Spokane Journal of Business

Hispanic Business Professional Association steps up in pandemic

HBPA aids business owners in securing relief, financial access

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-Karina Elias
Irma Zuniga and Oscar Escamilla considered closing Tacos el Sol at the beginning of the pandemic. They were able to remain open with a Paycheck Protection Program loan.

Oscar Escamilla, who co-owns Tacos el Sol restaurant with his wife, Irma Zuniga, says he considered closing the restaurant at 3422 N. Division, in Spokane, during the first month of the pandemic in 2020, as he put his staff of three on leave.

However, Isabel Mazcot de Torres, vice president of business affairs for the Hispanic Business Professional Association, of Spokane, encouraged him to seek pandemic-related economic relief and helped Escamilla apply successfully for U.S. Small Business Administration-backed Paycheck Protection Program loan funds.

With the funding and the opening of a drive-thru window at Tacos el Sol, Escamilla says he was able to bring back his staff and double it.

He declines to disclose the PPP loan amount the business received, however, ProPublica, a journalism organization that’s tracking such funds, indicates the restaurant received at least $9,500 in PPP loan funding.

Mazcot de Torres helped nearly 25 businesses receive PPP loans, Economic Injury Disaster Loans, and grants ranging from $10,000 to $200,000. 

HBPA is the oldest Latino business organization in Spokane, going back 25 years, with a membership made up of businesses, organizations, and individuals.

Fernanda Mazcot, executive director for the Hispanic Business Professionals Association, contends the Latino community isn’t as visible in Spokane as it is in other U.S. metros, because the Latino population here is comparatively more spread out and less concentrated.

However, U.S. Census data shows the Latino population in Spokane has grown to 6.2% from 4% over 10 years, notes Mazcot. 

Mazcot says many, but not all, of the organization’s members are undocumented or first-generation individuals whose access to services and resources is often limited due to language barriers, fear of exposure and deportation, and lack of access to specific information that impacts their community.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, HBPA set out to ensure members of the Latino community in Spokane were well informed of their rights to access resources.

Mazcot de Torres has a background in finance and works full time for Horizon Credit Union as a Spanish speaking representative, insurance specialist. She heads up the organization’s economic development program that focuses on educating the Latino community on finances through free business and finance workshops led in Spanish.

In April 2020, she paused her workshops to focus on pandemic-related needs. She first approached a Latino business owner and asked if he had heard of the emergency relief services that the government was offering. He was reluctant to apply, but Mazcot de Torres says she convinced him he had a right to apply for such resources. 

“There is a big misconception that because you are undocumented you are not able to receive funding from the government, and that’s simply not true,” says Mazcot de Torres. “That’s the news we broke when the pandemic started. You do qualify for these loans. Your personal identity has nothing to do with your business identity.” 

When the business owner texted her excitedly to say he had received $10,000 in his account, Mazcot de Torres says she knew what a big impact helping local businesses apply for EIDL and PPP loans and pandemic-relief grants would make in the community.

“That’s one thing about the undocumented community. They are afraid to ask, and don’t think they qualify for anything, so they don’t ask for anything,” says Mazcot de Torres. “To me, that was the most impactful thing. You should have seen their smiles. It was amazing.”

In addition, because HBPA was offering COVID-19-related information with its business outreach as well as setting up vaccine clinics, the Washington state Department of Health awarded HBPA further funding to continue helping small businesses.

“When it comes to health, a lot of people were embarrassed to go to the hospitals or clinics because they thought they would get rejected because they are undocumented or don’t have health insurance,” says Mazcot de Torres. “We had to educate the community and inform them the vaccine is free, you don’t need to show your tax returns (which reflect their legal status).”

Mazcot de Torres has resumed conducting finance workshops and is now helping businesses apply for PPP loan forgiveness. HBPA also has partnered with the Karl Maxey Center for these workshops because she noticed that both the Black and Latino communities have similar disadvantages in addition to the language barrier.

She conducts two business-oriented workshops, one for startups which covers the documents and funding needed to get a business off the ground. The second is focused on marketing and stability of established businesses.

Additionally, she leads basic finance workshops that are also open to students.

Mazcot de Torres first began holding Spanish-language finance workshops a few years back because she noticed the Latino community’s lack of understanding of policies, interest rates, or the process of a loan and how it works.

Each workshop had 28 to 35 participants, many of whom asked for one-on-one consultations, a service that Mazcot de Torres also provides so she can guide each member personally.

HBPA also has two other direct services focused on the Latino community in Spokane: The LUNA Program, and its Family and Social Services Program.

Latinos Unidos En Acción, the LUNA Program, started in 2017 and focuses on higher education, student mentorship, and retention.

HBPA executive director Mazcot says, “One thing we were asking ourselves is: How do we retain college Latino students in Spokane? We want more Latino doctors, teachers, business owners here in Spokane.”

HPBA identified a lack of culturally appropriate services and resources as a barrier that Latino students face. Many Latino students who attend Eastern Washington University live in Cheney for four years without ever visiting Spokane, she adds.

HBPA has partnered with several organizations and business in Spokane, including the medical and pharmacy schools here, to connect Latino students to internships and practicums that can help them advance within their chosen field of study, in addition to partnering students with ethnically diverse mentors that can assist them in navigating internship opportunities, resumes, and interviewing skills, says Mazcot.

“Once we connect them with professionals of color, they feel more comfortable to come back and volunteer, be more involved in the community,” Mazcot asserts.

In addition, HBPA advocates for paid internships. Most Latino students come from agricultural backgrounds and are often first-generation college students who want to go back to their hometowns in the summer and work in the orchards or other agricultural settings, says Mazcot.

“I come from Wenatchee (Washington), from an agricultural family,” she says. “I know for me volunteering in the summer wasn’t an option. That’s something we are trying to break so students get to experience the greater Spokane.”

In order to retain students in Spokane, HBPA seeks to provide financial incentives for them in addition to connecting them to services and resources, she adds.

The organization provides six academic scholarships and two cultural scholarships annually. Each May, in partnership with the Spokane Community College, HBPA coordinates an academic recognition ceremony for Latino students in which 250 to 300 families fill up the schools’ recreation center. 

Through the organization’s Family and Social Services program, HBPA provides short-term case management that helps individuals find resources and services in the community.

In March of 2020, the organization received calls from businesses that had to close due to COVID-19 but wanted to donate their food supplies to the community. Soon after, HBPA opened what Mazcot describes as the first culturally appropriate food pantry in Spokane for the Hispanic population.

It opens every Thursday to provide families and individuals with items like beans, tortillas, and chiles.

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Karina Elias
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Reporter Karina Elias covers the banking and finance industry. A California native, she attended the University of California at Santa Barbara. Karina loves salsa dancing, traveling, baking, cuddling with her dog, and writing creative fiction and non-fiction.  

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