NOVA Honors Hispanic Heritage Month With Champion for Hispanic CultureĀ 

October 13, 2023

NOVA is wrapping up Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15). As part of the Annandale Lyceum Committee’s “Our American Dream” series, on October 11, Michel Zajur discussed his “Mexican American Roots,” sharing his remarkable story of achieving the American Dream.  


Michel is an accomplished business leader, entrepreneur and community advocate who has contributed significantly to the growth and development of the Hispanic community in Virginia. In 2000, he founded the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (VAHCC) and serves as its CEO. The VAHCC acts as a bridge connecting the Hispanic business community with the Commonwealth. Additionally, he established the Virginia Hispanic Foundation (VAHF) to provide education, information and resources to the Hispanic community in Virginia. 

Despite his many remarkable achievements, he remains humble. During Wednesday's event, he expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to speak to the audience.  

Michel began his educational journey at a community college before transferring to VCU School of Business. He is a proud board member of the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) and is passionate about the important role of community colleges.  

Born in Mexico City, Michel and his family immigrated to the United States in the early 1960s. He has such admiration for his father, who passed away on October 5.  

He started his Zoom by paying tribute to his father, Michel Zajur, Sr. “He is really the story, not necessarily me. He came here, you know, with six kids, and he worked hard every day of his life. I think that's the story of so many immigrants that come here to make a better life for their family and he is remarkable.” 

When Michel's family moved to Richmond, Va., in the 1960s, there was hardly a Hispanic population there. Michel said he always felt the need to explain or share his Mexican culture with others. When his father opened a Mexican restaurant called La Siesta, which became a huge success, he got the opportunity to share his culture. Every night, there was a long line of customers. The restaurant served delicious food and became an informal hub for the Hispanic community since his family spoke Spanish. 

Every day after high school, Michel worked in the kitchen of his family's restaurant. He watched as those who spoke Spanish came to the restaurant looking for assistance or help in finding work. Michel said someone came to him, saying, "You and your family are like a chamber of commerce. You should start one." At the time, he did not know what a chamber of commerce was or how to start one, but he had a passion. "I think it's important to pay it forward. I know when my parents came here from Mexico, there was some gentleman who helped my dad get started and helped him open his first business. I'm just so thankful to that gentleman. That's why I started the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce." 

Michel explains, at that time there was no black chamber, there was no Asian chamber. This was the first chamber like this in Virginia. “I didn't want to start something that was seen as dividing communities because I'm all about bringing communities together, not dividing them,” he said. 

But Michel realized the importance of reaching out to people in their own language and their own culture. “I knew we needed to get resources into the hands of people, resources that would help their lives and help their families. So I started the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in 2000, and it has grown. We are statewide and have done incredible work over these 23 years.” 

In comparison to most communities, Michel said the Hispanic community in this region is very young, which is a really important point, since companies are looking for the future talent of tomorrow. 

The Virginia Chamber of Commerce, this hub, is Michel and his family’s legacy. Although it may sound strange, but the hope is that 10 or 15 years from now, that this chamber will no longer be needed; everyone will have the resources and information they need. 

Michel urged the students in the audience to take advantage of the many resources and tools available within the VCCS. My message for you is, “Give it all you’ve got. Be persistent, determined and never give up. There are so many opportunities, and the future holds so much. Just give it all you got!”  

Topics: featured article