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:
“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’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.”
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.”