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Author: Grace Li

A Home for the Generations: Eva’s Story

There’s a lot that Eva loves about being a new homeowner. 

She loves having a house in a neighborhood she’s been renting in for years. She loves living close to her family, as a sister, mother, and grandmother of two. And she loves that she can actually enjoy her house without a time-consuming commute. 

“There’s a lot of fog, but I love San Francisco,” Eva, a longtime MAF client, says. “One of my dreams always was that I want to live where I work.”

But this dream wasn’t an easy-to-achieve reality. Eva has done a lot in her life: She immigrated to the United States from El Salvador when she was 15, started her own nutrition business on top of her full-time job in social services, sent her three children to college, and endured a financially challenging divorce — one that almost stopped her dreams of buying a home.

“Coming from two incomes to one — I was left with debt,” Eva says. “I never thought that I was going to be given the opportunity back to be a homeowner.”

Eva thought of ways to support her family, including her children and grandmother. She became invested in nutrition to protect her own health, barely taking any sick days to preserve her income. “I couldn’t imagine myself getting sick during the time I needed to stay strong,” Eva says. 

Income was one thing, but building credit posed another challenge. Because of the debt from the divorce, Eva knew she had to strengthen her credit score to give herself — and her family — the best possible chance at homeownership.

Joining MAF was a game-changer for Eva’s finances.

Years ago, Eva and her cousin passed by MAF’s office on Mission Street on their way to work. “We like to try everything,” Eva says, so they decided to join an informational meeting.

The energy immediately moved her. She started participating in MAF’s Lending Circles program, which provides interest-free credit-building loans via community support. This formalizes a global tradition of community lending, sometimes known as tandas and susus.

“The people that join [MAF] are from the community. These are working families looking for a resource like me,” Eva says. “Meeting these people and hearing their stories — it was a gathering, it was sharing. There was always food and trying to have that environment of safety and community.”

Over the years, Eva participated in MAF’s financial services for small business owners, services that were tangibly different from the classes she took in college. “They’re basically designed for Latinos, like me, to try to serve our community,” Eva says.

“It’s not just the Latino community,” she adds. “It’s different immigrant communities where the environment becomes more like family and friends, always sharing very personal — sometimes intimate, difficult — growing experiences.”

The community at MAF created treasured friendships and relationships. All the while, Lending Circles were opening a door that Eva once thought was closed to her.

“I saw the changes in my credit score,” Eva says. “It was a dream come true.” 

The changes came at exactly the right hour. In the summer of 2022, Eva and her family were hustling to buy a house with their combined income. All the cards were falling into place, but Eva just needed one more boost to her credit score to get a loan approved.

At the time, Eva was participating in a Lending Circle, so she asked Doris, MAF’s Senior Client Success Manager, if there was anything that could be done. 

“One more payment,” Eva was told. “One more payment, and it’s going to make a difference.”  

The Lending Circles program boosts credit scores by reporting loan payments to all three major credit bureaus. MAF quickly accelerated Eva’s loan payment timeline so her final payment was processed before the closing date. 

The whole journey reminded Eva of why she joined MAF in the first place.

“It’s a sense of community, friends, and family, ‘we’re here for you,’” Eva says. “The goal is not just getting participants. The goal is helping the participants make their dreams come true.”

The best part about Eva’s new home? It’s not just for her.

“You’re taking care of your own house for future generations,” Eva says. She hopes that her kids will want to keep and live in the house for a long time. 

After all, there’s a lot of value in that home, and not just financially. Family and community motivated and anchored Eva through all those years in her profession, in her personal life, and in her work with MAF. 

This house is a symbol of that relationship — and a way for Eva to continue that tradition for years to come. “It’s a team effort,” Eva says.

Meet the MAF Padrino: John A. Sobrato

John A. Sobrato is an example of someone who shows up, does more, and does better. At the start of the pandemic, John reached out to MAF with a clear goal: to support immigrant families in San Mateo County who were excluded from federal relief. 

