A Latina Trailblazer: from Education to Construction
By Veronica Avila
“This is your new country. You are free. You can accomplish anything you want, except become the president of the United States. And always remember, never compromise your ethics. Those were the words 10-year-old Edith de la Cruz heard from her father Romualdo De la Cruz, when they arrived from Guatemala to the US in 1975.
From an early age, Edith was encouraged by her father to stay focused and work hard to reach her goals. So, she did. Edith received her degree in Psychology and began working as an ESL Teacher in Berwyn, IL where she saw a great need for bilingual teachers. One day, while having a conversation with other parents about their kids and college, she realized she wasn’t financially prepared to send her kids off to college. She panicked for a moment but was determined to find a way to start working towards that goal. A friend of hers, a developer, introduced her to the idea of “flipping” properties; if she invested in a foreclosed property, she’d be able to fix it and sell it. That was an “aha” moment for Edith. The problem was that she didn’t know much about the business, but she wasn’t going to let that stop her. She knew a little about carpentry and was ready to learn the rest. Her friend offered to teach her the ropes of the business, as soon as he came back from his 4th of July break. A self-starter, Edith couldn’t wait, so she drove off to seek properties; foreclosed, boarded up houses, anything that had the potential for a “flip.” She found a 3-story flat with a sign that read “Fast-track demolition auction for July 5th.” With only a couple of days left before the auction, she sought counsel from realtors that could help her meet the requirements of the city to bid. After a long search, she finally found someone who could help. So, into court, she went. She was able to become the defendant of the property vs. the city. But now, the court required that she make the needed repairs to the building in 120 days before they would allow her to purchase it. So, she got to work. She fixed all the required repairs and sent her attorney pictures. The phone call finally came in with a, “You should do this full-time.” She received the approval to purchase it. She flipped it, sold it, and she liked the feeling of it. She did it! So, she began her journey as a general constructor on the side. In 2005, Antigua Construction was incorporated and since then has been a minority woman-owned business. If you're interested in starting up a small business, check out our Micro Enterprise program. In 2005, she left the education field to dedicate all her time and efforts into her new construction business, Antigua Construction. Unfortunately, in 2007 the market began to decline, and she had to sell a couple of properties. That didn’t stop her. She was determined to immerse herself in the business of becoming a General Contractor. She took every class she found to become a certified general contractor. She learned, applied for the certifications, and worked tirelessly to obtain them. Today she is certified by the General Services Administration (GSA), Small Business Administration (SBA), Minority and Women-Owned Business Certification Program (M/WBE), Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program (DBE), National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), Illinois Department of Central Management Services (CMS), and Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB). She began looking for what she describes as the “starving artist opportunity.” Started knocking on doors, all of them, to find the opportunity that would allow her to start up as a contractor. After following up persistently, a major contractor asked her, “What do you want?” Edith confidently responded, “I am the Persistent Widow.” He replied with another question, “Are you a widow?” Edith referred him to the biblical reference of the persistent widow. He was silent for a moment, then agreed to work with her. She received her first project of $3,000, then a second, and then another. He gave her the opportunity, and Antigua Construction began to grow. In 2010, she went on vacation to visit her father. Upon her return, the bank that had been her lender for years called to inform her that they would be cutting all lines of credit to small businesses. It was a tough time. Closing the business crossed her mind. As a woman of faith, she asked God for a sign if she was to keep Antigua open. Minutes later, she received a text from a friend in office expressing his support. Then, if in doubt, she received a random call from someone who wanted to let her know what she would be referring her business to federal decision-makers on construction. That was the sign! Edith regained her composure and was ready to move forward with her business. The road hasn’t been easy. Edith has faced adversity and challenges in a man-dominated industry ‘til this day. But that hasn’t stopped her. On the contrary, it fuels her determination to continue moving forward by sticking to her goals. She has faced the challenges of seeing people she entrusted and who she thought would be her biggest supporters, fail her, mock her, and ultimately hurt her. Fortunately, she’s also had good people by her side who encouraged her to let go and move forward. Following her dad’s counsel of looking at life as if in a car, “The windshield is wide and you must focus on driving forward. The rearview mirror serves one purpose, to quickly glance back and then continue to look forward.” And that is what she continues to do with any storm that comes along the way. Let’s talk family. Edith is a single mom of 3 kids, Bryan, Joshua, and Viviana - who have graciously seen their mother working 24/7 while also staying involved in their lives and their education. It hasn’t been easy. There was a point in her life when her children pulled her to the side asking to regain their mom back from Antigua. Fortunately, and not surprisingly, they found a way to make it work. They agreed to leave all technology, including social media, out of their house to have a healthy work-life balance. Fridays became family nights when one of the kids would choose food and activities. Edith values her family enormously and continues to have a strong bond with them. They’re also all involved in the business in some capacity. She shared a funny anecdote with us, “I wanted my kids to speak Spanish well, so I encouraged them to study abroad. My son Bryan went to Spain for a semester, then came back saying he wanted to go back.” The reality was that while he studied in Spain, he met someone special. Edith wanted him here, plus the plan was that he would be joining the business. Fast forwarding, “On April 1st, he invited us to brunch and told me that he was going to get married in Spain. I laughed, it was a great April Fool’s day joke.” He wasn’t joking. He later married and now is pursuing a Master’s in Kinesiology. Her other son, Joshua, is also a part of the business, handling all on-the-field matters, and her daughter Viviana is pursuing a degree in Business Administration, while she gets hands-on experience at Antigua. Edith de la Cruz is undoubtedly a Latina Destacada. She is a successful Latina entrepreneur in the construction business, with significant city and Tollway contracts. She has a strong family bond which she and her children continue to nurture, and she is an example and inspiration to single moms and minorities. Edith shows us that if you’re determined and committed, you can accomplish anything. For more resources on professional development and relationship building, you can follow Family Bridges on social media @familybridges.