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Passion, Perseverance, and Produce: Cristela’s English at Work Testimonial

Focus on the craft, not the corner office. This is the mantra that underscores the triumphs and tribulations of Cristela Reyes, a 2022 English at Work graduate of Smart & Final. Cristela is a devoted mother and dedicated employee. Her combined willingness to sacrifice for her family, relentless curiosity, and drive resulted in numerous successes both on a personal and professional level.

As one of ten siblings raised by their widowed mother in El Salvador, the then-16-year-old Cristela escaped her country after her family was threatened and robbed at gunpoint. In a panic, realizing the country was no place for her daughters, Cristela’s mother reached out to family in the United States who helped them arrive and plant roots in California.

Now, Cristela lives in California with her 13-year-old son, for whom she has made great sacrifices and speaks of with a prideful tenderness. “I did not want to come here, I was afraid to learn another language,” recounts Cristela. Through attending night classes, Cristela graduated from high school but was unable to fulfill her dream of attending college. Instead, she began working in grocery retail, which led her to uncover a passion for working with produce. After seeing a posting for help at Smart & Final, driven by her desire to work more intensely in the produce sector, she applied for and got the job. Lightheartedly, Cristela credits the employee who was out with an injury at the time as the reason she was given a chance.

Cristela expressed gratitude for her manager, Oscar, who gave her the opportunity to showcase her knowledge of produce, spread the word about her talent and experience, and, just this year, urged her to take the English language classes offered by Smart & Final. For the past four years, with Oscar’s support and encouragement, Cristela has been building strong relationships with coworkers and a regular clientele, resulting in an expansion of the store’s produce section, a 63% spike in her personal sales, and a pay raise. This is a great source of pride for Cristela, and strong motivation to focus on her craft and continue to grow.

She finds deep joy in creating appealing produce displays as she is amused by the game-like nature of drawing on the human tendency to “buy with our eyes.” She is constantly finding new ways to advertise effectively to customers, making constant adjustments to appeal to changing consumer tastes. “If you are passionate, if you love what you do, you have found everything in life,” she says. This marketing skill is substantially enhanced by speaking English because it allows her to know, engage with, and address the needs of the clientele in more meaningful ways.

She is grateful that English has allowed her to connect more with native speakers and to have common ground with speakers of other languages as well. “I got to meet people from many countries, and by speaking English, I can help them get exactly what they want,” she states proudly.

This attitude towards constant growth allowed her to immerse herself in the craft, even when other areas of her life faced hurdles. A few years ago, Cristela was diagnosed with breast cancer. With the supportive environment of Smart & Final and a love for her job, she was able to find solace as she weathered rounds of chemotherapy. “It gave me a way to stay motivated,” she says, recalling the emotional shelter her employer provided for her during this bout with cancer. She is now cancer-free, and deeply committed to her family and continued self-development.

Hear Cristela’s remarks at her
English at Work graduation ceremony.

Cristela enthusiastically shared that English at Work furthered her ability to grow in the industry. She hopes that by increasing her English proficiency she will achieve her dream position as District Manager.

Through her participation in English at Work, she was able to hear stories of others on the same path. She was particularly inspired by hearing their stories of perseverance and hard work, which she closely related to. Though she jumped at the chance to take the English classes being offered, she had not anticipated the impact it would have on her career, nor how much they would boost her confidence and self-esteem. Painfully shy on her first day, Cristela blossomed into an active class member, opening up by leaps and bounds as the weeks passed. Not only did she attend every class, but she encouraged her peers to never give up on their language journey.

When asked if she would recommend the class to others, Cristela was quick to laugh, stating  “Ha, I already have.”

The National Immigration Forum would like to thank Ella Nguyen, Business Engagement and Inclusion Programs intern, for highlighting this story.

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