A Conversation with Seems: Local Businesswoman and Podcaster

Words by Abigail Vela

When I think about people who are “real,” I think about people who are unapologetically themselves. Someone who knows who they are, flaws and all, and isn’t afraid to express themselves or speak their minds. In the Rio Grande Valley, there are many people who may fit aspects of this description, but there is one person I have met who has shown me how “real” real can be. And that is Sirheem Elizabeth Fuentes (she/her), or as she is better known – Seems.

Seems was born in McAllen and raised in Mission and has accomplished so much throughout her time living in the RGV. Currently, she is one of the owners of the local coffee shop, Black Honey Coffee Company, and releases weekly (and rather therapeutic) episodes through her podcast, The RGV Seems. In this interview, we talked about growth, following your passions, and what it means to be your true self.

Seems proudly standing at the center of her humble coffee shop, Black Honey.

A Journey of Self Growth

Can you tell us how you got to where you are – right here/right now?

There were a lot of years where I wasn’t very productive, I didn’t do a lot of self-growth, I just let life happen to me a lot, and I blamed the rest of the world like it’s everybody else’s fault that I haven’t figured out my life. In college, I started thinking more about what I wanted to do, but then I ended up teaching because it kind of was present at the moment. And so, I feel like the person I am right now started the moment I decided to quit teaching because I really didn’t like it, even though the money was good. 

I taught, then I worked for a restaurant, then I worked for a thrift store, and then I met Serg, and I feel like he was such a big part in like, “Hey, stop blaming others for the fact that you don’t know what you want to do, if you’re not searching within yourself, that’s a you thing.” And I was like – “You’re wrong!” But he was right! So then I started to learn about myself and learn about what I wanted, and I took a bunch of social media jobs here and there, and I started blogging, and that was really awesome… 

Where I’m at now is the meeting of like, oh, I’d like to build community, and I’d like to share local, and I’d like to help people understand that there’s a lot going on, but also I need to focus on me providing it, me making it.

The hardest thing to do is look inside yourself and then and then go like “Damn, I'm really not perfect, and I have a lot to work on.”

Family and the Meaning of Success

How has growing up in the RGV impacted you? 

What [is life] like coming from a place of not having a lot and still wanting to become someone…Where I come from, living in government housing and having food stamps – everybody around me was always like, “well, this is how it is.” Like, my parents are on food stamps, I’m going to be on food stamps, and I’m gonna live in this government home too, and the generation to come is going to keep going, and it kind of feels like they are like “This is life.” My brother and I were always like, “We gotta get out of here, we can’t ever think about raising our kids like this; this is hard. We’ve seen hard stuff.” I want to share how you can still have a whole life afterward. 

I really admire that because it almost seems, when we’re growing up, that it’s normalized to be almost at levels of poverty. 

Yeah, because everybody around us is!

We grow up in a culture where most of our families adopt a hustle mentality. If your family perceives that you’re not doing enough or working the right jobs, how does it make you feel?

I don’t make a single dime off [my podcast], but I spend a lot of time doing it. And it almost feels counter-intuitive… It almost feels like creativity and art should be way down the line when you retire. But this is important, too. 

Even now that I have a coffee shop, I’m not making a whole lot of money because most of the time, we are spending it back on the coffee shop…It’s this thing where, because we don’t come from a lot of money, people automatically think that if you’re not showing me that you have a lot of money, then you don’t have it. But that’s not important. 

It doesn’t matter how much you do in your life, [but] trying to look good in front of your family or prove to them that you’re someone or doing something, that should never be a reason why you do things because you may never impress them and you may never change their minds about things.

The RGV’s Renaissance Era

What about the RGV do you think people who have never been here need to know, or would you like them to know?

What I wish people knew about the Valley is that it is quite a diverse space it is – I think we’re in a Renaissance period in the Valley. Other cities had it like 25 years ago, they were going through it, and they are on the other side, just growing and growing. We’re in this place where we’re kind of finding our footing, and the food is really thriving, and small communities are really thriving. I wish people knew that there’s a lot of talent here and there’s a lot of uniqueness because of how many immigrants and first-generation Americans end up here. I wish people knew that this is a really cool place for growth, art, music, and food. And a lot of people don’t necessarily look for us for any of those things, but there is a lot of it.

I’ve never heard the Valley described as being in a Rennasaince period before, but I have noticed a lot happening-

I think one of the reasons I think there’s a lot happening is because when people start doing, they start showing other people what they can do, too. I came back, and I saw Serg working as a business owner at 25 years old. And I was like – oh, I can do this! And then my friends were like, “I do art. Maybe I should start popping up!” And their friends are like, “Me too, I’ll pop up with you! I don’t make anything, but I’ll start making things.” It’s just this thing that wasn’t happening 10 years ago that often.

