• Hudson County’s Latina Leaders: Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

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    Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated all over the country from September 15th to October 15th — this month is a celebration of the vibrant and diverse cultures that make up the Latinx population in the United States. Here in Hudson County, we are immersed in the beautiful culture daily — as 43% of residents identify as Hispanic. This month, we honor the variety of leaders in our backyard that are proud of their heritage and let it shine through their work daily. Read on to meet some of Hudson County’s leading Latina leaders to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. 

    hispanici heritage month 2019

    Clara Chaumont and Maricel Presilla of Cucharamama and Zafra Kitchen

    clara maricel hispanic heritage month

    This Cuban duo showcases their heritage influence every day in their Hoboken-based restaurants. Since 2000, their restaurants have been known as some of the “go-to” spots for delicious and authentic Latin food.

    Please tell us about your profession and how you got into your field.

    Clara: I have been a restaurateur for 30 and involved in restaurant management for even longer.

    Maricel: I am a culinary historian and a chef specializing in the foods of Latin America. I’ve been involved in Latin American food for more than 30 years.

    How has your culture influenced your work?

    Clara:  I have always been involved with Latin American food and hospitality. I believe it is essential to understand the culture behind any food establishment as running a place with a sense of authenticity requires a solid point of reference. In ours, it is Cuba and the rest of Latin America.

    Maricel: I am interested in all world cuisines, but I feel that Latin America has it all, as we are home not only to native cuisines but of those from people who have come to our vast territory from all over the world. Being a Latin American and having traveled all over the Americas to do research for my cookbooks has given content to my work as a chef in two Latin American restaurants, Zafra and Cucharamama.

    What is the best piece of business advice you have gotten from another female leader?

    Clara: Never give up, always be true to yourself and be persistent and determined.

    Maricel: Be true to your roots. Strive for authenticity.

    How do you celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month?

    Clara:  We celebrate it through our food, the best way we know to show the people of the United States who we are. Latin American food is one of our greatest contributions to the U.S., the country that has allowed us to succeed in freedom.

    Maricel: It is a celebration of who we are as a multicultural people with roots that stretch to other continents. To celebrate it at the White House, as a guest chef for Fiesta Latina, a Hispanic Heritage Month event hosted by President Obama and the First Lady for 409 guests was a privilege and a dream come true. It gave me the measure of how so much is possible to achieve as a Latin American living in the U.S.

    What makes you proud to be Latina?

    Clara: Latin women are strong and responsible. We also care deeply for our families, friends and we extend that care to our customers.

    Maricel: Latin women have a long history as cooks and caregivers. There is much to be admired in women who find not only strength and power in the kitchen, but who also love to comfort their family and friends. They are truly inspirational and we work hard to live up to their example.

    Erica Cerpa of EC Beauty Studio and Spa

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    Beauty from the inside out is the essence of this Latina leader and business owner. Erica shares her love for her culture and her love of beauty with everyone in her path.

    Please tell us about your profession and how you got into your field.

    Erica: Five years ago, I worked as a skincare educator.  During that time, I had the opportunity to travel around the world to educate [people] on different spa products and professional treatments. The traveling became exhausting.  To relieve the stress I decided to convert an open area in my living room into a facial room, where I offered facials part-time to my friends and family.  A year later I had to make the decision to either stay in [the] corporate [world] or try to do something with my side hustle.

    In 2007, I approach a hair salon in Hoboken, to put a facial room at their establishment, where I could offer facials. During this time, I had no clients in town, and I only had $3,000 in my bank account.  I put $2,500 towards building the room and invested the other $500 in brochures and business cards. I didn’t have monthly cash flow, so I made a deal with the salon owner, that on top of paying rent, I will give a percentage of my monthly revenue towards monthly operating costs such as electrical, phone and internet [this is before iPhones].

    I grew my business by offering free consultations to everyone I met. I literally spoke to everyone in town, at coffee shops, hair salons, doctors’ offices, local businesses, and even walking down the street. If I saw you, I would introduce myself and tell everyone about my services. The philosophy that I had then, which I still incorporate at EC, is education. EC beauty believes in teaching the community why skincare is important, and we show each client which ingredients and professional treatments benefit their specific skin type.  I went from being a sole operator in one facial room, working 12 hours a day, to now having a staff of five and four treatment rooms. Last year I did my first gut renovation which was extremely scary for me, but a success.

