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Hard Work and Tacos Got This South Gate Taquera Through Four Years of College

[dropcap size=big]W[/dropcap]hen South Gate resident Jessica Valdez decided to return to school, she had no idea how she was going to juggle college and the start of her new career of being the lead taquera for her taco catering business. 

“I was 35, and pregnant with my fourth child, it was very much a ‘now or never moment’," said Valdez. 

The owner of TacoBron LA Catering said her need to show her children that anything is possible plus her love for cooking is what helped her push through her long hour days. It’s what got her through her time at Cypress College and most recently California State University, Fullerton.

But Valdez’s work ethic and love for tacos began long before her journey with TacoBron LA or before her return to school. For her, it all started in Tijuana. When she was just a little girl, she remembers taking trips with her family on the weekends to visit her abuelo (grandfather) who at the time lived in TJ.  

“We would go to this place called La Villa and it’s like a little strip where there’s a bunch of taqueros and I would watch them like I was watching a magic show,” Valdez said. 

She would carefully examine every move the taqueros would make, watching as they rapidly chopped the meat and effortlessly placed it on a tortilla before they’d fling the salsa onto the taco. The taquera said the hustle she saw in those taqueros in Tijuana growing up stayed with her until this day. 

So when she started TacoBron LA Catering after friends and family insisted she start selling her food, she decided to apply that same magic and hustle to her business. Along with her husband, she began catering throughout Los Angeles, Orange County, and the Inland Empire. For her, being a taquera is as important as continuing her academic journey. 

“It has been very empowering because I am a woman, and the taquero scene is very male-dominated so it feels good adding to the number of taqueras out there,” said Valdez. 

“If you have a desire to do something whether it’s returning to school or starting your own business or both just go for it, don’t let self-doubt or age stop you.”

During her time in school, the mother of four said she didn't have much time for fun and games and expressed how her weekend catering business was her way of winding down. Especially during her last semester of school, where she found herself juggling assignments, exams, an internship, work-study, and her business. Not an easy task considering she has to prepare days in advance for the taquizas on the weekends. 

“It’s a huge challenge and you hit many obstacles and I think what kept me going was the passion and the love that I have for cooking,” she said. “That was actually my escape or it’s been my escape from school, from being a mom, that was my playtime.”

Just two weeks ago, the 39-year-old taquera proudly walked the stage and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Human Services. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Valdez was only allowed two guests at graduation but her dad and four children watched from home and cheered her on as she received her diploma. The video was so heartwarming it brought tears to her eyes. “My kids made me feel like it was all worth it because they were so proud of me,” she said.

But the hard work for Valdez is far from over, the South Gate native will be attending her dream school, UCLA, where she will be pursuing her Master's degree in social work. Eventually, Valdez would like to work with victims of domestic violence. As for her catering business, that’s her lucky charm, Valdez said she will continue cooking tacos as long as she is able to. 

When asked what she hoped people would take from her story she tells L.A. TACO, “I think that anything you want to do is possible, If you have a desire to do something whether it’s returning to school or starting your own business or both just go for it, don’t let self-doubt or age stop you.”

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