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Tag: Member stories

California DREAMing: DACA and the making of an American dream


MAF member, Ju Hong, talks about Mr. Hyphen and the American Dream.

Ju Hong is a man of few limitations. He is a research assistant with Harvard University, on the National UnDACAmented Research Project (NURP), a coordinator at the Men’s Center on the Laney College Campus, a graduate student at San Francisco State University and newly crowned Mr. Hyphen.

Ju is the ideal of the American Dream, Ju is undocumented. He came to the United States from South Korea when he was younger with his mother who wanted a better life for her children.

“My mother works two jobs at restaurant, twelve hours a day, seven days a week, and never had a vacation ever since she arrived to this country. She is tough,” says Ju.

As an undocumented student, Ju was unable to get a job, access financial aid, and get a driver’s license. Ju took his mother’s example and decided he was going to work as hard as he could to make her proud. That’s when Ju heard about a contest hosted by Hyphen Magazine. With this contest, he saw a chance to bring visibility to the lives of undocumented immigrant populations.

Creating Visibility

“Hyphen magazine was a great avenue to highlight a critical immigration issue. One out of seven Korean immigrants are undocumented. Asians are now the largest group of new immigrants in this country. The AAPI community cannot ignore this issue. In fact, the AAPI community should engage in the conversation and join in efforts to push for a fair and humane comprehensive immigration reform.”

Of the 11 million undocumented people in the United States, 1.3 million are Asian, many of whom are youth who have lived most of their lives in the United States. But it costs $680 just to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a substantial barrier standing in the way of for hardworking families like Hong’s.

A Circle of Support

When Ju first came to Mission Asset Fund he was looking for a way to build his credit now that his DACA application was approved, and access the financial education he needed to succeed. During the Lending Circle program Ju gained the financial skills, money, and credit he needed.

“I decided to apply for the Lending Circles program with five other undocumented students. The Lending Circle has given me an opportunity to better understand credit, loan programs, and finance in general.”

Ju received DACA, his work authorization and driver’s license. Now, Ju has started making plans for the future. He no longer feels the stigma and pressure of being undocumented, and he wants to make sure that no one has to feel that way either. After he finishes his graduate studies at San Francisco State, he plans on working to make immigrant communities healthier and happier through public service.

This is a dream that is driven by his admiration for his mother. “My mother is my best friend, my mentor, and my role model. One day, I want to be like my mother, becoming more of a risk taker, hard-worker, and never giving up on a dream.”

MicroLoan Spotlight: Yeral Caldas, Feeding the heart

Yeral was born in Chimbote, a coastal city in Peru. He has two brothers and two sisters. His mother had her own business and his dad worked in the field. After his parents divorced, he would go back and forth between them helping them work during his vacation. He would travel with his mother for her grocery business and then go to his dad who later worked in a restaurant. Yeral loved food and enjoyed working in the kitchen, preparing and cooking classic Peruvian meals.

It was there he began to dream of becoming a chef.

Yeral had a solid background to succeed as a restaurateur but coming to the United States for more opportunities brought on additional challenges. The two major ones he faced were the language barrier and not having a Social Security Number.

When Yeral would look for banks to give him a loan for his business, he was always blocked by not having a Social Security Number.

“Even though there was lot of difficulties, I was patient and had faith. I was convinced that the money would come because I had my idea of what I wanted to do,” Yeral said.

In 2011, Yeral was introduced to MAF through our staff members Joel and Doris. He credits them for reaching out to him, particularly because they both could speak Spanish with him and explained how MAF could help.

Yeral felt comfortable sharing his problems and his future plans to open his own restaurant. He went on to join two Lending Circles to build up his credit and applied for a microloan to invest in equipment and products for his business.

Yeral said his life has changed dramatically since coming to MAF. He feels more stable emotionally and economically and believes he can succeed as an entrepreneur.

His restaurant  Cholo Soy opened two years ago and he said it’s been “growing and growing.” Cholo Soy features a changing menu of Peruvian dishes like ceviche and Cabrito Norteno de Cordero (lamb shank). He cares deeply about creating a variety of dishes and highlighting the culinary offerings of all the regions in Peru to his customers.

Cholo Soy is growing in reputation. It’s on the first floor of Plaza Adelante building in the Mission District and currently only serves lunch. Once he has the capacity to do more, Yeral would like to be open all day from breakfast to dinner, hire more employees and move to a bigger location.

“My dream is to have many restaurants all over the country like a corporation and I manage them from the central location,” Yeral said.

His proudest moments have been when an article came out that gave Cholo Soy rave reviews and when senior city officials came to the restaurant and told him he served the best ceviche they’d ever tasted.