John, Board Chair Emeritus of Sobrato Family Foundation, gave $5 million himself to support our Rapid Response emergency cash assistance efforts. But he didn’t just stop there. John put in the work — writing and calling family, friends, and neighbors for support, more than tripling the initial fund for the San Mateo County Immigrant Relief Fund

“His calls got to a point, as he once told me — a little stunned, but proud at the same time:  ‘José, they’ve stopped returning my calls!’” MAF CEO José Quiñonez recalls. “I responded, ‘Welcome to my world, John!’”

That’s why at MAF’s 15-year quinceañera celebration, John was presented with the Padrino Award.  

“Typically, padrinos and madrinas are the guests of honor, the people everyone looks to with awe and reverence. They’re the ones who sponsor the cake, after all,” José said, while presenting the award. “But they are more than that — Padrinos and Madrinas are mentors and role models, advisors, and guides for young people through life.”

While John couldn’t be there in person to accept his butterfly plaque, Sandy Herz, President of Sobrato Philanthropies, did so on his behalf. “When he sees something he thinks is wrong and unfair, it becomes a mission for him,” Sandy said of John. “And he doesn’t just put money down. He invests his time, he invests his network, and he invests his relationships. He won’t ever do it alone. He brings others along with him because changing the world is a team sport.” 

“I hope there’s never another pandemic,” John said to the audience, via a pre-recorded video. “But I take comfort in knowing there is an organization like Mission Asset Fund that will be there to support immigrant families with dignity and respect.” 

Meet the MAF Madrina: Jenny Flores.

Meet the MAF Madrina: Jenny Flores

Jenny Flores still remembers when MAF Founder and CEO José Quiñonez showed up at Citigroup with a piece of paper and a big dream. 

Back then, MAF was just a small office on the second floor of a restaurant, and convincing people of our mission was no easy task. 

“You were selling this big vision, and many executives didn’t quite get it,” Jenny recalls. “But because I grew up in this community, and because I understood you so intimately — what you were trying to solve — we jumped in to support that big vision. And here we are, 15 years later.” 

Now, Jenny is the Head of Small Business Growth Philanthropy at Wells Fargo, and MAF has outgrown that small office — but not that big dream. In fact, we’re building it together hand-in-hand with Jenny, the madrina of MAF’s 15-year quinceañera celebration

“Jenny radiates energy. Her enthusiasm and passion for serving people is contagious because it’s real and heartfelt,” José said of Jenny before presenting her with the Madrina Award. “It is my honor to call her amiga, colega y compañera en la lucha.”

Jenny was chosen for this honor because of her lifelong and steadfast commitment to serving people with dignity and respect. “The fact that our immigrant community — that we have so many assets that others may see as ‘weaknesses’ — they’re actually strengths,” Jenny said to the audience. “And I love that.”

“Over the years, through all her various roles in philanthropy, she always found ways to support our work of building solutions rooted in community,” José said. “I recall many conversations we’d have over lunch, strategizing and dreaming of what more we could do for the people we serve. And while I always seemed to have walked away with way more projects on my plate after every conversation, I always left our meetings energized and inspired, ready to do more.” 

Meet the MAF Padrino: John A. Sobrato.

MAF Celebrates 15-Year Anniversary with Quinceañera

MAF turned 15 this year, and of course, we had to celebrate with a quinceañera! This was our first in-person gathering in over two years, bringing together clients, partners, funders, friends, and of course, MAFistas, all under the same roof. 

The evening was all about community and connection. “There was really no distinction between staff, funders, board members, La Cocina caterers,” said Katherine Robles-Ayala, MAF’s Philanthropy Manager. “Everyone was just enjoying each other’s company. I don’t know if I could see this anywhere else beyond MAF. [It] was just really beautiful.” 

