Just off the square in Mexico, Missouri, a single storefront contains a market, a clothing store and place for the community to gather.
Reyna Hernandez, owner of Diva 27, was among the first members of Mexico’s Hispanic community. When she first arrived in town in 2001, she had to drive long distances to find products that she needed and that were familiar to her. Now, her store provides those products and much more.
The majority of Diva 27’s customers, Hernandez said, hail from two countries: Mexico and Guatemala. They come to the store to see familiar faces and to gather as a community.
Meeting a need, seeing an opportunity
Hernandez puts it simply. Her family’s situation in her home country, Mexico, was difficult. They wanted to do something different, she said, and the U.S. is a good place to try something new. Her family moved from Oaxaca, Mexico, to California in 1999.
Hernandez arrived in Mexico, Missouri in 2001 with about 20 people — her sisters, her brothers, her cousins and her friends. Before that, Hernandez had been working in the fields in Selma, a city in California’s Central Valley.
They moved to Missouri because they heard that workers were needed at Mexico Plastic, a factory that makes plastic bags.
When Hernandez first arrived in town, she said, her family would travel long distances to find the goods they needed.
“When I arrived here, we didn’t know where the Mexican goods were,” Hernandez said, in Spanish. “We had to travel to St. Louis to bring them here.”
Eventually, she decided to change that. She opened her store and named it Diva 27 — the number representing her birthday, May 27.
Challenges and change
Diva 27 has survived for six years now. Hernandez knows the date the store opened — December 12, 2012 — by heart. But it has not been without its challenges.
When the store first opened, it was somewhat strange for people to see a Hispanic person wanting to have a business there, Hernandez said. But she believes the situation has gotten better.
Diva 27 started out as just a clothing store, inspired by Hernandez’s childhood experiences watching her grandmother run a clothing store in Oaxaca. But after a year of struggling to drum up business, Hernandez decided to sell Mexican groceries as well.
At one point, Hernandez’s niece opened a similar store, but it eventually closed. It was too difficult for two businesses like that to survive in a town where there are few Hispanic people, Hernandez said.
Hernandez speaks little English, which has made some processes — like registering the business — difficult. Fortunately, Hernandez has family members who have helped with translation throughout her time there.
Business is sometimes slow because Mexico is a small town, Hernandez said. But more people are coming, and business is improving.
The number of people of Hispanic or Latino origin in Mexico nearly quadrupled between 2000 and 2010, according to U.S. Census data. Over the same time period, Hispanic or Latino people went from representing less than 1 percent of the city’s population to representing more than 4 percent.
There were moments in the first two years when Hernandez considered closing down the store, but she persisted. Now, she dreams of growing her business even further.
“I wanted to give up,” Hernandez said. “But I am very persistent … I believe I can succeed in keeping a business like this alive in this town.”