“When they say they want to eat my food, it makes me proud of my name and of my work,” he said. It’s not hard to see the passion and determination in Yeral’s eyes as he stands behind the small counter of Cholo Soy and happily passes out his food to the customers sitting on the bench in front of him. Despite the challenges of being an immigrant, he remains optimistic and even offered advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs.

“Don’t stop believing in your dreams. I believe in myself and that my food is great. There will be critics but don’t think about them. Just believe in yourself.”

A dream no longer deferred

Edgar did something a few weeks ago that he had been dreaming of for the past two years. On a sunny day in San Francisco’s Mission District, Edgar walked into the Social Security Administration Office and began to fill out an application. You may remember Edgar and his partner Gustavo from when they were first profiled in the Bay Area Reporter. Mission Asset Fund and The Bay Area Reporter have been closely following Edgar and Gustavo’s two year journey.

Edgar and Gustavo had been chasing the American dream for most of their lives. A dream, that until recently, they thought could never come true. As children, they immigrated with their parents to the United States seeking opportunities and a better life. When they arrived they joined 11 million other undocumented immigrants living in the United States trying to get by.

Edgar and Gustavo at the Mission Asset Fund Office (Photo: Rick Gerharter)

Chasing the American Dream

Two years ago, Edgar never thought he would one day be on track to realize his American Dream. Gustavo and Edgar’s lives had been severely limited by their undocumented status.  Edgar’s childhood dream of being a teacher had been put on indefinite hold after high school. He had been accepted to U.C. Berkeley, but was unable to enroll because undocumented students cannot access conventional loans or federal financial student aid.

Once joining the working world, Edgar was an exemplary employee, earning the respect of his coworkers and was recognized by his supervisors for his strong work ethic. All of this fell apart when he was offered a promotion. Edgar was unable to produce the documentation that the company requested and he was forced to leave

Gustavo was also unable to attend college and could only secure work after high school cleaning people’s houses, laboring for long hours and little pay.

Another challenge Edgar faced as an undocumented immigrant was being separated from his two young children. Without documentation, neither Gustavo nor Edgar can get on a plane to bring them home to San Francisco. Gustavo has only been able to talk with his children periodically on the phone. Gustavo and Edgar wait for the day that they would be reunited with the children to make their family whole.

A New Opportunity

In early 2012, Edgar and Gustavo’s lives would change forever when the Obama Administration announced a new program that would offer protection from deportation and permission to work for some undocumented youth living in the United States who had arrived before they turned 16 who had not yet turned 31.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), was the opportunity they had been waiting for. Like many of the other undocumented people living in the United States Edgar and Gustavo were living unbanked and under constant financial hardship. They lived from paycheck to paycheck, and the four hundred and sixty five dollar application fee was seemingly out of reach. Edgar and Gustavo were determined to find a way to cover the costs.

Joining a Circle

Through friends and the SF LGBT Center, Edgar and Gustavo learned about the Mission Asset Fund’s Lending Circle for Dreamers program. Lending Circles for Dreamers program provides zero-interest loans that allowed Edgar and Gustavo, and many other like them, access the four hundred and sixty five dollars they needed to cover the application fees. Over the course of the ten month program, participants take online financial training classes and build credit as they repay the loan. When participants are ready to apply for DACA, Mission Asset Fund gives them a check made out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The two year journey to the Social Security Office for Edgar and Gustavo was filled with mountains of paperwork and miles of red tape. A now resolved paperwork issue forced Gustavo’s application to be put on hold for weeks, while a filing error forced Edgar to restart his application. Through it all, Gustavo and Edgar have always had each other for support. Now they have documentation, community, and credit history.

With their new ability to access the financial mainstream, they are one step closer to achieving their goals. The Lending Circle for Dreamers program and DACA have opened up the possibilities for Edgar and Gustavo. Edgar will now be able to go back to school, unite his family, and find stable work. As the ink dries on his Social Security application, Edgar’s dream is finally becoming reality.

This is what 5 years of social lending looks like

Five years ago, we never could have imagined releasing this publication. When MAF first started it’s social lending program, Lending Circles, we had no idea where it would go. We were just trying out a new idea. But then that idea grew its own legs. It growing and expanding – all the way from one neighborhood in San Francisco to five U.S. states.

We’re excited to release this online magazine taking you through a tour of five years.

You can read for the first time our founder’s story. Jose Quinonez, our CEO, has an amazing story in this booklet about a young boy’s journey of opportunity and growth starting with a job at a flea market.

