Owner of Mixcoatl
Connie Rivera opened her San Francisco shop, Mixcoatl, after graduating from the Women’s Initiative business training program in 2005. She came to the U.S. 24 years ago, from Toluca Mexico in search of a better life for herself and her family. Arriving with a high school education in hand, she worked her way through a series of jobs in the U.S as a babysitter, coffee shop worker, and then housekeeper for 15 years. However, she always knew she wanted, and was capable, of more.
Influenced and inspired by her grandparents who were artisans and merchants in Mexico, she began very gradually bringing art and jewelry from her hometown, selling little by little informally among friends. In 2005, Connie heard about Women’s Initiative business training program and could hardly believe it. “Wow, this is exactly what I need and have been looking for” she said.
Connie reports that her life changed after graduation from Women’s Initiative. The program taught her how to run a business in a formal way, how to write a business plan, where to get permits, and more. “They gave me everything – the tools to start. This was my school,” says Connie. The summer of 2005, two months after graduation, Mixcoatl opened its doors to the public and Connie has not looked back since.
Connie and her Mission District shop are focused on preserving and sharing art from indigenous people of the Americas with other cultures. Everything in her store is handmade: jewelry, art, masks, and clothing made by Mayans, Aztecs, Incas, and Native Americans, to name just a few. She tells us that her small business is not just about making money. What is most important to her is to share the beautiful handmade art – to support the artisans and keep the traditions alive.
Outside of the store, Connie is a very busy lady with a big heart. She is full of ideas and determination to keep cultural traditions alive in her community. Her passion is traditional Aztec dance, which she does with her family. She’s taught free Aztec dance classes for youth and families for many years at Mission Cultural Center and Mission Recreation Center. Through dance, there is a sense of unity that brings families together. Connie also makes sure they take dance to the streets, where the dancers are received by many excited onlookers who gave them energy and inspiration to keep coming back. These events are a great time to meet new people, bring the community closer, and spread the word about free dance classes.
After being invited to dance at the 24th Street BART station two years ago, Connie was so inspired during the session and through talking with others, she had a vision, worked to make it a reality, and today we can all enjoy the results; a new street market. As you exit the subway station at sidewalk level, or walk past 24th Street BART station, you will be greeted with music, vendors selling their wares, and lively chatter. This market is a wonderful addition to the neighborhood and continues to bring ideas and people together.
Connie’s list of community activities and involvement is impressive. In addition to teaching dance and organizing a community street market, she recently started a small business association for the 24th street neighborhood. She began with three people and has since grown the association to 20 members representing the Mission District. The association promotes small businesses, supports local merchants, and aims to improve quality of their life in the neighborhood through art, events, and activities that all help to reduce crime and change the face of the neighborhood.
Connie does not hesitate to get involved. She is happy to bring her knowledge and culture to any person or organization that asks, feeling a sense of responsibility to the community to keep young people off the streets and preserve cultural traditions. So it will not come as a surprise that she collaborates with the San Francisco Symphony, City Hall, the Mexican Consulate, Native American Pow Wows, and is a key organizer for events such as Carnival, Day of the Dead, Aztec dance Ceremonies, Cinco De Mayo, and Mexican Independence Day.
At these events, she coordinates performances, music, artist demonstrations, workshops, and other educational activities to share with the community and other cultures. Bring artists to do demonstrations for the community, workshops, and share with other cultures.
Connie is very humble about her achievements, but there is no denying that she serves as an amazing role model for her daughter and family, as well as her community. It is not uncommon for women in the neighborhood to drop by Mixcoatl, hoping to get a glimpse of Connie in action, and perhaps some tips or a little pep talk on moving past your fears. Connie is more than happy to oblige and encourages others to help her out for a day at the store, so they too can become confident and realize their own potential to run a small business.
The biggest challenge for Connie is that occasional voice inside her head that pops up and asks “what are you doing – this is so much responsibility!” But to this voice she quickly responds by taking a deep breath, seeking the love and support of her family, and taking a an hour or two away from the store to re-energize.
The rewards of owning a business are great, allowing her to spend time with her family at the store and at home, and to set a good example for her daughter. Connie also now enjoys a more steady income and is happy to be her own boss (and the boss of her husband!). Feeling shy after this joke, Connie is quick to say that without the support of her husband she could not be where she is today – and she is grateful that he always pushes her to reach her full potential.
As for other women with a dream of one day owning a small business, Connie says: “If I can do it, you can do it. My advice is to go to school, Women’s Initiative, or seek help to realize your dream. Do not be afraid to be an independent woman. My own experience shows that it is not impossible.”
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