Ma del Carmen Salazar Ruvalcaba, 62, runs a pharmacy and natural remedy store inside the La Gran Plaza’s El Mercado, 4200 South Fwy. Salazar Ruvalcaba and her husband grew up in Jalisco, Mexico, before they migrated to Atlanta and then Fort Worth. Now, the couple sets up their shops at the Hispanic-serving mall and various pulgas, or flea markets, in North Texas. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

A short, white-haired Mexican woman sat smiling behind a natural remedy-stacked counter. The remedies — like Cicatricure, a scar treatment; Riñosan, a kidney and liver health tea; and Jengibrim, a ginger root tea — are household names in Hispanic homes both in the U.S. and south of the border.

Ma del Carmen Salazar Ruvalcaba, the 62-year-old owner of Farmacia Naturista Mama Coneja, began working in pharmacies in Jalisco, Mexico when she was 14.

“It was the necessity of wanting a bit more money,” Salazar Ruvalcaba said in Spanish. “My dad retired from work and my Sunday allowance growing up narrowed, so I started working in pharmacies doing chores like mopping, sweeping and sorting shelves. I was young.”

When she first arrived in the United States, she worked at shoe stores, selling beauty products, and at Motorola, but she couldn’t get accustomed to working for someone else — and those jobs didn’t pay her bills, she said.

Salazar Ruvalcaba and her husband, Manuel Garcia, 63, run the pharmacy out of La Gran Plaza as well as area flea markets. The success of their business allowed them to recently send their 18-year-old daughter to college and open another booth inside El Mercado.

Manuel Garcia looks for a product at Farmacia Naturista Mama Coneja, inside La Gran Plaza. When Ma. del Carmen Salazar Ruvalcaba went home to Jalisco in the 1990s, Garcia, her husband, already worked there as an engineer for Mexican tech companies and later Siemens. Garcia quit his engineering job in the early 2000s, during an economic recession in Mexico. Because of work trips to the United States, he was familiar with the U.S. He had traveled to the States for work multiple times, he said, but never found his footing. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)
Garcia helps a customer find tea leaves on Aug. 25. After a series of unsuccessful trips to the United States from Guadalajara, Salazar Ruvalcaba and Garcia moved North one final time — this time to Fort Worth. “When we came to the United States 17 years ago, we only meant to stay for two years. I had a great job in Mexico. My wife didn’t have to work and my kids could go to school,” Garcia said. “We came to make some money at flea markets then leave. That didn’t happen.” The couple sold silver and gold jewelry at flea markets, but the 2008 recession ruined his business. That’s when Garcia learned about natural remedies and medicines from a vendor he began to work with at a local flea market, he said. His wife already knew about the business. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)
Hispanic remedies sit stacked on a counter at Farmacia Naturista Mama Coneja inside La Gran Plaza. Soon after La Gran Plaza opened its doors in 2004, Salazar Ruvalcaba and Garcia opened Farmacia Naturista Mama Coneja. The couple sells natural remedies such as teas and medicine both at La Gran Plaza and at local flea markets. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)
Bags filled with palo azul, or kidney wood — for making tea — are stacked on shelves at Farmacia Naturista Mama Coneja. The sacrifice and workload is heavy, Garcia said. “Our kids, we sacrificed time with them. At flea markets, I see families selling tamales, and their baby is in a stroller next to a cooler filled with food for sale,” Garcia said. “It’s a tremendous sacrifice for the entire family.” Four days a week, Garcia sets up the store at flea markets from Cleburne to Waco. He unloads over 60 boxes of product early in the mornings and sells through the evening. His struggle has paid off, though, he said. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

“When a person suffers or things get complicated, it’s a learning experience. You can’t lay down and cry and pray God sends you something,” Garcia said. “When things are tight, that’s when you channel your courage and the necessity to come out ahead.”

Hispanic people show their courage when things get difficult, Garcia said, especially when delving into something new.

“By the time we thought of opening this pharmacy, I was hesitant because we had failed in creating so many businesses before,” Garcia said. “But thanks to God, we hit the nail on the head, finally.”

Salazar Ruvalcaba and Garcia held their heads high with pride when talking about their business and journey. They feel proud that they contribute to the Hispanic community and economy, they said. “When people say Hispanics don’t contribute to the economy or that we take handouts, I laugh. When we come to the U.S., most of us come with nothing, but you look around and so many of us are something now,” Garcia said. “We pay taxes, we own homes, we send our children to school.” La Gran Plaza ranks fifth for the average number of weekly visits, behind The Parks Mall in Arlington, North East Mall in Hurst, Montgomery Plaza in Fort Worth and Hulen Mall in south Fort Worth, the Report reported. The business hub also contributes $117 million in sales. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Garcia said that economic power doesn’t come from nothing.

“If you don’t spend money or pay taxes or contribute to the economy, your community and people cannot move ahead,” he said. “As a business owner, what we pay in taxes and what we spend as a family helps future generations of Hispanics in the city.”

Salazar Ruvalcaba agreed. She said she feels like she is contributing to the development of the city. The couple hopes their second recently opened pharmacy inside La Gran Plaza’s El Mercado is equally as successful as their flea market and other booth locations.

Cristian ArguetaSoto is the community engagement journalist at the Fort Worth Report. Contact him by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Cristian is a May 2021 graduate of Texas Christian University. At TCU, ArguetaSoto served as staff photographer at TCU360 and later as its visual editor, overseeing other photojournalists. A Fort Worth...