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Wimauma couple's tenacity leads to progress for family, community

To read this story in Spanish, please follow this link.

Armando Rocha, five, is one of Jose and Reyna Rocha's 42 grandkids.

Reyna Rocha prepares cactus leaves for cooking.

Reyna Rocha prepares cactus leaves for cooking.


Chicharróns for sale.

Jose Rocha chats with a customer as daughter-in-law Lupe Rocha helps her out.


Cactus fruit for sale at the market.

Reyna and José Rocha have never felt like all doors were closing shut on them. Not even 25 years ago when they arrived in Wimauma with 12 kids after working long, intense hours picking cherries and blueberries in the fields of Michigan. Instead, they settled in this small town full of new hope and determined to forge a new life for themselves in what seemed to be desolate land.
 
The couple was accustomed to hard labor and insurmountable circumstances, so they laid aside all fears as they settled into south Hillsborough County and launched their own business in 1993. 

“We started in that corner with a small stand of tomatoes, peppers, and onions,” says Reyna Rocha, 75, pointing to the corner of State Road 674 and West Lake.
 
The Rochas hoped to provide some stability for their family and a continuous education for their children, Reyna Rocha says.

“Our children were the deciding factor. We wanted to ... teach them that if one is determined and dedicated to something, the results will be positive,” Reyna Rocha says. “We also saw that in this area, field workers, like us, had to drive a far distance to buy groceries. There was nothing in the area, so we decided to start selling fruits and vegetables.”
 
Their endeavor is now known in Wimauma as La Frutería or El Cuatro Vientos, a supermarket that carries an extensive variety of Mexican products from piñatas to grinding bowls, from nopales to corn husks for tamales, tortillas and dry peppers. The supermarket, officially registered as Jose’s Market, Inc., 5151 State Road 674, also sells homemade pork rinds and conk pulled pork on weekends.
 
Reyna greets all customers with a smile as they enter the store. Her husband José, 82, works in the background to prepare the conk pulled pork that will be sold on the weekend. Both remain committed to the pact they made between themselves many years ago, when they first moved into the community, especially after experiencing a good payoff and seeing their children progress, to build and maintain a successful business that will meet the needs of the community.

Their youngest daughter, Griselda Rocha, 35, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminology in 2006 and a master’s degree in rehabilitation and mental health from the University of South Florida in 2012.

The youngest Rocha is now a mental health counselor in Plant City and attributes her success and that of her family not to coincidence, but to her parents’ tenacity and hard work, who chose to view adverse circumstances as an opportunity to move ahead. 

“I’m so thankful my parents allowed me the opportunity to study,” Griselda says. “I’m the first in a family of 12 children to achieve a university career and I’m so proud of this, but I’m also proud of my siblings. Although, they couldn’t complete their studies because they had to work, they learned to be productive and manage their businesses well.”

Griselda was only four years old when her family arrived in Wimauma. Her family previously spent one year in Ruskin. But her significant childhood memories lie in Wimauma. There she saw her parents’ business slowly continue to change and grow in an area that has remained much the same for the last three decades.

Services aren’t keeping up with growth 

Though, Wimauma’s population has grown by 33 percent -- from 4,246 people to 6,373 between 2000 to 2010, according to data from the U.S. Census, Wimauma still seems to be a town frozen in time. Griselda said there is a strong disparity between the population growth and services available.

“Demographics have changed,” she says. “What used to be a predominantly Mexican population now also includes people from Central America. What used to be a population predominantly formed by agricultural workers, now also includes construction workers, yet the services available to them remain the same. We need more services, such as public transportation, parks, after school activities for the kids, libraries.” 

Many of these services are available in neighboring Ruskin, but not in Wimauma.
 
The Hillsborough County Planning Commission initiated a development plan for Wimauma in 2007. The plan includes commercial development as well as widening and connecting roads in Wimauma. More information can be found on the commission’s website http://www.planhillsborough.org/ wimauma-village-plan/. 

Reyna Rocha says she has not seen much investment in the neighborhood by state and county government or private developers.

“Our business has progressed, but services in Wimauma have not. For example, there’s never been a traffic light here on the corner of State Road 674 and West Lake and it’s a dangerous intersection, accidents occur frequently,” she says.

According to a 2009 study by the Department of Transportation, traffic through Wimauma along State Road 674 -- especially the 2.4 miles between U.S. Route 301 and State Road 579 -- daily stands at 8,600 to 12,200 vehicles, exceeding the capacity of the road. The study estimates that by 2030 daily traffic through Wimauma will increase by 106 per cent to about 17,800-41,700 vehicles in this same spot. The study also concludes that the increase in traffic in that area could be responsible for the increase in accidents reported there.

In spite of the shortcomings, the Rocha family remains optimistic, saying they are committed to staying and continuing to serve the area and its inhabitants.

A family of entrepreneurs, teachers, hard workers

One of their 12 kids, Francisco Rocha, 55, owns the Mexican restaurant next door to the supermarket: Taqueria Guanajato. He also owns another Mexican Restaurant Don Julio’s Cockteles Mexican Food and Taqueria, 5222 State Road 674. He shares the property with his brother Jaime, 48.

“All of my siblings are small business owners today thanks to my parents’ support,” Griselda said.

Pedro, 59, has a roofing business. Ruperto, 59, has a carpentry business; Manuel, 57, owns a taco restaurant in Brandon; Luis and Maria, both 52, work in administration, Nicolas, 53, works in construction; Estela, 45, is seeking a bachelor’s degree in health. Raul, 41, is a mechanic and helps his parents make the conk pulled pork on weekends; Armando, 38, is a teacher, but he also helps make the pork carnitas with his father and brother on weekends. 

Clients of Jose’s Market express their gratitude for the Wimauma supermarket in social media. Silvia Valdovinos, for example, wrote on Facebook that “the best conk pulled pork” can be found at La Frutería. Another customer Karla Polanco Shuman thanked the supermarket on Facebook for making “delicious pork carnitas.”  

And Tomas Hernandez Rodriguez, 67, who has lived in Wimauma for 32 years, says Jose’s Market continues to be a good option for Wimauma residents, especially because of their sale of conk pulled pork on weekends.
 
In the meanwhile, Griselda knows her father José is making sure his two sons Raul and Armado master “the art of making the pork carnitas to keep Wimauma families happy. Just in case he decides to retire soon,” she says.

To read more stories from the 83 Degrees Media On The Ground storytelling project, follow these links for English and for Spanish.

The 83 Degrees Media On The Ground storytelling project is supported by Allegany Franciscan Ministries.

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Read more articles by Imelda Dutton.

Imelda Dutton is a Project Editor and writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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