Month: July 2014

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Ximena Arias joined MAF as a Financial Services Manager in May 2014. With her passion for entrepreneurship and her multicultural upbringing, she was a perfect fit for the job.

Born in Colombia, Ximena moved to the US at age 12 with her parents and younger sister. After the family settled in Miami, Florida, Ximena struggled to adjust to middle school. Luckily, her English as a Second Language classmates became a support group for her.

“We all related to each other being bi-cultural and gained an understanding of how to relate to others,” Ximena said.

Back in Colombia, Ximena’s parents ran a dental product supply business. Her father was the strategy behind the business, overseeing the operations, while her mother was the face of the business, working to bring in clients and build relationships with dentists in the area. Ximena believes she is a combination of her parents and picked up invaluable skills from both of their experiences.

Ximena loves being surrounded by diversity and describes Florida as a “big melting pot of Latin American immigrants.”

She is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, French and some German. She attended the University of Florida and received a BA in Linguistics and Business Administration and later a Masters in International Business. After she graduated, Ximena taught English and worked with international students.

Coming to the Bay Area, Ximena wanted to give back and follow her passion for connecting people with the resources they need to make better, informed choices. She worked at Women’s Initiative for Self-Employment before coming to MAF. She appreciates the Lending Circles model because it is familiar to immigrants and practiced all over the world. In her role as Financial Services Manager, Ximena oversees small business coaching, the microloan program, financial education and local client management.
photo 3“I love the way MAF sees a bigger picture, which is critical to make a difference. It’s really accessible and replicable in a way that works with communities and partners, ” she said.

“Replicating this program is an example of how nonprofits leverage technology and I am looking forward to seeing the organization grow.”

Working in the Mission District gives Ximena fond memories of Latin America from the food to the businesses and art. Outside of work, she loves music and hopes to one day compose her own songs. She’s also really great at whistling any song you tell her! Ximena enjoys exploring the thriving community and culture of Oakland, where she lives with her husband.

Welcome to the team, Ximena!

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There was a buzz of excitement in the crowd sitting in the balcony of the Paramount Theater in Oakland. Smiling families and friends waved American flags and excited children clutched bouquets of flowers. It was just like a graduation ceremony with life-changing certificates and congratulatory speakers. But this was a citizenship ceremony. In a few moments, everyone on the floor below would be U.S. citizens.

The immigration officer on stage told the soon-to-be citizens: “This country is a better place because of your talents, character and personality. Thank you for choosing the U.S.”

Claudia Quijano proudly stood with 1,003 other immigrants from 93 countries of origin listening to the speech. Each person was asked to stand up when their country of origin was called, at which point the audience would cheer until all the aspiring citizens were standing. America’s melting pot was right here in this room together from Guatemala, to Egypt, to Germany, to South Africa.

The ceremony featured video messages from Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and President Obama welcoming the new citizens to the country and emphasizing the significance of this privilege and duty. The keynote speaker was an immigration judge and daughter of Armenian and Finnish immigrants, who talked about civic engagement and serving one’s country.

Claudia’s journey started 9 years ago, August 2004, when she immigrated by herself from Mexico to Santa Rosa. She applied for political asylum and moved to San Francisco shortly after. Back in Mexico, Claudia studied at a beauty school and became passionate about coloring hair. She began styling in 1987 and had her own salon in 1991. She dreamed about finding success in the United States but knew she would have to compete with so many other immigrants and American citizens.

“It’s incredible. For me, it’s a very important day. It represents the most important goal for me in my life,” she said.

When Claudia first arrived in the US, she had trouble getting the right paperwork for legal residence. She obtained a lawyer who helped her become a permanent resident but then discovered that it was still difficult for her to secure the kinds of jobs she wanted because she was not a citizen. But Claudia was not discouraged.

She worked as a stylist at a salon in the Mission District when she learned about Mission Asset Fund and the Lending Circles for Citizenship program, which connected aspiring citizens with resources and access to funding for the $680 citizenship application fee. She was overwhelmed with how much MAF was able to provide her with the information she needed.

“Everyone there was always happy and helped me a lot,” she said with a smile.

In January 2014, Claudia joined a Lending Circle for Citizenship and received her check for the $680 application fee. She described the application process as “easy” because of the involvement and support of MAF and other nonprofit organizations.

Claudia is excited for many benefits that will come as a citizen, but the opportunity to vote is number one.

“There are many responsibilities I now have,” she said. “The most important is I can vote and improve my life.”

The candidates recited the national anthem followed by the oath of citizenship and pledge of allegiance. The moment was an emotional one for Claudia.

“I almost cried in the ceremony. My favorite part was singing the anthem with everyone. We were all singing and feeling happy,” she said.

Her advice to other immigrants and aspiring citizens is to fight for your dreams and not give up.

“Believe in yourself and look for places to help you,” she said.

The ceremony closed with a local choir singing two classic American folk songs, “America the Beautiful” and “This Land is Your Land.”

Claudia’s long-time friend, Maritza Herdocia, joined her after the ceremony to celebrate her achievement. Claudia named Maritca as a main support for her over the past eight years.

For Claudia, becoming a U.S. citizen means unlocking more opportunities. For years, she has worked as a hair stylist, renting chairs in small salons in San Francisco. But now that she’s a new American, she is ready to take on something even bigger: opening her own beauty salon.

 

 

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Little Plates, Big Heart

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In the middle of La Cocina’s large kitchen in the Mission District, a small woman moved with the graceful precision of a swan.

