Mosaic Stories

    Tania Interian

    What is the best job for someone who is dedicated to advocating for and supporting their community? For Tania Interian, that job is an insurance agent. Tania, who became the only female Hispanic State Farm Agent in the state of Missouri when her agency opened in 2013, has a fully bilingual staff whose goal is to “provide first class service to the Hispanic community in a welcoming environment and in their native language.” Having received her Law degree from the Universidad del Valle de Mexico in 1998, Tania’s passion for helping others has been a common thread throughout her journey from Mexico City to St. Louis and continues to form her agency’s mission and her vision for its future.  

    Tania moved to St. Louis in December 2000 after her then-husband was hired by a company in the city. However, after their separation and with two daughters to support, as well as a law degree that was not valid in the United States, she began looking for employment. “I was really looking for something meaningful to do, not just work, not just a job,” she says, but “something meaningful where I could utilize my Spanish skills ... and also be able to help people.” Tania had already occupied several volunteer roles at organizations in the city that allowed her to do just that. She volunteered for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) as a sworn-in officer of the court, and at the Family Justice Center in St. Louis as an interpreter for Spanish-speaking survivors of domestic violence. While Tania enjoyed this work, she says that she “needed to find something where I can do that, help people, but also I needed to earn money because I’m responsible for two girls, so that’s when I found the opportunity with State Farm.”  

    When she began working for a State Farm Agency in 2008, Tania became readily aware of the need for a Spanish-speaking agent to provide service to the Hispanic market specifically, a need that Tania believes the company also saw. So while her career began as an employee of another agent, she began working her way towards opening her own agency. Tania worked for almost three years as a staff member until she was selected by State Farm in 2011 to complete the three-year training process for becoming an independent contractor with her own agency. Tania describes this as being a rigorous and highly selective process throughout which she had to “consistently prove to the company through different competencies that she will be a long time, productive State Farm Agent.” Finally, she signed her one-year contract as an official agent for the company in August 2013 and her lifetime contract in July 2014.

    For her agency, it is important to Tania that her employees have cultural competence and bilingual language skills. “It’s crucial,” she says, “If I’m not in the office, I have a bilingual staff in the office. It’s not like somebody’s gonna call and we’re going to put them through an interpreter on the phone. I provide the same service to them that I provide to the American people here.” Even further, Tania believes that “being bilingual is not enough,” and that “you have to be able to understand the cultural background of the people.” Her current Spanish-speaking staff of three, one of which is from Argentina and the other raised by Mexican parents in California, reflects these convictions. “The beauty of that,” Tania believes, “is that they can understand the cultural background of the people, and we all have our own talents, and we share our talents in the office and we help each other.”

    Tania is committed to designing her team in this way because it allows her to act as an insurance literacy educator and advocate of the Hispanic Community in the St. Louis region. According to Tania, many Spanish-speakers are not aware of some of the basic insurance concepts in the United States, what they need from insurance, and what their rights and entitlements are due to language and cultural barriers. Tania’s goal is to break down these barriers. “I always say, ‘If you leave my office and you don’t buy insurance from me, it’s okay. I’m doing my job if you go to another place and you know what to ask, what to look for in the policy, you understand deductibles and all the basic concepts of insurance.’ Most of them, they come back to me because they appreciate the time in explaining everything.”

    Ensuring that her clients understand insurance policies and what they are signing when they purchase them is critical for Tania because the consequences of misunderstanding a policy can be devastating for the individual and their family. As a stark example of this, Tania tells the story of one of her recent clients who misunderstood his auto-insurance policy with his former insurance agency due to a language barrier. The policy excluded his wife from coverage, and the company he had purchased insurance through had not made that clear. “They said, ‘You have to sign here,’ and he signed,” Tania says. “So the wife had a big accident, she caused bodily injury and property damage. Also, they lost their car. They have a loan with the bank. So they are now with a big debt over their shoulders because the company is not going to pay because they excluded the wife and he didn’t even know because he couldn’t even read the paper he just signed.”

    Because of events like this, Tania says that, “I’m in the business of insurance, of financial services, but when I feel I’m doing my job is when I sit down with people and explain what they are getting or why they need insurance in this country.” This conviction is reflected in her vision for the future development of her agency. Tania aspires to grow her team not only in number but in diversity and languages spoken. “My dream,” she says, “would be … to have people in my office, agents in my office that are able to speak other languages, so we can serve other segments of the population,” such as the Bosnian and Vietnamese communities. In the meantime, Tania has taken steps to ensure that she is able to provide her bilingual, culturally competent services to as great a segment of the Hispanic Community in the region as possible. One of these steps was becoming dual-licensed in the state of Illinois as well as Missouri. Tania wanted to get her license to sell insurance in Illinois “because on that side of the river, there’s also a lot of underserved [Hispanic] population, and the need of that is big.” Additionally, being as accessible as possible to her clients is Tania’s main customer service priority. She gives many of her clients her personal cell phone number, goes to visit them when they are sick, and is available on a twenty-four-hour basis. During insurance-related client visits, Tania will also often act as a resource to help them fill out other types of paperwork. “I will never complain about that,” she says, “because they are very loyal, and thanks to them, I’m in business.”