Together, we reflected, we celebrated, and we dreamed. And we did so in the neighborhood where it all started — in San Francisco’s Mission District. KQED generously hosted the party in their newly-renovated HQ, and we filled all four stories with good food and good music. Between the rooftop dance floor, La Santa Cecilia’s concert, and food catered by MAF clients at La Cocina, there were plenty of highlights:

Reflect.

MAF Founder and CEO, José A. Quiñonez, kicked off the evening with welcome remarks. He started from the beginning: when a Levi Strauss denim factory closed down in the Mission and paved the way for a new possibility — a new organization that would support the financial lives of low-income immigrants.

“MAF was a gamble from day one,” José said. “We started our work just up the road from here, on the second floor, on top of a local cafe. We had a small office but a big vision.”

From MAF’s origin story to the nationwide organization it is today, MAF has always worked to put the best of finance and technology in the service of immigrants. José recalled stories about working with clients to build their credit scores after being excluded from mainstream finances, showing up for DACA recipients when the Trump administration threatened DACA’s existence, and launching the largest guaranteed income program for immigrant families excluded from federal COVID-19 relief to help them recover faster.

These zero-interest loans and grants supported immigrants and people of color – helping them to build credit scores, increase savings, and lower debts. And since opening our doors, we have serviced more than 90,000 grants and loans, reaching thousands of people across the country.

“We have to show a better path forward,” José said. “And we are doing it by building real solutions rooted in the lives of marginalized people, and by celebrating every victory with joy.”

Of course, we didn’t do this work alone. In quinceañera tradition, MAF named a Padrino and Madrina of the night. Padrinos and Madrinas are more than party sponsors — they are mentors, role models, advisors, and guides. “They hold a special role in every quinceañera for this very reason — they are the living examples of what brings us together — the bonds, the relationships — that keep communities alive and thriving,” shared José.

MAF presented the Padrino Award to John A. Sobrato, Board Chair Emeritus of the Sobrato Family Foundation, for his support of immigrant families in San Mateo County, and the Madrina Award to Jenny Flores, Wells Fargo’s Head of Small Business Growth Philanthropy, for championing MAF’s work for years while challenging us to show up and do more for immigrant small business owners. Each shared stories about their special connections to MAF before being presented with an engraved-butterfly wood carving. “Viva the Mission Asset Fund!” John said.

Celebrate.

When MAF throws a party, we throw a party for everyone. That means everything — from the floral arrangements to the music — represents the people who make up MAF’s work.

La Cocina caterers Alicia’s Tamales Los Mayas, El Huarache Loco, El Pipila, Los Cilantros, Delicioso Creperie, La Luna Cupcakes, and Sweets Collection prepared the food — with a special twist. Almost every entrepreneur had worked with MAF at some point. Guests came back again and again for seconds of bite-sized “lollipop” tamales, flowers suspended in gelatin, and tostadas topped with halibut ceviche and nopales. 

Of course, one of the highlights of the evening was definitely the Grammy Award-winning band, La Santa Cecilia. Known for their hybrid style of Latin culture, rock, and pop, La Santa Cecilia turned the KQED auditorium into a dance floor. Dance partners pulled each other into the cumbia and slow dances throughout the night.  

And, at the night’s end, La Santa Cecilia band members joined clients, MAFistas, and partners on the rooftop dance floor. This turn of events wasn’t all that surprising. The quinceañera radiated with collective energy, bringing people together and encouraging them to make new connections. One MAFista shared a special moment with La Santa Cecilia, when he found out that the keyboardist hailed from the same hometown as him. 

“He went to the same pizza spot to watch soccer games and play maquinitas that I grew up with,” Efrain Segundo, MAF’s Financial Education and Engagement Manager, said. “We had a moment now, like ‘you know me, I know you.’”

Dream.

At the end of the program, José asked everyone to close their eyes and ask themselves:

“What change do you want to see in the world today that can unlock the immense human and economic potential of immigrants, people of color, and marginalized communities?”

