Neil Pacheco uses social media to tell Sonoma County 'What's Cookin'

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Latino Life

Read more stories celebrating the local Latino community here

Neil Emerson Pacheco is using social media to spread the word. “Latinos love social media,” he said.

Each week, he hosts informative guest speakers to talk about local resources on his La Morenita FM show, “What’s Cookin’ Sonoma County?” The popular show highlights local Latino businesses in Spanish. “I go in with my team, we take video, we take pictures and we upload it to our social media page.”

Miguel Brito, general sales manager for Hansel Honda says the social media presence Pacheco has created for them is a win-win situation. Pacheco informs Latinos of important things to know before purchasing a car as well as the best deals to be found at Hansel Honda.

Pacheco also mentors local businesses. “I help them with social media marketing,” he explained. “How to teach their employees about upselling, customer retention and a great first impression.” North Bay Business Journal last year honored Pacheco with their 2018 Latino Business Leadership Award.

Things are good, but the journey wasn’t an easy one: Pacheco remembers helping out in his mother’s little Oaxacan grocery store and the kitchen where she prepared dishes like tamales pozole and barbacoa to sell. Pacheco said his mother would tell him, “Mijo, you’re born in the United States, you’re born in Texas, you have citizenship in both countries.” His family had moved to Mexico when he was 2. He knew the United States was a place with more opportunity, for work and for an education. He knew he’d go back some day.

Pacheco returned to the U.S. as a teenager in 1994, moving to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to live with his father. He’d grown up being taught to dress formally, to keep his hair trimmed neatly, his shirt always tucked in. He was just over 5 feet tall and he barely spoke English. He stood out among his inner-city high school peers and was bullied for it, but he didn’t give up. He wanted an education.

“My parents taught me that when you start a job, you don’t walk away until you finish,” Pacheco said. He got a part-time job washing dishes in a restaurant when he was 15. He remembers feeling overwhelmed on a short-staffed busy weekend, almost driven to tears, as he looked at huge stacks of dirty dishes and everyone else done and ready to go home. The cooks and other workers then surprised him by staying, donning aprons and jumping in to help him finish his work. He said it was an uplifting moment, giving him hope and inspiring him to persevere. The moment also shaped how he would later give back to his community, helping businesses simply because he could see they needed it.

“I knew I wanted to be in the front of the house,” said Pacheco of his budding restaurant career. “I earned my way up and I learned a lot.” He worked hard, getting promoted through the back of the house, making his way to the front, and eventually becoming manager.

Pacheco’s dreams continued to come true as he fell in love. In 2004, he followed his wife, Graciela, to Sonoma County where they are raising their three children.

He moved here for his wife, but it didn’t take Pacheco long to fall in love with Sonoma County and its Latino community. He has embraced the opportunities he’s found here, working, studying, teaching, mentoring and continually volunteering his time. His studies, work and life experience have given him the tools to uplift his community, and he’s doing so, one business at a time.

Latino Life

Read more stories celebrating the local Latino community here

Pacheco worked for several years at River Rock Casino while studying hospitality through the Sonoma County Office of Education. In 2013, he was offered his current position as host at Graton Resort and Casino. “With it came an opportunity I had been looking forward to for many years,” he said, “doing outreach into the Latino community.”

He trained through SCOE’s teaching program and helps teach and translate classes through SCOE’s Adult Education program at SRJC’s Southwest Center. “It opened doors for me,” said Pacheco. “I became more involved in the community.”

Pacheco sits on the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, as director of community engagement. It was at a Hispanic Chamber mixer in 2014 that Pacheco met Marcos Suarez, businesses diversity program manager at the Sonoma County Economic Development Board. Suarez sat on the chamber board at the time, and describes Pacheco as a “gem” that doesn’t come along every day. Suarez said he’s witnessed Pacheco’s work having positive effects on Latino businesses.

“Marcos Suarez has been a great mentor to me,” said Pacheco. “He has connected me with the people that you need to know in the community, people involved with education, housing, DACA, immigration, kids and drugs or gangs, involved with the topics that are of the most concern to our community. We have so much help, so many resources here in our beautiful county. I want all of my people in my community to know about the benefits available to them.”

As Pacheco makes his dreams come true he gives back, helping his childhood Oaxacan neighborhood as well as his new one. He explains that he sees helping out in the community as a responsibility.

“I hope to help inspire and empower the younger generations so that they might take the lead in the coming years,” he said. He encourages local business owners to consider hiring teens, and to mentor and guide them.

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