    Being a Hispanic woman in her role and having a bilingual staff not only helps Tania’s agency better serve its clients, but it is also an avenue for increasing the visibility of Hispanic women in roles where they are typically underrepresented. Tania’s husband Mike, who was born in the United States but has lived in both Chile and Mexico and now works in the division of Latin American finance at Edgewell Personal Care, sees how Tania is inspiring younger generations of Hispanic girls to dream big. “I don’t think she realizes how much she serves as a role model,” Mike says. “Kids don’t know about anything else until they meet someone like Tania … they haven’t had more exposure to dream outside that box, and certainly, she provides an example of it.” Tania’s example, the couple hopes, will also inspire younger generations within the Hispanic community to keep using the Spanish language because of all the opportunities being bilingual will present to them in their future careers.

    Though she has now established a successful agency and created visibility for herself and others in the Hispanic Community in St. Louis, Tania acknowledges the road getting there has not been easy. “I want the people to see me as I am,” she says. “I had my struggles and I still have my struggles.” Among these were maintaining the balance between being a single mom and developing her business, as well as accessing resources and establishing a client-base in a new city where she had no familial or friendship ties. In addition, Tania says that in America, “you can have the knowledge, you can have the skills -- which I have -- but some people here, they don’t get used to doing business with somebody who has an accent like me … I am not looking or trying to take it away. I love my accent, those are my roots.” Despite these challenges, for herself and for others in the Hispanic Community, Tania has seen an increase in the amount of Spanish-speaking service providers in St. Louis, such as in real estate and banking. “I see more now than before, which I am very happy about, because at the end it’s going to benefit our Hispanic Community.”  

    Tania also does her part to enable and encourage those in the Hispanic Community to become entrepreneurs through her work at the Latino Roundtable of Southwestern Illinois, a nonprofit organization through which she acts as an insurance educator for small business owners. The organization holds business seminars with attorneys, accountants, and insurance agents who help clients develop their business’s plan, vision, and mission. While Tania and Mike have both seen an increase in the amount of resources like the Latino Roundtable available to the Hispanic Community since Tania began her State Farm career, they both agree that accessing these resources starts at being “plugged in” to a community of shared knowledge. “That’s one of the things when you start anywhere, is just knowing about [the resources],” Mike says, “knowing where they are, and then as you have the experience like [Tania] has, okay, now she’s plugged into those and now she’s on the other side, actually providing and mentoring.” Similarly, Tania notes that “most of the Hispanic community thrives on referrals, asking other people ‘Where do you do this? Where can I go to do this?’ and they help each other.”

    Beyond its strong Hispanic Community and growing entrepreneurial resources in the region, Tania enjoys St. Louis because it is small and family-oriented, with a multitude of things to do with her two daughters, who are seventeen and fourteen. “We have done everything in St. Louis,” she says, “all the entertainment that St. Louis has to offer,” including involvement in school sports. Importantly, Tania also notes that the cost of living for families in St. Louis is very manageable. Both Tania and Mike express the hope that St. Louis continues to become more representative of all the languages spoken by its communities in the public sphere. This would include creating billboards in a variety of languages as well as encouraging bilingual individuals to become service providers and business owners. “There’s lots of opportunities” for this in St. Louis, Mike believes. “I think it’s so well developed in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, but you look at that second tier where there is a market but not much development, I think there’s a lot of opportunity to do that.”

    Towards this goal, Tania would highly encourage more bilingual individuals to become State Farm insurance agents and to start their own businesses in St. Louis. She emphasizes the importance of having a solid motivation for whatever it is an individual chooses to pursue. Tania’s motivation is two-fold: to provide a good life for her daughters, and to provide accessible and educational insurance services to the Hispanic community in the St. Louis region. Additionally, she recommends “to learn from my experience and find something you like to do, and go for it.”  

    For Tania, that means creating an insurance team of individuals that care about people. “A lot of people take advantage of [the Hispanic community] because ... of the language barrier, etc. I like the people who really care about the others, trying to help them. Because yeah, I sell insurance, but I don’t want to for my reputation. I always say, ‘I’m going to educate you and I want you to understand what you are getting, so if you go shopping around, you know what to ask, you know what to look for, and you feel comfortable doing so. And the people I have, we share the same passion of doing that, and they understand the vision and the mission of my agency.”


    Interviewed and written by Lyndsey Brainerd