Local entrepreneur launches Facebook Live show to support Latino businesses in Sonoma County

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Latino Living

Read more stories celebrating the local Latino community here.

By mid-March, as nonessential businesses shut down to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Hector Velazquez noticed “a lot of people were getting misleading information” in the Latino community.

“The number one problem was about immigration,” he said. As the owner of Nexo Advertising, he works with clients ranging from flower vendors and restaurant owners to larger corporations such as Sonoma Clean Power and United Way. Many were reaching out to him, trying to make sense of government stimulus plans such as the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan as they became available.

There was “a lot of fear,” Velazquez said. He kept seeing posts and hearing people say, “‘Don’t sign up for these stimulus plans because if you do, they have your information and there will be raids.’ There was a huge wave of that, about how you will be raided by ICE.”

So Velazquez stepped up to lead the way. He decided to produce his own web series, through Facebook Live, to help Latino small businesses navigate the pandemic.

“When we started out, it was just a desk and a computer,” Velazquez said. “We didn’t know where it was gonna go. But we knew we had to do something. We got together and said, ‘This is the way it’s gonna roll. We’re gonna say the truth of what we know, but we have to investigate it before we actually say it on the show.’ ”

He turned to friends and colleagues in the community to be the on-camera hosts — Hugo Mata, owner of Soluna Outreach Solutions, Gustavo Sanchez with Pediatric Dental Initiative and Mariana Almarez, business advisor with the Small Business Development Center. As show hosts, all from the Mexican state of Jalisco, they already had a natural banter. Hugo’s nickname is “Abuelo” for his white hair. Mariana is “Doña Pelo” for her hair. And Gustavo is “Millennial” because he’s the youngest.

They came up with a name for the show, “Poder de Saber,” which means “Power of Knowledge.” A popular Mexican saying for years, it’s something still heard on Mexican radio stations and which Velazquez heard around the dinner table whether in Guadalajara or in Napa, where he moved at age 5.

“When I was a kid, my dad used to say, ‘Man is the architect of his own future.’ One day, I asked where that came from and my father explained it was my grandfather, who often started sentences with ‘Poder de saber,’ and it would go, ‘The power of knowledge is that you can be whoever you want to be.’ ”

As the show began taking shape, Velazquez reached out to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Sonoma County for support, in return providing them with air time and segments devoted to topics covered by chamber staff. He got a grant from Rebuild North Bay Foundation. Early promotion on the popular La Pulga Santa Rosa flea market Facebook page helped spread the word.

One of the first politicians he reached out to was U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, who recently returned as a guest for the Cinco de Mayo show along with Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore.

“They continue to impress me with their earnestness,” Huffman said of the “Poder de Saber” crew. “They really want to provide information and value to the Spanish-speaking community in our region. I think they understand there’s a gap there. There’s a need.”

Latino Living

Read more stories celebrating the local Latino community here.

On the Cinco de Mayo show, Huffman talked about ongoing work in Congress, specifically efforts to help families with mixed immigration status who can’t access economic stimulus checks for their children who are U.S. citizens.

But what really heartens him about “Poder de Saber” is the organizers’ dedication to communicate.

“They reach out and they include me even though I can’t speak Spanish,” Huffman said. “And they’re very gracious about that. They provide the translation and make it easy and they still want me to keep coming back. It gives me a chance in my ham-handed, English-speaking way to try to have that connection.”

Huffman’s self-deprecating humor fits perfectly with the tone of the show. It’s spontaneous and lively, paced with quick back-and-forth repartee. The hosts speak in a very conversational Spanish, filled with slang and colloquial sayings. A recurring phrase is “Sin pelos en la lengua,” which literally translates into “With no hairs on your tongue.”

“It means you’re just going to spit it out and say it like it is with no stuttering,” Velazquez said.

Early shows covered the basics — what was known about the virus and how it was spread, common symptoms, rules of social distancing — similar to the messages Velazquez was asked to record in Spanish and play over loudspeakers at Lola’s Markets in Sonoma County.

At first, show hosts maintained physical distance in the Nexo Advertising conference room in their office at the Waterfall Towers on Bennett Valley Road. As the show began to take off, they moved into an adjacent studio with more professional green-screen backdrops and a multiple-camera setup. Soon guests were joining via Zoom and the shows were going live on Facebook three times a week.

As the show evolved, recurring segments like “Donde Hay Luna?” — literally: Where’s the Wool? or Where’s the Money? — explored stimulus options for small business owners.

One follower of the show, the owner of Floreria Selena in Santa Rosa, was having so much trouble filling out his application for the federal Economic Injury Disaster Loan that he called Almarez at 11 p.m. one night, sending screenshots of his application well past midnight while trying to figure it out. Almarez made a video for “Poder de Saber” showing people exactly how to fill out the application.

“For the Hispanic community, sometimes it’s very complicated to understand taxes and how your profit and loss statements work,” said Almarez, who gives practical small business advice on nearly every show, tapping into her work at the Santa Rosa office of the Napa-Sonoma Small Business Development Center.

“It was so complicated for him to understand his revenues and cost of goods sold. It’s a conversation I’ve had many times with clients so I was able to help him through this.”

A Nexo client and frequent listener to the show, Gustavo Martinez was invited on the show to promote specials at the four Paradise Sushi locations. With Velazquez helping boost his online presence during the crisis, three of his restaurants went from selling a few dozen rolls a day to around 300 to 400 rolls a day, Velazquez said.

But his most recently opened restaurant, Paradise Sushi and Hibachi in Montgomery Village, is still suffering, since the draw there is the in-person experience of watching the cook work while performing tricks. Martinez said he wanted to apply for a PPP loan but never did “because of my immigration status.”

If he can’t get a loan or restructure his lease, he may have to close that location, as he’s unable to afford the $15,000 monthly rent.

At this point in the pandemic, Velazquez can’t imagine a time when the community won’t need a steady dose of “Poder de Saber,” even if the show eventually is pared down to once a week.

“Even (after the pandemic is over), I don’t think there’s another platform out there that’s delivering this information or becoming a resource for people,” he said. “After this is over, we want to make sure we are out there with the folks, maybe doing a concert or somewhere providing information. We want to be that resource, not just web-based, but out in the community.”

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