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Former politician to bring public relations firm to Turlock
Businesswoman to launch export venture to China
After narrowly missing a spot on the November ballot for the 12th Assembly District, Virginia Madueno has turned her sights to business, opening a new office for her public relations firm and exploring export business in China. - photo by ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal

It was a combination of both her Hispanic heritage and things that she saw in her everyday life that made Virginia Madueno decide to create Imagen, a public relations, marketing and community outreach firm, which recently opened its doors in Turlock.

“Imagen means image in Spanish,” said Madueno. “I thought it would be a great opportunity to expand and help companies better outreach to Hispanics, specifically, the Latino community.”

The inspiration for Imagen came one day as Madueno rode in an elevator and saw two posters – one in English, and one in Spanish.

“I thought, ‘That is such a bad translation,” she said.

Translation was not a field that Madueno wanted to enter, although she speaks Spanish quite well. But, she realized that her background in communications and marketing could be put to use in a way that is helpful to both the Latino community and businesses who may struggle with connecting to them. Thus, Imagen was born.

“My job is to take what you give me and try to make it much more engaging and attractive from a communications perspective to reach out to Latinos,” said Madueno.

The company was created in 2001, and has since evolved to encompass all forms of public relations. Some of Imagen’s most successful stories, however, revolve around issues affecting the local Latino community. For example, Imagen assisted the Merced County Sheriff’s Department in a campaign to help combat the incredible number of methamphetamine labs popping up all over the region. When the sheriff called, Madueno told him what the plan would be.

“I told him we needed to take your message and reach out to the women,” said Madueno.

Soon, women in the communities that were at the heart of the methamphetamine problem were made aware of the damages that could be caused by manufacturing the illegal drug, such as losing their husbands, who were often the perpetrators, or their children. A film on the topic was screened at local theaters, and as a result of the campaign, the number of methamphetamine labs in the Valley has dropped.

“It turned out to be a successful campaign,” said Madueno.

In an effort to bring information on higher education into as many Latino homes as possible, Imagen partnered with Mission Foods, placing information on tortilla packages. Information on scholarships, grants and other useful facts regarding what it takes to make it to college were stamped onto 1.4 million tortilla packages for an eight-week run, effectively educating countless community members.

Over the years, Imagen has done work for both the State and Federal Department of Justice, coproducing a film to combat drug cartels and working with the Drug Enforcement Agency to take down marijuana grows. The firm has also worked closely with homebuilders, car dealerships, colleges and universities.

Since its creation, Madueno often met Imagen clients at her home or at local Starbucks, but new endeavors led her to open her new Turlock office.

Along with her good friend and associate Laura Li, who lives in Beijing, Madueno has started up two business ventures: Tom and Buddy California Premium Roast Coffee and Tealicious. The businesses focus on importing tea and coffee to China while inspiring the country’s women to enter the business world.

“We want to help empower young women to learn about franchise opportunities, business opportunities and leadership,” said Madueno.

Tom and Buddy’s logo features both Madueno and Li’s dogs. The decision wasn’t a random one, but came after some research.

“Because of China’s one child law that has been implemented for such a long time, there are so many middle and upper class families that have adopted their four-legged friends as their family members,” said Madueno. “Their four-legged friends are incredibly special and incredibly protected.”

It is Madueno’s hope that eventually, she and Li will be able to open brick and mortar locations for their coffee, where customers can not only enjoy a cup of Joe themselves, but also bring their furry friend along to pick out dog treats that will be for sale.

Madueno also takes pride in the fact that the coffee, though roasted in California, is grown in Rwanda by women who have been affected by genocide.

“These women have learned about the beans, the soils, how to grow it, how to harvest it, how to sell it and how to market it,” she said. “So, these women are becoming sustainable on their own.”

Sustainability is something that Madueno hopes not only the women in China and Rwanda can learn, but women here in the States as well.

“I was raised with, ‘It’s a man’s world and you have to take a back seat,’” said Madueno. “Says who? We can have it all. What I’ve learned more than anything is the value and power of saying I can and I will.”

It was that determination that inspired Madueno to run to represent the 12th Assembly District this election season. She found herself in a tight race with Heath Flora for the second candidate’s spot following the June primary – something that no one expected.

“Everyone said, ‘Virginia, there’s just no way,’” said Madueno, “and look how close we came.”

Following the primary election in June, the Assembly District 12 race was deemed a "Close Contest" by the Secretary of State's office. Results of the election were delayed for a few weeks as the votes were counted, showing a difference of less than 2 percent between Flora and Madueno. Eventually, it was revealed that Flora would take the second candidate spot.

“Obviously it was disappointing, but we came so close for a race that everyone said there was no chance in hell,” said Madueno. “For me it wasn’t about the final outcome, but it was about what we could do in that period of time while we were out campaigning.”

Though Madueno ran as a Democrat, she expressed disdain for the two-party system.

“We’ve become a society of the ‘Rs’ and the ‘Ds,’” she said. “I think what was really the best part for me is when people said, ‘I don’t care what you are. Tell me more about what you do and what you stand for, and more importantly your vision and goals for the people here in the Valley.’”

Madueno explained that instead of labeling everyone as Republicans or Democrats, Americans should band together.

“At the end of the day, we really don’t think that differently,” she said. “We all want the same thing — we just say it in different ways.”

Though she lost the race for the 12th Assembly District, Madueno walked away better for it.

“I’m still a firm believer that everything happens for a reason,” she said. “I gained so much as a result of the experience: the dialogue, the interactions and the people I was able to meet.”