“What change do you want to see in the world today that can liberate our dreams, unleash our hopes, and free us to be our true selves in the world?”

These were the questions that resounded throughout the night, as people poured into the party to find gold trees tied with ribbons and a dream wall. People wrote their wishes onto cards and adorned the trees with them, or drew their answers on the Dream Wall: “Support for farmworkers.” “UBI.” “Dignity + Solidarity.” 

These dreams didn’t end with the night. We’re carrying them forward in our work, and we’re doing it together. The quinceañera showed us how important it is to do so in community with one another. 

So as a community, we’ll make these dreams into reality. As a community, we’ll show up, do more, and do better for immigrants. 


View our album for more photos!

‘A Blessing…A Thorn’: 10 Years of DACA

When Shanique’s mother passed away in 2015, she couldn’t leave the United States for her funeral. Shanique immigrated from The Bahamas when she was 15, and ever since then, she has been “stuck” in the U.S. because of her DACAmented status.

“Although DACA has been a blessing, it has also been a bit of a thorn, I would say, in my flesh,” says Shanique, a MAF DACA fee assistance recipient. If Shanique had left the country to say goodbye to her mother, she would not have been allowed to return home to the United States.

This double-edged sword isn’t uncommon for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. Since its inception in 2012, DACA has been a transformative program. It’s allowed Shanique and so many others to receive driver’s licenses, social security cards, and work permits. “If it was not for DACA, I would not have the job I have today,” says Shanique, who works as a hospital clerk.

DACA provided a kind of life-changing safety and security, according to Miguel, a fellow MAF DACA fee assistance recipient. “DACA was able to give me the ability to follow my dreams, to follow my career path, to not be afraid of being deported,” he says. The program gave him the means to pursue a career of advocacy, to fight for others like himself in his role as a nonprofit director. 

“Prior to DACA, we always had to be in the shadows and we had to be afraid,” Miguel says. “And that’s no longer the case.”

But DACA was never meant to serve as a long-lasting solution for the thousands of undocumented immigrants in the country. When DACA was first announced in 2012, former president Obama called it a “temporary stopgap measure.” “This is not amnesty, this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix,” he said. 

In the decade since, DACA recipients have faced multiple hurdles — a federal judge challenging the program’s legitimacy, a months-long USCIS backlog jeopardizing renewals, and the $495 application fee, which remains one of the largest barriers to entry for low-income DACA applicants. And as DACA hits its 10-year-anniversary, DACA is closed to new applicants because of legal challenges. Even immigrants who can apply for renewals are still barred from various rights, like voting or being able to travel internationally. 

“We’re constantly reminded of our status,” Shanique says. “Something as simple as seeing the word ‘temporary’ on your driver’s license is a little bit of a sting to the heart.”

That’s why a path to citizenship is so crucial — not just for the approximately 800,000 DACA recipients, but for all 11.4 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

“Actually creating a pathway to citizenship for the millions of people who are in the United States, who are contributing to this country, who are making this country better, would change the lives of people tenfold,” Miguel says. “Just look at someone like myself.” 

Miguel recently became a permanent resident — a status change that isn’t an option for most DACA recipients. Becoming a permanent resident has allowed him not just to pursue his passions “unrestricted,” but to see his family in Mexico, whom he had been separated from for 32 years. “I moved here at the age of two. And because of my new status change, I went back to Mexico and met my family for the first time.”

Thirty-two years is an unconscionable amount of time to be separated from family. But a pathway to citizenship can reunite families and allow undocumented immigrants the right to vote, see loved ones, and live a private life of freedom. After a decade of DACA, a pathway to citizenship is long overdue.

“I feel like I’ve lived here long enough. This is the only home I know,” Shanique says. “I don’t even remember much of my life in The Bahamas. America has been my home.”