If you find the right place to be, there’s so many friends to be made and so many connections to be made, and there’s so much that we can help each other. In other cities, maybe because they already had their Renaissance period, they are kind of [competitive] – even the art community is competing.

The RGV Seems is available for all to listen to on Spotify.

What led you to the creation of the podcast and its overall mission?

I started a podcast a few years back called Not What It Seems RGV, which had kind of the same premise, but I was only interviewing people, and I was having a hard time finding my rhythm, and I also wasn’t producing it. So, my journey with podcasting started there, and that got a few listens, and people were excited, but I had such a hard time having to interview everybody that I wanted to interview…Then COVID happened, and it was like, well, I’m not going to sit down in a little tiny room with someone just in case something happens.

Finding the Anchor app was like, you know what? I have a lot to say, and I think it would be cool for people to hear some of my thoughts and opinions and eventually [I’d like to] interview people… I sat down with my phone, and I just was like, I don’t feel very good today, let me talk about that, and that’s how “Feeling Purposeless” came about, the first episode. 

You talked about wanting to hear things you want to listen to… It’s really awesome that you said, “I am going to do this!”

For sure, and I also think when we think about a lot of other podcasters, they’re in different communities, and they’re also at different levels of financial places or ethnicity or their upbringing, their religion – there’s so many different diverse podcasters out there, which is really great. But I was like, how many women from the Valley [and how] many children of immigrants from Reynosa are talking about their problems? How many podcasters out there are talking about being on food stamps and trying to thrive and survive after being a food stamp baby and living in government housing? I’ve never heard somebody talk about that before on a podcast, so I’m like – there’s a lot of us out here, you know.

On The RGV Seems, you talk about friendships, relationships, body positivity, and more. What have your experiences taught you, and why do you believe these topics are important to discuss?

Friendships and conversations about friendships and how to be a good friend and a good person… I think sometimes those are important to have because my parents, when they moved here, they didn’t know what the hell they were doing. They didn’t speak the language, they didn’t know where they were going to get jobs, they didn’t know how they were going to feed us or clothe us…They had a lot going on.

So now that I’m an adult [I think] am I a good friend? What does that mean? So I talk about these things in the podcast, mostly because they’re questions that I have about myself and questions that I see coming up in relationships in my life, and I’m like – if my parents had a hard time teaching me about these things or talking about these things, or they were so busy with work or trying to make ends meet that they couldn’t sit down and be like “Hey, this is how this is done!” But they didn’t know either, so if I had those questions, I bet a lot of Valley kids also have those questions.

I think that’s worth discussing in the place of like if you want to have a better tomorrow, start focusing on yourself today. You can have better friends, you can have better relationships.

In your podcast, you’re very open about anxiety, feeling insecure, or overwhelmed.

What’s the value of speaking up about your emotions?

I think what I’m trying to do is make the human experience normalized. That’s my main focus. And showing that humans aren’t perfect, and we should stop coming into offices and acting like we’re all these robots without emotions because at the end of the day, everybody goes home and cries or stress eats or whatever because they had to keep it up inside so much because that’s what the corporate world is. 

So I just wanted to share my emotions and make sure that people have an open space for them to share their emotions because once we start being real with our emotions and when we start being real with who we really are, the world can be a better place.

For the most part, I think it’s important for people to know that we all have emotions, we gotta share them, we gotta use them, we gotta stop acting like they’re not there, or we’re going to live really unhappy lives, and then you’re going to make people unhappy around you. 

What kind of feedback have you received?

One of my first or second episodes, I had a guy message me. He was like, “My wife was listening to you, and I didn’t really care what you were saying, and then all of a sudden you started talking about how you felt like shit because you hadn’t accomplished something and you’re going to try anyway. You struck me because that’s a feeling I’ve had, so now I’m a fan, and now I’m glad that I heard you say that!”

I like that he probably thought that his wife was too-this or too-that, and it ended up helping him, and it made him think about what it’s like to be a woman in society. That’s why it’s important to talk about these things because you never know who is on the other side going on “I did think that,” or “I was wrong about this,” or “I have kept my emotions in my whole life, and it’s killing me inside, and it’s good to know that I can let it out.”

How Coffee Changes Lives

How did you start Black Honey Coffee Company, and what about coffee made you want to make coffee and sell it? 

The truth is, Serg was already in coffee before I got into it. The reason I fell in love with coffee is because I saw coffee be able to transform a regular person’s life into their own journey. That’s what I learned from him. He was like, “It’s nothing, but it’s something now.” I saw that happen with him when he was at his previous coffee shop.