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    How has your culture influenced your work?

    Erica: My culture has influenced my work due to my culture’s work ethic. Hispanic women {well, all women I would say} are passionate about what they desire in life. Hispanics are very committed and dedicated workers. I remember my elders always saying your word is as good as gold, meaning if you commit to something you must do it. This mindset help me by making sure, I made myself available to all my clients, answer all their questions, working some days 12 to 14 hours the first few years.

    What is the best piece of business advice you have gotten from another female business owner?

    Erica: I am a huge and frequent listener to podcasts.  I listen, at least one a day. {I also must say that I have added, Tea in The Hudson, to my other weekly podcasts.}  The best advice, I have gotten is not from someone I personally know. While listening to the Rachel Hollis’ podcast, I heard Marie Forleo, a female financial adviser say, “every dream and goal is ‘figureoutable.'”  That saying really left an impression on me, since it was at a time in my career, that I wanted to grow and didn’t know how. In life, you might not know the how, or exactly the way to do something, but if you are passionate enough about it, you will figure it out.

    How do you celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month?

    Erica: I celebrate Hispanic Heritage month by adding Latin music and flavors to my business and at home. EC beauty is known for its delicious water, so during this time our water, is infused with fresh lime and passionfruit, and the spa will also play Latin instrumental music during or treatments. At home, we also make lots of Spanish dishes, arroz con pollo, etc.

    What makes you proud to be Latina?

    Erica: Being spicy.

    Migdalia Pagan Milano {Office of Constituent Services in Hoboken}

    migdalia hispanic heritage month

    Not too many people can brag about being lifelong Hoboken residents, but this Constituent Services employee can. Meet Migdalia Pagan-Milano–a born and raised Hoboken girl.

    Please tell us about your profession and how you got into your field.

    Migdalia: As someone who was born and raised in Hoboken, I knew that as a part of my professional life, I wanted to give back to the community that has given so much to me. When I was 19, I began working in the Cultural Affairs office for the City of Hoboken, and today, I work in the newly founded Office of Constituent Services. I enjoy helping people address their concerns and finding solutions to everyday problems. I also work on special projects including Hoboken Pride Week, where we host a full week of events for our LGBTQ+ community.

    How has your culture influenced your work?

    Migdalia: For me, my ability to connect, build and foster relationships with people is a large part of how my Hispanic roots have influenced my work. I was raised in Hoboken with my roots embedded deep into our Puerto Rican culture. We looked after our neighbors, everyone knew each other. It went without saying that if someone needed something, we always lent a helping hand. When we cooked dinner, we shared our meals with those who were less fortunate. A strong community has always been an important part of our upbringing. The concept of lending a hand to those in need has translated into my work in Constituent Services, where I advocate for residents, many of whom are in need, on a daily basis.

    What is the best piece of business advice you have gotten from another female leader?

    Migdalia: The most recent and best piece of advice I’ve received came from another strong Latina who is our current Assemblywoman, Annette Chaparro. She said to me, that no matter how many things I might have on my plate and no matter how busy or tired I might be, self-care is really important to success. Whether it’s a run in the park, a manicure, going to the gym, a stroll during lunch, taking a little time out of each day can go a long way.

    How do you celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month?

    Migdalia: In my youth, I was active in the Hispanic Culture Club in Hoboken, and every year our club would perform traditional dances at various venues. This is how I still celebrate today. Bomba is both a traditional style of dance and musical style of Puerto Rico that I enjoy. Merengue is the national dance of the Dominican Republic. The Jarabe Tapatio, better known as the Mexican hat dance, is the traditional Mexican dance, all of which I really enjoy.

    What makes you proud to be Latina?

    Migdalia: Being a Latina is a part of my upbringing and a part of my identity. And I’m so proud of it. We have a special passion for life, a passion for the savory cuisine we created, a passion for the vibrant music we listen to and enjoy, and most of all, our resiliency and tenacity. The list can go on!

