Still here, still smiling, 10 years later

Are you living proof that difficult roads often lead to the most beautiful destinations?  Have you learned the hard way that the very best things in life aren’t usually surprising, and they don’t come quickly, or easily?  If you’re anything like me, you’re echoing a resounding “YES!” in your mind as you read those words

The very best things often take the longest and require more of you than you think you have to give. 

It’s no surprise then, that it’s been more than a year that we’ve been working to bring Cindy Pedraza Puente, the co-founder of CocoAndre, up to Frisco from Dallas to be our Featured Guest for a HeartStories Girls Night Out, chocolate-making class!  I wanted so badly to have Cindy with us last year, but the timing and logistics simply didn’t work. At the time it was incredibly frustrating. 

But today, I can see so clearly the beautiful destination we were headed for.

In the beginning, Cindy’s chocolate-making story was not something she had planned.  In fact, it was birthed from an incredible collision of pain. It began when Andrea, Cindy’s mom an immigrant seamstress from Mexico, began working for a local Dallas chocolatier, who was trained in European chocolate techniques.  He hired her to run his shop where she worked for 24 years before he unexpectedly sold the store. Which caused Andrea to begin exploring the idea of entrepreneurship. Almost simultaneously, her daughter Cindy (a single mother at the time) came home in tears to tell her that she’d just lost her job due to the recession.

That’s the day the idea of CocoAndre was born.

In late 2009 they signed a lease on a shop in Bishop Arts, that had been completely abandoned for more than 27 years.  With only their final paychecks in their pockets and the generous help of family and friends, they renovated it as best they could and opened the shop in time for Christmas.  But that was only the beginning of this labor of love for Cindy and Andrea. Just like traveling to any beautiful destination, their journey has been full of ups and downs.

It’s been the highs and lows that have made them the beautiful women they are today.  

Cindy recalls one of those lows when Andrea first began teaching about the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) with her Sunday school class in her church, it was frowned upon.  But it was very much a part of the traditional beliefs in Mexico, and Andrea didn’t want the future generations to lose that part of their heritage. So when she opened the store she was determined to do something for it on her own terms.  They hosted their first Dia de los Muertos celebration in 2009 when they opened, and have hosted one every year since.

This year is especially wonderful because it’s their 10-year celebration! 

“When we first started doing it down here in Oak Cliff, it was predominately Hispanic people who came, but now it’s incredible to see our shop filled with so much diversity.  The first time, 40 people crowded into the shop. We were thrilled. Now, they just keep showing up! Whether it’s cold or raining, it doesn’t matter. (This year, their event shows nearly 7,000 people interested in attending!)   Last year started I was crying on Instagram because people started tagging us in their “ofrendas”, the altars we make to celebrate and honor the lives of our past loved ones.  People all over the world are tagging us with photos. It’s overwhelming that people want to share this part of their lives with us because these connections are very healing for everyone.  It’s not about the skull or dressing up. It’s about the healing that comes when you turn something that was emotionally difficult into something positive that you can celebrate.” 

The misconception is that Dia de los Muertos is tied to Halloween and darkness, when in fact, it’s quite the opposite. 

All the colors and symbols used in the celebration all have significance.  The monarch butterflies, the marigolds, the names written on the foreheads. . . it’s all tied to the deeper meaning and purpose of bringing happiness, light, and life to the dark places.  Which is, not surprisingly, a lot like everything Cindy and Andrea do together. A great example is this recent post from Cindy:

“So its been ten years and we are still here, smiling. ⠀

I used to make fun of my mom because she would smile at random when some people would talk to her and I would look at her like why are you smiling mom?  Then I learned that it’s a coping mechanism, and PEOPLE, l have become my mother. 

We smile through confusion, chaos, disappointments, when we feel attacked, when people are rude, when people ask us weird questions, when people try to stump us, or when people diminish our work, we SMILE!⠀We go back to work, things through, laugh, and keep it moving.  We focus on what we do have; each other, our families, our supportive community, strength, and hope. We don’t need awards or accolades because all we need is exactly what we have: EVERYTHING!”

For Cindy and Andrea, 10 years later, this journey has made them the incredible, strong, and generous women they are today. 

For the people of Dallas, their determination on this journey has brought life, healing, celebration, and the Art of Chocolate to people who didn’t even realize they were needed it. 

For you, it’s a pretty safe bet that your current situation looks very different from the quick and easy, direct route you had planned.

Maybe you’re discouraged because you’re still trying to get your bearings on this journey you’re on.  

I hope Cindy’s story encourages you to keep going. 

It’s impossible to know the ending, but I can promise you this:

No matter where you’ve been, if you’ve read this far, there’s still fight left in you.  

You’re still here.  

Someone needs you to keep going.  

to more love,

Crystal 

PS  Join us a week from tonight, at Coco Vida GNO,  for a healing celebration of life that will energize your body and encourage your heart!  Get your ticket today.  

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