And then, during COVID, I got fired from my job, and he and his partner weren’t seeing eye-to-eye; they had different goals and went their separate ways. As soon as his relationship with his previous partner ended, we were like, “Let’s just do it. We’re both free. Let’s just start over.” This is a pandemic baby. We started making cold brew from our home and bought cold brew towers. Thankfully Serg is really trusted in the coffee community, and I am connected on social media, [so] I started marketing, and we started paying off our bills and saving up to start a little spot. That’s how Black Honey came about. 

Why Black Honey? 

To us both, it means fuel. Everybody needs fuel, everybody needs a reason why they get up in the morning and why they do the things they do. And coffee is a really great way to start doing things. Personally, I really like coffee because I used to drink a lot. When I was younger, in my teens and early twenties, I drank a lot, and I didn’t know better. And I feel like when I met coffee, I was like, oh, I don’t need to drink- I can have coffee! It was me deciding to grow up and deciding to get my shit together, drink my cup of coffee, and get shit done. That’s what fuels me to help others get coffee in their lives and be like, “Oh, I don’t need this cigarette, I don’t need the alcohol, I don’t need the bad things I was doing. I can just focus on myself, do my work, drink good coffee, and have a good day.” That’s why I’m still here – coffee really changed my life.

What are your future goals for Black Honey?

We would like to be all over the place. We would like to ship our beans worldwide. We’re currently shipping in the United States, so that’s something we just started. Now you can get Valley coffee anywhere in the United States. 

We want to get our cans in as many locations as we can because it’s good coffee, and we hope people get inspired by our story. Like, hey, two kids of immigrants with not a lot of money, but a lot of heart! Maybe in the future, you’ll see us at H-E-B.

Physically, we want to get a space where the community can come and sit down. Like a patio, an indoor dining experience with our coffee, and maybe more pastries. That’s definitely the goal. 

What’s your favorite coffee drink, and what do you recommend your customers try?

My favorite coffee drink, we call it a clásico, which is a raw sugar syrup, two shots of espresso, and lactose-free milk. It doesn’t taste like anything else – it just tastes like nicely sweetened delicious coffee and a little bit of milk. It’s just the best. I like it iced, I like it hot. 

I saw on your Instagram recently that you posted about sustainability practices at Black Honey. Can you let us know more about that?

In Black Honey, we work with recyclable glass growlers. That’s the first product we ever launched. We want to make sure that you want to bring it back to us so you can use it over and over. People can also bring their own coffee cups. The less plastic I have to use, the better.

With sustainability – I think it’s important to understand that there’s a lot of big corporations and there’s a lot of big businesses that don’t care. We, as small creators and small business owners, we’re the people who can care, so we do, and we should, or we try to at least. We, as people in general, make so much trash. We have to start thinking [about] where that trash is going. 

Future Goals and Final Words

What do you envision for the future of The RGV Seems and Black Honey?

I’m really proud of the things I have done, so sometimes my goals are different than what I’m currently on. With my podcast, right now, my goal is 1000 listeners. If I can get 1000 listeners, I’d feel like I’ve reached my first milestone. (Note: Seems actually reached that milestone on August 20th!) 

After that, if I can start interviewing people – that would make a difference in our community. They can be teachable moments for me and our community. That’s goal number two. And then I hope I can get sponsors so I can get some help, and we can continue to make episodes, and I can justify the time I’m putting into it. 

With Black Honey, I hope to grow as big as I can and create community; I hope to create a positive impact, and I hope to get people to drink coffee instead of doing other things. I hope we grow so much that the community is so tight and there’s so much happening, and we throw events and have musicians come in – that’s my goal with that – we can have art, music, and make friendships.

What’s next for you?

On a personal level, I really want to get into fashion somehow. My dream has always been to make my own clothes. I think it’s a great way to be sustainable, but also it’s really cool and interesting and different – and share that. 

What final words of inspiration do you have to say to small businesses or creatives like yourself?

Don’t be afraid to be the only one in your life to believe in yourself and do something different. Anyone can do anything, but you have to be willing to put in a lot of work and spend a lot of time and grow a lot and learn a lot.

Seems’ journey resonates with all of us. We’ve all been at places in our lives when we felt like the world was against us. Through her self-actualization and openness of her experiences, she reminds us to really look at ourselves in the mirror and go within, to examine ourselves closely and intimately, learn positive mental patterns, and unlearn what ultimately sets us back from blossoming into our truest selves. It is our hope that Seems’ story will reach as many people in the RGV and inspire them to keep pushing toward their dreams.

Be sure to give The RGV Seems a listen, support Black Honey Coffee Company, and follow Seems on Instagram.

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