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Meet Maricia Rodriguez of Del Alma Publications in West Houston / Katy

Today we’d like to introduce you to Maricia Rodriguez.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Twelve years ago, I was working full-time and going to night school to obtain my Master’s degree in Business Administration, when my mother Dr. María Alma G. Pérez who was a bilingual education professor at The University of Texas – Pan American mentioned to me the idea of starting our own book publishing company that would produce books for children in bilingual education programs. At the time, I was taking a marketing class, where we had to create a marketing plan as a project. I remember studying into the feasibility and profitability of creating this business, and my research confirmed that there was indeed a great need for more Spanish language materials and books about the Hispanic culture. I remember mentioning the idea to my marketing professor, and he, too, confirmed it was a good business opportunity. So, one Thanksgiving holiday weekend my sisters, mother and I laid out the plan for our publishing company.

My mother was the only one who had knowledge of the bilingual book market having started a bilingual book library for her teacher interns on campus nineteen years ago. She did this as a result of seeing her students translate English books verbatim in their bilingual classes. Many teachers, then, still did not know about or were not using bilingual and Spanish books in their classrooms.

I was expecting my first child at the time, and I knew I wanted to raise him to be bilingual, but I, too, had trouble finding bilingual and/or Spanish books for him. I remember when he was a baby and sitting down with picture books to read to him, I would also translate the words into Spanish for him. We knew the need for more bilingual books was there, but it took us several years before we launched our first book.

My sister, Teresa P. Estrada, and I both come from STEM careers. She is an electrical engineer, and I am an environmental scientist. However, we both excelled in school and grew up as avid book readers. Together, we researched extensively the book industry before we began. We decided she would lead book production and I in sales and marketing. My mother would write the books. Our other sister, Anita Pérez, who is an attorney, would provide legal support.

In November 2015, we officially launched our business with our first book “Cantos del alma y del Corazón – Poesía Original,” a Spanish middle-grade poetry book. Since then, we have continued every year producing bilingual children’s books. It has been so gratifying to see how our books have been so warmly received by children, teachers, librarians, and parents everywhere.

Has it been a smooth road?
Our path into this business was bumpy since this was an entirely new field for all of us, and there was a definite learning curve. One of our first struggles was deciding to use a self-publishing platform like Createspace (now Amazon KDP) or Lulu or not, but we chose not to since it did not align with our goal of becoming a traditional publisher with multiple authors. This route has definitely been a more hands-on approach, but it has been more meaningful since now we have a strong command of the book production process.

A constant challenge has also been to get more widely recognized and established in the market. We are continuously working on this and are happy to have made some strong business connections in the past year. Our books are now available worldwide through Amazon and book wholesalers, such as Brodart. They can also be checked out in numerous public and university libraries throughout the country, and they are being used in numerous dual-language programs as well.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Del Alma Publications is a Latina-owned, independent book publisher based in South Texas. Our mission is “Meeting the biliteracy challenges of the Hispanic learner” living in the United States in an effort to bridge the achievement gap. Our goal is to produce quality and culturally relevant literature for children, young adults, and educators of bilingual, bicultural educational settings.

We pride ourselves in offering original bilingual and Spanish works written by US-based Latino authors. Our target audience is the U.S. born Hispanic child, and our aim is to provide them with “mirror” books that accurately reflect their culture. We specialize in bilingual children’s picture books and Spanish/bilingual poetry, but we will soon publish middle-grade chapter books, young adult novels, and regional Mexican American history books. We will also be publishing teaching resource material for bilingual/dual language and English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) teachers beginning next year.

Biliteracy, the ability to read and write in two languages, is a challenge for U.S. Hispanics because for so many years, the emphasis has been on an all-English curriculum. Thus, we now face a great shortage of home-grown bilingual education teachers. The cycle has been perpetuated over multiple generations. Only in recent years has society begun to see the multiple cognitive benefits of bilingualism and biliteracy. We aim to do our part and ameliorate this dilemma by being a resource for this generation of bilingual education teachers and parents raising bilingual children.

Being born and raised in the South Texas border area, we have lived in a truly bilingual, bicultural world, where one hour you can be in Mexico and the next in the U.S. and code-switching is a way of life for us. Our books are written in the Spanish that is spoken in the border and to a large extent the rest of Texas. They all have a little “pedacito” (piece) of South Texas in one way or another. We are happy to do this because we feel the rest of the country needs to know more about the border and its people in order to dispel negative misconceptions and stereotypes.

In our four short years in business, we have experienced numerous achievements, but our proudest moment thus far has been our award winner – record-breaker book “Todos a comer! – A Mexican Food Alphabet Book.” It received first place as the best Latino focused children’s picture book in 2017 by the International Latino Book Awards. It has also been our bestseller, being bought in just about every state in the country.

Since our inception, we knew we wanted to support our fellow Latino writers and illustrators in publishing their works. We are now ready to move into the next phase of our business, and we will be publishing the works of two other South Texas educators next year.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I have lived in Houston for over 15 years, and I can say it is a great place for business. It has been great to our business as we have had so much positive feedback from bilingual education teachers, administrators, and parents. There are so many opportunities here from the numerous organizations, business groups, and non-profits, to the very diverse population makeup that a business is sure to find their market segment here. I would definitely recommend Houston for a person starting out in either their career and/or their business.

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Image Credit:
Jocelyn Tovar

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