweet bread
*cortadito- a Cuban style coffee. Small in size- espresso with milk.
*Opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author and is only for informational purposes.