Shoppers on International Boulevard in East Oakland's Fruitvale District. The corridor is lined with Latino-owned shops. Credit: Amir Aziz

The California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce will gather for its 43rd annual convention in Oakland Thursday. It is considered one of the state’s largest gatherings for Latino business owners to network and participate in workshops. California Attorney General Rob Bonta will also be in attendance. 

Joe Partida, president of the Oakland Latino Chamber of Commerce, said his organization won the bid to host the convention in order to provide an economic boost to the city. The Oakland Latino Chamber of Commerce was founded in 2019 and is one of four local ethnic chambers of commerce that provides technical support and networking opportunities to minority businesses. 

Ahead of the convention, The Oaklandside spoke with Partida about the current state of Latino businesses in Oakland. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Why do you think it’s important to host this convention in Oakland? 

This is the fifth time the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce has hosted the convention here in Oakland. Since we are a new chamber, we thought it’d be great to have the convention here. We were able to win the bidding process to host a convention and we’re very excited because it opens up the opportunity for our local businesses to find out about the convention and network, as well as participate in workshops. 

Members will be here from over 120 chambers of commerce and associations across the state. It’s the first year that we’re back from COVID as a full-time convention, so we’re expecting a large crowd to come to Oakland.

This convention is billed as providing the Oakland community with a substantial economic boost. What exactly does that mean?

This convention will bring in an estimated $1.5 million to the city of Oakland. That will be in the  form of car rentals, hotels, restaurants, you name it. Many of these visitors will be eating at different restaurants in the downtown area. The welcome reception will be in Fruitvale, so that will give a little stimulus to the Fruitvale district and allow these visitors a chance to get to know the neighborhood which has the largest concentration of Latino small businesses in Oakland.

What do you think is the current economic state of Hispanic/Latino businesses in Oakland?

There are a lot of young Latino businesses in Oakland, and then you have got a few legacy businesses that have been around for a long time. The opportunities in Oakland are amazing because of our sizeable Latino population, and these businesses can cater to that. I’ve seen some businesses that started a couple of years ago with two or three employees, and now they’re at 10 or 15 employees. So they’re doing well.

It’s a matter of providing training and technical assistance. They also need access to capital. Those are the things that we do as a chamber to help our Latino businesses. 

In what ways do you think local Latino businesses are succeeding?

The businesses here are contributing to the Latino community by hiring Latino employees and occupying space. If you look at the rental properties in Fruitvale, for example, there are hardly any empty spaces, pretty much everything’s full. If any spots open up, it gets grabbed right away. So, Latino businesses are definitely doing well. 

What are the challenges that you feel are unique to Latino business owners?

The new businesses deal with a language barrier because most of them are immigrant arrivals. They come from countries where they’re used to being self-employed. When they come to Oakland, they become self-employed doing something but have trouble obtaining technical assistance.

It’s challenging getting to know how our government works here on every level—city, county, state, and federal. Those are some of the challenges that I think some of the small Latino businesses have. And of course, you have to remember many come here with little education. Having access to education is a plus so they can grow their businesses and they can manage their businesses better.

What do you think are the challenges for a 1st or 2nd-generation Latino who is starting a business and has no language barrier?

The challenges for younger Latinos include access to capital, mentorship, and technical assistance. 

There are fewer issues for them, but there are still the traditional barriers that many of us business owners start out dealing with. If they’re marketing to the Latino market or another market, they need to learn that market because sometimes it’s a little different and can vary neighborhood by neighborhood.

What are some of the projects that your chamber of commerce has worked on to support local Latino businesses? 

Three years ago we got a grant from the city to do a survey and outreach to the Hispanic community all over Oakland. We were able to contact over 500 businesses and we helped them with all kinds of different issues and problems. We’re going back and doing that again later this year.

During the pandemic, we could not have mixers for networking, so now we have a monthly newsletter that goes out with lots of information on loans, grants, and more. That newsletter has allowed us to create this communication with our members that’s paid off. Last year, uh, we created a list of Latino restaurants on our website. And then, of course, the convention was a big boost for us, an opportunity to bring the convention to Oakland and help highlight our chamber.

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining The Oaklandside, he spent two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the local news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, is on The Oaklandside team through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.