MAF stands in solidarity with DACA recipients, providing fee assistance so that the filing fee isn’t a barrier for those looking to apply for DACA. Since the DACA program began, MAF has provided loans and matching grants to people in 47 states and the District of Columbia. More than 11,000 DACA recipients have accessed MAF’s DACA fee assistance, including Miguel and Shanique. 

If you’re eligible to apply for a DACA renewal, MAF offers fee assistance. Learn more and apply today!

Honoring Immigrant Entrepreneurs during National Small Business Week

Everytime we run errands at a local grocer, eat lunch at a family-owned restaurant, or stock our personal libraries with indie bookstore orders, we are reinvesting in the communities we live in. Small businesses are the lifeblood of neighborhoods: Besides making our local landscapes special, small businesses keep money from the community, in the community

Of course, small businesses wouldn’t be possible without the creative people who started them, many of whom have endured impossible challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Navigating seas of red tape to access crucial financial support has been a struggle — especially for immigrants and people of color, who were disproportionately hurt by the design of loans like the Paycheck Protection Program. 

In the face of these barriers, MAF has seen incredible resilience and savviness from immigrant and BIPOC entrepreneurs. This #SmallBusinessWeek, we’re taking a moment to share their lessons and honor their histories. Behind every small business is a dreamer, entrepreneur, and neighbor, each with their own story:

Tahmeena

“At that time, I didn’t have a credit card. I wasn’t familiar with businesses or anything,” Tahmeena says. She had no credit history when she immigrated to the United States from Afghanistan. But she wasn’t discouraged. Tahmeena, who had been interested in fashion since she was a child, quickly saw a need in her community for cultural clothings and accessories that were common abroad, but difficult to acquire in America. 

On a whim, she brought back a few items after a vacation to Turkey to see if there would be any interest. And within a month, she had almost too many customers clamoring for more. 

So Tahmeena joined MAF’s Lending Circles through the Refugee Women’s Network to establish a credit score and grow her online boutique, Takho’z Choice, further. She took the $1,000 she saved through the zero-interest loan and used it to buy merchandise. In just three months, her small business started to generate profit, and her previously nonexistent credit score jumped hundreds of points.

Reyna

Reyna’s mother planted the early seeds to their business when she sold tamales as a street vendor in San Francisco. With the support of incubator La Cocina, Reyna and her mother opened La Guerrera’s Kitchen’s first brick-and-mortar in 2019, right before the pandemic forced them to close shop. After two years of pop-ups and online Instagram orders, La Guerrera’s Kitchen was finally able to find a new home in Swan’s Market in Oakland in 2022. 

For many, mentorship is an essential part of this process to take off — especially for immigrant entrepreneurs. Through the process of starting La Guerrera’s Kitchen, Reyna learned about marketing and projections, how to negotiate, and how mixed-status homes can build credit with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, or ITINS.

“I would have loved receiving this support at a younger age,” she says. It’s support like this that Reyna wants for all immigrants: “Let people know that, yes, you can be undocumented and still open a business. This is how you do it.” 

Diana

It took one look from her English bulldog for Diana to realize that she was destined for an entrepreneurial adventure. In the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, Diana was feeling stuck. It was difficult to find jobs relevant to her interior design college degree, and the gig she did get at a doggy daycare, she wasn’t satisfied with. “I knew I could do it better,” Diana says. “And my bulldog just looked at me, and I took off on my own.” 

That small look proved to be life-changing. “He opened up so many opportunities to me that I didn’t see before,” she says. Over a decade later, Diana is running her own successful doggy daycare business, a feat that she credits to her faith in her entrepreneurial dreams, and to the people (and pets) who helped her build that foundation of trust and support. That includes everyone — from her English bulldog to her clients to MAF. As a MAF client, Diana was able to save the money for a down payment on her first doggy daycare van. 

Trust and support are key for any small business owner, Diana says. Even beyond finding these things from your family or community, it’s important to have that faith in yourself.

