The Sweet Scent of a Dream Fulfilled

Dreams come true in all sorts of ways, and you can never tell when, how or if they are going to come true.
Maribel Valadez’s dream arrived in the shape of a small, fragrance-filled room with a door that opens onto a parking lot in back of the La Monarca Bakery in South Pasadena.
It’s about 200 square feet, but it’s enough room to turn a dream into a reality. Valadez has opened a handmade soap and cleansing store. The name of the store, Raices (pronounced “raiz-ees”), which means “root” in Spanish, and what she sells takes her back to her own personal roots.
All of the soaps are made in her native Aguascalientes, a city in south central Mexico.
“I always wanted to have my own business,” Valadez said. “Even during the pandemic, there are still opportunities if you look for them.
“It is small, but it is all I need,” she added. “It is not easy, but it is possible. Having this business is like a dream. I always dreamed that one day this would come, and the day came.”
Her best friend operates a soap workshop in her hometown and provides the soaps and solid shampoos that are available for sale in Valdez’s business.
“At one time, my friend and I both wanted to be an actress,” Valadez said. “Now, I sell her soaps.”
That is one of life’s ironies for the daughter of parents who owned a mini-mart in their hometown, and who has always loved to sell things — from clothes, to jewelry and, now, to soaps.
But this is no ordinary soap. It takes 30-40 days from the time the soap is made to the time a bar is normally put up for sale. And those aren’t just generic labels any more than they are generic ingredients.
“Wow, you can really smell this one,” said one customer as she went from bar to bar to smell the soaps scented with lavender, marigold, mixed berries and mint, which were lining the shelves.

Maribel Valadez hopes to hire single mothers like herself at her new store, Raices.

Everything, Valadez reminded the woman, is organic, and everything has a place in nature. She remembers when she was a little girl and her mother would use plants such as aloe to take care of her. Now, she points out to her customers that washing with mint soap can be refreshing, and that donkey’s milk soap can help provide smoother skin. She told me that donkey’s milk was what Cleopatra used, and there is no record of anyone complaining about her skin.

The shampoos are solid and she explained that they are deep-cleaning and noted that her brown hair had gotten longer since she started using it. (She’s a good salesperson, but I’m afraid I’m past the age where anything would help to grow my hair.)
There are also large jars of hand cream, which can be transferred into smaller glass jars that customers can bring back for refills.
Valadez, one of six children, came to the United States in 2002 for a friend’s wedding and ended up meeting her future husband. Her son is now entering his senior year of high school.
“My parents are very happy for me and my son is very proud,” she said. “They always knew that I was a hard worker and they always believed in me.”
She’s lived in South Pasadena for 15 years, and is an office administrator at the Calvary Presbyterian Church on Fremont Avenue.
“When I came here I didn’t know very much English, but I like to talk so I knew that I would have to speak English. So I went to school,” she said.
The start of the pandemic brought the end of Valadez’s job as a listing agent for apartments, and then along came the dream.

At Raices, proprietor Maribel Valadez sells handmade soaps produced by her friend Maria Montelongo, who makes the soaps in Aguascalientes, Mexico.

“The worst thing can be if you don’t try,” she said. “I was afraid. I was concerned, but my dream was bigger and I had the support of my friends and family so I did not feel alone.”
Many of those friends — and her best friend from Mexico — joined her for a grand opening celebration June 22, and cheers rang out for the new shop and its owner.
“I was driving by and saw [the space] was for rent and it just seemed perfect,” explained Valadez. “I wasn’t looking for a space. The opportunity appeared in front of me and I took it.”
The store currently is open 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4:30-7:30 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m.-7 p.m. on weekends. Valadez reports that so far her business has been good. She would love to hire single mothers like herself, and “to give a little back of what I make to the community to those who are in need.”
And so, with her job at the church, a son in high school and a new store, Valadez continues to dream and to be grateful. I interviewed her the day before the Fourth of July and I couldn’t help but think of all the immigrants who have brought their own dreams to the United States.
By turning their dreams into reality, they helped — and continue to help — to build a country.
“I feel so grateful to live in America,” Valadez said. “I consider it fortunate to live here where I have the opportunity to make it.”