Adela Ruiz, a 46-year-old immigrant from Oaxaca, Mexico, was one of the millions of women in the United States who became unemployed because of the pandemic.
Today, her family owns and operates La Cocina Oaxaqueña Con Adela in Orange County.
From February-June 2020, unemployment rates increased for Latinas from 4.9% to 15.3%, and for Latinos from 3.2% to 12.8%, according to the University of California, Berkeley Labor Center. The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lock-down caused her to become unemployed, after being employed as a housekeeper. In the summer of 2020, her Ruiz’ biggest worry was figuring out how she could continue to support the family members she had in Mexico and in the U.S.
When she immigrated to the U.S. in 1998 to Westminster from Teotitlán del Valle, a small indigenous village, located 19 miles from the City of Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Ruiz tried her hardest to preserve the culture from her hometown in her own home. She kept close her traditional language, Zapotec, which was the only language she spoke fluently when she arrived to Califonia.
But something that she had trouble replicating was the savory dishes of her people. She had difficulty finding Oaxacan food, spices and ingredients that she missed dearly in California.
Like many immigrant families in the U.S., the Ruiz family began exporting foods from their hometown. Oaxacan cheese, tortillas, chocolate, spices, amongst other things, were shipped from friends and relatives to her new home in the Orange County, CA.
Little did Ruiz know that it would be her Oaxacan roots and traditions that would pull her out of unemployment. In 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, Ruiz began to teach her daughters the basics of cooking, something she added her Oaxacan touch to.
“What began as a project to teach us how to cook, turned into a beautiful family business,” said her daughter, Mayra Ruiz, who has taken charge of the advertising and social media duties of the business.
Mayra Ruiz and her mother co-founded what is now known as La Cocina Oaxaqueña Con Adela, an online business that connects food, traditions and culture.
Mayra Ruiz said that in that process of teaching her and her sister how to cook, her mother had the idea to share the process of making traditional Oaxacan dishes to her community. “We began to share our cooking on Facebook live,” she said.
It was through these Facebook Live sessions that the Ruiz family began to gain an audience. “At that time people were quarantined and they were not able to go out to eat,” Mayra Ruiz said. “More people tuned into our Facebook Live feeds and became interested in seeing my mom’s cooking and the ingredients she used that came straight from Oaxaca.”
In the live streams, Ruiz and her daughter cooked together and showcased the ingredients they used and showed the step-by-step process to serving a full Oaxacan meal. In the beginning, most of their viewers were family and friends, but their Facebook page began gaining popularity and their audience grew in a matter of months.
Clients began placing their first few orders through direct messages on Facebook. Those few clients began sharing Ruiz’s Facebook page and and slowly the small project became more popular through social media.
Today, more than two years since Ruiz became unemployed and the family decided to turn their project into a business, La Cocina Oaxaqueña Con Adela has become a full-time pursuit for Ruiz and her husband. They now sell Oaxacan products, artesanias (handicrafts) and provide catering services.
Some of the imported products from Oaxaca are Mole, a traditional Mexican paste, Pan de Yema, a sweet airy bread made with egg yolks, Pan de Cazuela and casserole bread baked with chocolate and raisins. Other treats include Chapulines (grasshoppers), a variety of Oaxacan cheeses, chocolate, semillas de calabaza (pumpkin seeds) and Tlayudas, a popular flat-tortilla street dis; Artesanias, such clay pots, handbags, embroidered aprons and Guayaberas, a traditional short sleeve embroidered shirt popular in Mexico, as well as other products.
Their business supports other small businesses operated by Oaxaqueños in Mexico. Every time the Ruiz family visits Oaxaca, apart from purchasing from vendors who are already their established distributors, they try to visit and buy artesanias from new local vendors. “We purchase straight from those who are making the products, the owners, we do not go to resellers,” Mayra Ruiz said.
She says this is just one of the main reasons why the family’s business has grown over time.
“Our clients really appreciate our transparency and honesty when we show them and acknowledge the people back in Oaxaca who they are supporting when they purchase with us,” she said. ”Sharing the story of where the good comes from is what has helped us grow in these years.”
Mayra Ruiz grew up in Oaxaca from age 8 through 13. She maintains connection to her roots by working with Oaxaca artists and entrepreneurs. “When I visit other communities, it’s inspiring to see how they are willing to share their goods with us and they teach us about the beautiful relationship they have with the land, the land they used to grow their products, that inspires me,” she said.
Mayra Ruiz said the business has also brought her immediate family members closer. “This is part of my life,” she said, “beginning with those moments when we all come together and connect as a family as we are cooking together, toasting the seeds we sell, planning together, it has all been a beautiful process.”
There are approximately 350,000 indigenous Oaxaqueños established in California, according to El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, a higher educational institution in Tijuana, Mexico. An estimated 180,000 of them live in Southern California, like the Ruiz family.
Today, La Cocina Oaxaqueña Con Adela, ships its goods to California, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, Nevada and Washington DC. Their top-selling food items are their quesillos, which are a string cow’s milk cheese that is often melted on quesadillas, and Mole Oaxaqueño.
Mayra Ruiz said that La Cocina Oaxaqueña Con Adela is working on launching an official website. Information on upcoming events and classes may be found on their Facebook account. For now La Cocina Oaxaqueña Con Adela is only taking orders through their Instagram.