News Column

A Family Affair

Page 3 of 3

After years of following the crops, Pablo decided in 1967 to bring his family to the U.S. His oldest son, Pedro, remembers how excited he was at the prospect of going to El Norte. "I really thought we were going to a completely different world, a magical place," says Pedro.

Reality set in when Pablo, his wife Juanita, and their six children arrived in Napa, California, on a rainy night in March. They had no place to stay, but Pablo's new boss allowed them to sleep in the barn. Conditions for the family improved slowly, yet Pablo and Juanita quickly learned that the only way to build a better life for the next generation was through education. "They realized they were trapped in a maze without an exit. They were insistent – we had to go to college," says Pedro.

Ceja Family
Left to right: Pedro, Amelia, Martha, and Armando Ceja.

Pedro received an associate's degree in engineering but decided to forego a four-year plan in favor of a job to help his other siblings pay for college. Armando, who made his first barrel of cabernet when he was 17, studied enology and viticulture at the University of California, Davis. He's now the head winemaker for Ceja Vineyards.

When Pedro married Amelia Morán in 1980, it would become a joint venture in more ways than one. In 1983, Pablo, Juanita, Pedro, Amelia, and Armando bought 15 acres in northern California.

The only financing they could get was a loan with a 21.2 percent interest rate. At the time, they were all still working at other jobs, helping out with the vineyard whenever they could.

Despite their hard work, Pablo and Juanita lost their jobs after they acquired the land. The family couldn't afford the loan payment, and the land had to be put up for sale. "Luckily, nobody bought it," says Amelia.

To save money, Amelia and Pedro, moved in with Pedro's parents. Pedro kept his job as an engineer and commuted 90 miles every day to San Jose for three years. Pablo and Juanita eventually got new jobs, and they were able to keep the vineyard. After their first successful harvest in 1988, they caught a second wind. Bit by bit, along with other investors, they purchased 113 acres.

In 1998, they launched the Ceja wine label. In April 2003, the Wine Appreciation Guild named Ceja the "Best New Winery." They're targeting the Hispanic niche by producing wines that pair well with spicy foods.

Although Amelia now hosts wine tastings for world-renowned chefs and celebrities, she never forgets that it all begins with the workers. "We wouldn't have a wine industry without the Mexican labor force. They are the true artisans," says Amelia. And, Pedro adds, "I would be very happy if we could serve as a spark for others – the kids in the barrios or on the farms. If they see me, a guy who was selling popcorn outside the church when he was six, maybe they'll say, 'Hey, if those crazy guys did it, why not me?'"


Mario and Susana Tapia
Mario and Susana Tapia at the 2000 Golden Age Awards.

When Susana Tapia, 28, was working out of Puma's office in Germany, she often received two copies of Hispanic Business magazine. Both parents are avid readers of the magazine and they separately ordered gift subscriptions for her. Her mother Cecilia says, "Nobody's Latin there. I didn't want her to forget where she comes from."

"Reading the magazine articles fills me with encouragement and support from people who began like my parents, and made a better life for their families," Susana says.

Susana's father, Mario, 56, has been a subscriber since the magazine was launched in 1979. At the time, the Chilean immigrant was commuting from New Jersey to New York City. "I remember the very first issue. It gave me the feeling of, 'Hey, we are a community, a serious and hard-working community.' I used to take the train to work every day, and everyone around me was reading the Times or the Wall Street Journal; I felt proud to be reading Hispanic Business."

As Cecilia steadily worked her way up to her current position, vice president of customer service at Banco de Chile, she was particularly encouraged by the women featured in the magazine. "It made me so proud to see women getting top jobs. The stories about people who started from zero really inspired me," she says. Cecilia is one of the first women to reach the VP level in the bank's 200-year history.

Yet she still remembers what it's like to start from zero. Soon after she and Mario were married, Salvador Allende's socialist regime came to power in Chile. As groups opposing Allende grew more vocal, it became clear that Chile was facing years of political turmoil. Mario and Cecilia made the leap to the United States in 1974.

Although Mario had a master's degree in philosophy and education, the only work he could find was in the laundry room at a Travelodge in New Jersey. In 1977, Mario received his green card, and his employment options increased. He was hired as the assistant director of the Office on Aging in Somerset, New Jersey.

Tapia Family - 1978
Mario, Cecilia, and their daughter Susana in 1978.

He was later recruited by the National Association for Hispanic Elderly, but after two years there, the group lost its funding. Although Mario was out of a job, he was still determined to continue the work. Along with some colleagues, he founded the Latino Gerontological Society in 1991, a nonprofit organization dedicated to education and advocacy for elderly Hispanics. His weapons in the battle are nonstop fundraising, outreach programs, and statistics, which he can readily recite. "In 1970, there were 50,000 Latino seniors in New York. Now there are 300,000. In 1970, there was one Latino senior in 20, and now it's 1 in 4. Around 42 percent of Latino seniors live alone. Two out of three retire into poverty," says Mario. He frequently testifies before the New York City Council and state commissions to offer recommendations for improving the lives of this still-burgeoning population.

For his efforts, in October 2003, Mario received the New York Post's Medal of Freedom at a ceremony hosted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The award honors "everyday New Yorkers whose unheralded goodness and grit, compassion and creativity, enrich the lives of their fellow citizens."

With such high-achieving parents, it may not be surprising that Susana also has made a name for herself in the business world. Soon after the Wharton graduate started at Puma, she noticed that the company's Web site was lacking, to say the least. It displayed the word "Puma" against a black screen – and nothing else. Working after-hours, she wrote all the content for the site, prodded programmers to take on extra work, and launched the shoe company's first online store. "I muscled my way in through hard work. Now the online store is responsible for 10 percent of worldwide sales," she says.

Soon she was in charge of her own department, the Global Strategic Planning Group. After five years at Puma, she recently launched Tapsus, a Miami-based brand management and consulting company.


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