    Judy Nunez of Tails on Trails LLC

    judy hispanic heritage month

    After a long stint in the corporate world and a life-altering back injury, Judy Nunez knew she needed to change her future and was took the work ethic she learned from her upbringing with her.

    Please tell us about your profession and how you got into your field

    Judy: I am the founder of Tails On Trails LLC. We provide outstanding personalized pet care services to the Jersey City community since 2012, everything from daily small-group dog walks to private cat boarding services. Entering the field of pet care came as a complete surprise. I had just ended a decade-long career in the corporate world due to a back injury that left me legally disabled at the age of 28.  It was overwhelming to lose my autonomy at a time that so many of my peers were making leaps and bounds in their careers and in their personal lives.

    My solace came from my large family, friends, our yellow lab Jake, along with my three rescued cats Wilhelmina, Josephine, and Bronte. After my disability coverage ended two years later, I was left with the daunting task of figuring out a future for myself where I still could not sit for more than a few hours a day. With my office days and dreams long gone, during an especially long walk one day, I realized how important my pets had been to me during my disability and how much fresh air made a difference for me. Right then and there I decided to make a big change. Twelve years ago, dog walking was a relatively new profession, but all I knew was that my body cooperated and did well when I walked. So I gave myself to it completely!

    Never thinking it would be my future, I saw it as the key to my freedom and to having my autonomy back. It was a very humble beginning and tough. Especially when we officially opened Tails On Trails in 2012, only to have the business destroyed by Hurricane Sandy a mere two weeks later. Only 30 days after that, came the realization that we were also expecting our first child. Building a new business under those conditions, walking hours on end every single day in all kinds of weather  —high 90’s full humidity and -10 below days, weeks, months, and eventually, years — as a new mother were brutal. I found peace through perseverance and dedicated myself to the pets that were entrusted to us by our incredible clients. Experiencing this intense beginning of our business changed everything, it gave me crystal clear focus.

    Now so many years later, we have a thriving business in a community that supports and rallies around us and what we stand for. We have an exceptional office team, remarkable long-term walkers and sitters who are devoted, and sincerely passionate pet care professionals. It has been a sincere, unequivocal labor of love!

    How has your culture influenced your work?

    Judy: My family’s work ethic is legendary. I am a first-generation Dominican and a native Spanish speaker. Both of my parents first came to this country and settled in the NYC area in the early 1970s. My father worked himself to the bone first as a dishwasher and over the years all the way to the head chef and owner of three successful restaurants. My mother worked in factories in NYC as a seamstress and made it all the way to becoming a restaurant owner herself. My family catapulted from the farms of the Dominican Republic to a middle-class neighborhood in Bergen County, NJ, all without a formal education past the 6th grade.

    Our culture is the shining example of what could be accomplished by sheer passion, grit, and dedication and in particular our special brand of hospitality. The restaurant business in NYC is no joke, especially back in the ’80s. My family taught me the importance of exceptional customer service. Only restaurant and retail workers can truly attest to this. No one is tougher than a hungry patron. Fortunately, no one is more hospitable and has more knowledge about customer care and helping someone feel at home than Latinos. In our culture, we know how to make things happen and we do it with love. We know how to work and take pride in everything we do, our family and our honor depend on it.

    Regarding honor, the most important factor I insist on implementing in all we do at Tails On Trails is the term “casa ajena,” which translates to “someone else’s home,” which essentially means, “Watch yourself! You are in the presence of another person’s home, treat it with the highest level of respect.” We use it and teach that term to all of our staff and expect them to honor it. This is huge for me and essential to the success of Tails On Trails, and to our loyal and strong following.

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    What is the best piece of business advice you have gotten from another female leader?

    Judy: My mother was a force of nature. She always said, “do it scared.” It doesn’t matter what it is, who you are up against, yourself, others, or if the whole wide world. If it is in your heart and you can’t live without it, find a way to do it. And just do it scared. There is no other way. That is what guides me through every iteration, every challenge that comes my way.

    How do you celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month?