“You are the boss of your life, not just your job. You’re not creating a job just for you, you’re creating jobs for other people, you’re helping your community, and you’re creating your life and your dreams,” Diana says. “You are the creator.”

Champion Spotlight: Meet Laura Arce

For Laura Arce, joining MAF feels like a homecoming. 

Her new role as a member of MAF’s board of directors brought her—in a symbolic sense—back to the Bay Area, where she was born and raised. For years after college, Laura had spent time elsewhere: on Capitol Hill, in Beijing, working for government agencies or small consulting or even big banks like Wells Fargo, where she currently serves as a senior vice president of consumer banking and lending policy. 

But in 2020, when COVID-19 upended everyone’s lives, Laura had a startling epiphany.

“I realized I was missing my roots,” she says. It wasn’t just because Laura couldn’t simply board a plane ride back to her hometown anymore. It was also because her professional career was borne out of the personal—and it was time for Laura to reconnect with her own origin story.

Laura grew up in a Mexican immigrant family in Oakland.

Her parents were nonprofit workers, and she spent a lot of her elementary school years hanging out around the Spanish Speaking Unity Council, a community resource center where her father worked. 

Laura cites her father as one of her biggest influences. That’s partly because of the early affinity for community work he instilled in her, and partly because of the fact that, as a child, she often witnessed the ways her own family was excluded from the financial mainstream. Her own grandfather didn’t trust banks. Every time he paid for a bill—phone, water, anything—he would take the bus downtown to its respective office and pay in cash. 

“That cost him a lot of time and extra effort. But he did it all of his adult life,” Laura says. It was risky to carry so much cash at once, but her grandfather would rather place his faith in dollar bills than a banking institution. Stamped receipts were carefully saved, and a passbook savings account was rarely touched. 

This process seemed “normal” to Laura until she started college at U.C. Berkeley. While Laura’s grandfather was saving stamped paper receipts and letting his bank account gather dust, Laura’s classmates were using credit cards to “magically” pay for their books and supplies. While her roommate’s parents mailed checks to their landlord, Laura was responsible for her own bank account. She was stunned at the incongruities between her experiences and her classmates’. 

All these differences were like lightbulb moments for Laura. “Who’s unbanked, who’s banked, who has credit, who doesn’t. There are clear disparities across race, ethnicity, income levels, even geographies,” Laura says. And her family lived at those intersections.

“Even in my case, where I had parents who were educated, and grandparents who had kids who could help them—they were underbanked,” Laura says. “They were outside of the financial mainstream.” 

Laura’s position on MAF’s finance and audit committees is a way of honoring her roots. 

“I decided I wanted to take everything I learned and built,” Laura says. “And I wanted to be engaged again in more community-based work.” Her role is the kind that marries a certain philosophy Laura has about closing the banking gap for people of color systematically excluded from financial services—like her grandfather.

“It’s not going to be one easy button that we all can press,” Laura says. “It’s going to take the private sector stepping up, and it’s also going to take public policy that supports those goals, as well as the effort of groups like MAF, who are willing to be out there and take more chances.”

And while Laura intends to bring her public policy and private sector backgrounds into board conversations, she’s also hoping to learn from her peers. “I’m excited to be in these meetings and hear all these conversations about how we address really challenging problems,” Laura says. MAF’s work as both a “national leader” and a community-based organization is the kind of perspective she wants to bring to her work outside of MAF, whether it be in government agencies or big banks.

That’s partly because Laura feels a responsibility. Throughout her career in the private and public sectors, Laura has often been one of the few Latina women in the room. “Part of my expertise is also my personal experience,” she says. Not everyone Laura has worked with has grown up in an immigrant community. Not everyone has had family members who didn’t speak English, or who didn’t trust banks. Not everyone will ask, “What are the parts of the communities that are left behind and not being served? And what can I do?”

But Laura will. “I represent that voice,” Laura says. “It’s really important to me, and I take that very seriously.”