HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Traditions run deep in the Rio Grande Valley, and while culture remains a focal point for many, the area, and its gender norms are changing.
Today, more women are stepping out of the norm and proving it’s no longer a man’s world when it comes to owning businesses.
“Every young girl that is looking to find a job…don’t know what they want to do, I say run a business you can,” Brenda Cuevas said. “You can do anything you want.”
Brenda Cuevas is a young millennial breaking barriers in her community and in the furniture world.
Just as the pandemic began in March 2020, Brenda became an entrepreneur, opening her first furniture store.
“I wanted to flip houses, originally,” Cuevas said. “I always loved furniture and furniture pieces, so I was like you know what, I’m going to do it.”
With the support of her father, Cuevas set on the new venture.
Cuevas says she noticed a jump in the housing market, and many people who were bored at home amid the Coronavirus pandemic looking to improve their homes.
Her business excelled, and she opened two more locations in just a couple of years.
However, her journey hasn’t been easy.
Cuevas started attending furniture conferences to learn more about the industry, but she said, “I’ve noticed everyone is a guy. “Everyone is older and I was like what is going, I felt very alone because there was nobody I could talk to about it as a woman.”
The furniture business may be male-dominated, but Cuevas’ ability to relate to other women, often times the leaders of their families, has helped her connect with customers.
As a RGV native, Cuevas says, people are often surprised she’s the one calling the shots.
“They don’t like women to be making more money than them, and they really get annoyed by that,” she said. “They prefer their women at home cooking for them while they work, it’s been a stigma, it’s always been but I feel like our generations over the years has been changing a lot.”
Those changes are part of the reason Angela Burton, with the Small Business Association (SBA), says it’s important to recognize how far women have come.
“Believe it or not, it wasn’t till 1988 — if a woman wanted to start a business in America, she could be required to get the signature of a spouse or a male relative to apply for a loan,” Burton said.
Now, laws have changed, and so has the Rio Grande Valley.
“I feel like the Valley is getting better and it’s growing and I love that,” Cuevas said. “I love that I have a few friends already doing their own businesses as far as boutiques, insurances, shops, and I love that I know women empowered.”
Burton tells ValleyCentral, more than 54,000 small businesses in the RGV are owned by women according to census data.
Burton also says, there are nearly 2 million Hispanic women-owned businesses across the country, according to 2016 census data.
“The number of Hispanic women entrepreneurs grew a faster rate than any other group,” Burton said.
The US Census Bureau projects Hispanic women-owned businesses to nearly double by the year 2050.
Burton tells ValleyCentral, 900 women are starting new businesses daily, and, she expects that number to grow post-pandemic.
“I call the women down here builders because they build strong families, they build job-creating businesses, and they build coalitions, or sometimes they’re building all three at the same time,” Burton said.
For Cuevas, her store, Modern Express Furniture, is more than a business, it’s a way to show other women of all ages, they can do it too.
“I think it’s important that women can stand up and fight for what they want,” Cuevas said.
The SBA has a free online learning platform, specifically for women called Ascent, teaching women how to open or grow their businesses.
To learn more about the resources click here.