Hair Salon Owner Who Empowers Others (Mexico)

Herlinda Zavala’s story is one of passion and determination captured both in her personality and how she maintains her small business in cosmetology while also giving back to her community, family, and friends. 

Zavala lives in San Jose, California and migrated to the United States from Zapotitlán Jalisco, Mexico at the age of ten with her family via a temporary two-month tourist visa. She is a single mother of two and owns a hair salon in the Willow Glen area of San Jose. She maintains strong ties to her Hispanic culture, and takes pride in how her ancestors taught her to be resilient, hardworking, positive, and nonjudgmental towards others. While Zavala’s culture did not change much after arriving to the United States, she did invest efforts into taking care of herself, emotionally and mentally, in order to take care of her two daughters. It is especially important for Zavala to remain bilingual and bicultural for herself and her daughters. At a young age, Zavala felt she needed to learn English and began taking classes, watching TV shows in English, and practicing the English language with her daughters. 

Zavala also shared how much the County has helped her by providing language access to resources, including single mom programs, food banks, school supplies for children, community centers, and counseling. Learning English was important for her to improve her communication with her clients, but also to communicate outside her home. Zavala believes that the cost of renting a home, or a business is a struggle for the community because it is becoming more expensive. It is increasingly more difficult for people to live here, and there is more pressure to work more hours to maintain a livable income that provides for personal and household expenses. 

Zavala also shared some thoughts on how this relates to the struggle of maintaining a business in this economy. She has owned a small hair salon in Willow Glen for 17 years, since 2005, where she has worked and shared her passion of being a stylist. She draws attention as she walks in the room with her strong presence of beauty, her fashionable attire makes a statement, and her well-kept hair defines her sense in cosmetology and passion for the beauty industry. Confident, she now returns the same opportunity for those who want to become stylists by creating an environment in which people feel safe to express themselves. She continues to encourage her community to pursue cosmetology and gives back to the community by encouraging women to stand up for social justice and to make a career for themselves. She also takes it a step further by providing resources for proper hygiene to people who are dependent on drug use, for the homeless and unhoused, or those who lack money to pay for haircuts. 

Zavala has several thoughts and recommendations for improving the quality of life for immigrants in Santa Clara County. For example, there are multiple immigration benefits, but there is a significant backlog on processing cases, so it typically takes years to finish the process, putting thousands in limbo because of their immigration status. The cost of adjusting immigration status should be affordable for immigrant communities. Also, incarcerated populations and those with criminal records should be given the chance to purge those records and adjust their immigration status. In order to achieve this “You must keep pushing forward” and Zavala plans to keep doing exactly that.

The interview and narrative were done by Carmen Ochoa.


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