You’ll also find inspiring stories of lives that were changed by social lending. Read about one of our members, Christina Ruiz, who runs the amazing fashion truck in San Francisco called TopShelf Boutique (and be sure to visit her when you’re near San Francisco’s Crocker Galleria). Isa Hopkins wrote about her in the Grist Magazine article “Peer to Peer Lending Cuts out the Wall Street Middlemen“. For Christina, her first career as a bartender meant her finances were “cash-only”.

But what happens when a cash-only bartender wants to launch a fashion truck and needs a business loan from a bank?

You can also read about Aquilina Soriano-Versoza, the dynamic Executive Director of the Pilipino Worker’s Center in Los Angeles. Everyday she helps low-income live-in domestic workers find ways to save money from their paychecks so they’ll be OK if a job ends unexpectedly. The staff PWC is a tight-knit community who gets serious stuff done. They are our only partner who runs all of our social loan programs: Lending Circles, Lending Circles for Dreamers, Lending Circles for Citizenship and Security Deposit Loans. Their members affectionately call “Lending Circles” by its Filipino name, “Paluwagan”.   

But as everyone knows, great stories aren’t everything. Results matter, too.

That’s why you’ll also find great infographics showing how many millions people are saving by reducing high-cost debt. You’ll see average credit score increases and see what kind of a growth trajectory we’ve been on.

Where do you think we will go next?

Pablo: Aspiring Filmmaker

After participating in Lending Circles and Financial Education, Pablo figured out how to navigate the US financial system

When Pablo moved to San Francisco 11 years ago from Columbia, he discovered that just because he had no debt, it didn’t mean he would have it easy in building a new life. But without a credit history, he had no score. After joining a Lending Circle and taking financial education classes at MAF, he learned about navigating the U.S. financial system and that to improve his score, he needed to take on affordable debt and pay it off on time. He used his loan towards paying for college and investing in his future career. A Political Science and Journalism student, Pablo is working on his first feature film on the 2014 World Cup qualification process in Brazil.

“Mission Asset Fund gave me really good tools to manage my money.”

“Mission Asset Fund gave me really good tools to manage my money. I’ve had two years without having to work in a restaurant thanks to the things I’ve learned from Mission Asset Fund. I’ve been in school and have been dedicating my time to finish my degree.”

A truly enthusiastic participant, Pablo is always recruiting his friends to join Lending Circles and take advantage of the opportunity to learn more. He has also joined a Lending Circles for Citizenship with MAF to finance another dream: becoming a citizen.

Helen: A Mom with a Dream

Helen came to Mission Asset Fund with a dream– to rent her own apartment

Helen is a single mom who came to Mission Asset Fund with a dream– to rent her own apartment. An immigrant from Guatemala, Helen was an unbanked mother of two small children. Because she couldn’t afford the security deposit and didn’t have a credit score, Helen was forced to rent rooms in three different apartments over the course of a year. Some apartments were so full that hallways were turned into bedrooms. Riddled with excessive moisture and mold, these apartments left Helen’s daughter with a persistent cough.

Because she couldn’t afford the security deposit and didn’t have a credit score, Helen was forced to rent rooms in three different apartments over the course of a year.

While working part-time at local nonprofits, Helen continued her search for a stable apartment for her children. In May 2011, she joined a Lending Circle to build her credit and save for a deposit. Helen’s mom unexpectedly fell ill, so Helen decided to send the money home to help her get the eye surgery she needed. A year later, with financial management training and $4,100 in zero-interest credit-building loans, a Helen emerged with a new credit score of 673. Now, she has her own apartment for her family and even bigger dreams.

Veronica: A Visionary Restaurateur

Veronica reached her dream of owning a restaurant after participating in a Lending Circle.

An immigrant from Mexico, Veronica came to Mission Asset Fund with a dream of owning a restaurant to serve her Mexico City favorites: gorditas, huitlacoche, huaraches, and pozole. With ingenuity and help from a local food entrepreneur incubator program, Veronica’s business grew from small time catering to a traveling food truck. She even won a developer’s contest for a new storefront space. But without a credit score, Veronica could not qualify for the business loans she needed to supply her new restaurant.

But without a credit score, Veronica could not qualify for the business loans she needed to supply her new restaurant.

After joining the Lending Circles program, Veronica was able to pay down her debt and invest in her business. After two years of financial classes and zero-interest credit-building loans, she raised her credit score to 615. This enabled her to qualify for new lines of credit from wholesale suppliers to further invest in her business. Now, Veronica has 20 employees working with her at her new restaurant in Marin County, El Huarache Loco. Please check out Veronica’s new restaurant to enjoy her delicious food!