    Judy: There are so many events in the NYC/NJ area that our celebration ends up varying from year to year. This year I looked forward to enjoying the Ballet Hispanico A la Calle Block Party in NYC at the end of September. I have a Martha Graham/Modern Dance background and seriously love anything related to dance. There were company dance performances, live music, free dance classes, and kid activities, and I’m sure my now six-year-old son will be in awe.

    What makes you proud to be  Latina?

    Judy: I am proud to be Latina because we have remarkably strong roots. Especially because I come from a long line of strong, willful, passionate women. Our family is seriously huge. My father is firstborn out of 20 siblings. My mother was the 12th child out of 20. I have dozens of aunts and uncles and I would imagine at least 85+ first cousins alone.

    My entire family counts into the hundreds. We are vivacious, loud in the best sense of the word, and we know how to throw a party. But most importantly we lead with our full hearts.  This past summer, about 20 first cousins I grew up with all gathered as adults for the very first official time in Florida. On this trip, we realized that our families all traced back to the 1700 to one location: San Jose de las Matas, a small municipality of the Santiago province in the Dominican Republic. That knowledge gave me some serious perspective. To see how far and wide our legacy and history had encompassed and how time and passion and grit had led to where we stood today. We are and continue to be the trailblazers no matter the obstacle.

    Michelle Caba of 718 Beauty

    michelle hispanic heritage month

    After working for 20 years on Wall Street, Michelle Caba went back to her summers as a child in Puerto Rico to build her dream business and pursue her passion for beauty.

    Please tell us about your profession and how you got into your field.

    Michelle: I am the owner of 718 Beauty Bar located on Washington Street. After almost 20 years on Wall Street, my real passion was in the beauty/fashion industry.  Owning a full service salon was the perfect marriage of everything I thrive on.

    How has your culture influenced your work?

    Michelle: I am half Puerto Rican {maternal} and half Dominican {paternal}.  I spent all my summers as a child in Puerto Rico with my abuelita.  She taught me the importance of taking care of yourself.  How you present yourself to the world is how they will treat you.  This meant taking care of your skin. Hands and feet are clean and manicured. Always look presentable with makeup. Make a statement with your clothes. She also taught me to always be prepared for my guests by being pleasant. Keep a clean house. No matter who visits, you treat everyone the same.  Entertain with some festive music in the background.  When you visit 718 Beauty Bar, you find the influence my abuelita has had in my life.  We are all invested in your beauty. We’re inviting, pleasant, and everyone feels welcomed. A clean and sanitary environment is our priority. Music and prosecco set a vibe. We’re your home away from home.

    What is the best piece of business advice you have gotten from another female business owner?

    Michelle: I’ve been fortunate to meet a great group of Latina small business owners early into owning 718 Beauty Bar.  Our businesses range from restaurants, retail to think tanks that empower women. We get together and candidly discuss our challenges and our successes. We pool together our experiences to resolve those challenges for each other. We end with celebrating our successes. The best advice I’ve gotten is to treat my business as a franchise prototype. In order to do that, I should write everything down. This resulted in an employee manual that I created where all expectations and processes are clear. I saw an immediate positive impact on my business.

    How do you celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month?

    Michelle: My son, Cash, and I celebrate our Hispanic Heritage all year round. I’m so proud of my culture and I instill this in my son. This month we will visit the Museo del Barrio in NYC. We enjoy learning about Hispanic artists and their inspirations. Food is a natural celebration for us, eating Caribbean food at a Cuchifrito is such a treat. We’ll watch a movie celebrating our heritage. You’ll find us dancing salsa and merengue in our kitchen almost every day.

    What makes you proud to be Latina?

    Michelle: The diversity and richness of our culture make me a proud Latina.

    Happy Hispanic Heritage Month to everyone in our Hudson County Latinx community! 


    Written by:

    Jordan and Joelle are true Jersey Girls. Originally hailing from down the shore in Hazlet, NJ, the girls made their "rite of passage" move to Hoboken a few short years after graduating with degrees in Communications from Loyola University. Outside of their 9-5 as senior publishers in NYC, the twins can be found walking their yorkie-poo Chica, working out at the best hot yoga studios, or trying out the best restaurants in town. Like many 20-somethings, Jordan and Joelle are balling on a budget and know how to score the best deals around town!