Gliding between steaming trays, boiling pots, and simmering pans like a gentle breeze, she smelled, tasted, and seasoned everything in a dreamlike blur. Around her were three other women, all moving with the thoughtful synchronicity of a well trained dance crew. Each woman was conducting a symphony of tasks over an orchestra of pots and pans.

Ximena and I felt like interlopers when we entered into the kitchen and asked for Guadalupe. But without missing a beat, the stout woman sprinkled a little salt into a pan and walked over to us beaming with pride.

“Ah”, she said “we missed you last week.”

photo 5Ximena and I apologized for not being able to visit her at the El Pipila tent at Off The Grid, San Francisco’s hub for the best food the city has to offer.

“It’s OK,” she said, waving her hand gently.

“I was so busy, I could barely talk to anyone!” she said with a giggle. For Guadalupe, life was not always as good as it was today.

When Guadalupe was a child in Acambaro, a small city in Mexico, she had a large loving family.

Her father, like many others, had to leave them and travel to the United States as an undocumented worker to support his family. He would send whatever pay he could to her mother so that she could take care of the children. Because of his status, he couldn’t visit with them, and had to stay separated from them for a better part of Guadalupe’s childhood. In 1986, her father received amnesty as an undocumented person, and in 2004, he finally became a citizen. Unfortunately, Guadalupe and her siblings were unable to get citizenship themselves, as they were now older than 18.

photo 5 (1)Like her father,Guadalupe ended up leaving her two daughters behind for the opportunities that the U.S. provided. As she recounts having to say goodbye to her daughters, tears begin to well up in her eyes. She remembers the moment she had to leave her little girls, how she knew she would never see them grow up, go to school, or attend their first dance.

She quickly composes herself, then turns around and points to one of the women cooking behind her.

“That’s one of my daughters”, she says proudly. The woman gives us the same beaming smile as Guadalupe. Her daughter is not just another chef, but a partner in the business.

The other women in the kitchen with Guadalupe was her mother, who had come to see the business her daughter had built. Guadalupe’s daughter was there as well, working alongside her mother. Three generations of women, together, building a business based upon cultural traditions and hometown flavors.

Guadalupe built her business, El Pipila, from the ground up. She worked almost every job possible in the restaurant business, until one day her friend Alicia told her, “You should just open a restaurant.” From there she built her credit and finances at Mission Asset Fund, went through La Cocina’s incubator program, and received one of MAF’s microloans. When she started her business it was just her. Now, she employs her whole family in one way or another.

Cooking for Guadalupe has always been a family affair, and today was no different. Guadalupe drifts in and out of thought as she talked about how she and her mother would make the tastiest tortillas from scratch and now, she and her daughters do the same.

photo 3She fondly remembers all the time spent with her siblings and mother in the kitchen. Each child had a specific duty and would always take the utmost care in completing it. For them food wasn’t just sustenance, it was the love of family made tangible and delicious.

With one of MAF’s microloans, Guadalupe was able to buy equipment and partially pay for a van for her thriving catering business. She is careful to tell us that even though she is doing well now, when she started she thought her catering business would never make it. Her food didn’t immediately catch on so she had to be very patient. It took her a few months, but people started coming to her booth and requesting her for events and dinner parties.

She now dreams of one day having a small food stand, a brick and mortar location that families can come to. When we asked why she is doing this, she looks back at her daughter and says, “I am doing this for her and her sister. I want to make sure that neither of them has to work for anyone but themselves”.

 

 

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As I carried my Dad’s tiffin (A small metal Indian style lunch) box through the airport before boarding my flight to Denver, a TSA agent dutifully inspected what appears to be an unusual metal container.

Without a liquid or even a semi-liquid like hummus to cause alarm, all I could offer the TSA agent, as would be my grandmother’s practice whenever she is stopped by Customs officials, was my food and my charm.

lunchbox_ver3_xlgYet that slight delay actually created an intriguing moment of cross-cultural exchange.  I described the practice of millions of lunch boxes being delivered in Mumbai every day. Each Tiffin is filled with food made at by someone in their home and expertly delivered to hundreds of thousands of workers, by bicycle, without ever getting lost. A premise that lent itself to the polite love story of a new cross-over Bollywood movie “The Lunchbox”.

My experience, however, was more educational than romantic and perhaps foreshadowed what was to come with the upcoming presentation I was giving in Denver.  I got to share something new (my tiffin) by relating it to something familiar (the Lunch Box).

Colorado is new territory for MAF.

Chase graciously invited us to have them show us around, introduce us to people and sponsored MAF’s presentation so we could share our Lending Circles program with potential non-profit providers.

My colleague Tara and I presented in during the convening of the Clinton Global Initiative with about 25 non-profit professionals who came to hear how Lending Circles could complement their mission.

MAF working with new partners in Colorado makes a lot of sense to me.  Like San Francisco’s Mission District, it is often referred to as “up and coming”.  I experienced the thriving nightlife, where the streets were scattered with various food carts, selling delicious treats among old Jazz venues and new dance clubs.  I also read a story on Sunday in the Denver Post about micro-finance opportunities for recently arrived refugees and immigrants.

TaraA conversation I had one evening in Denver with a college friend of my Dad’s from India made me even more determined to bring Lending Circles to Denver.

He told me about the rental shortage, a housing crisis similar to the one that’s gripping the Bay Area right now, coupled with a high number of foreclosures in his neighborhood.

These moments reminded me that with any progress, there’s inevitably some who are left behind. There are those who haven’t built up their credit to rent an apartment, who are strapped by making payments on their mortgage and don’t know how to choose the best financial product for them. MAF provides a solution to non-profits who are interested in building or expanding their programs to serve underbanked communities living in the financial shadows.

We are on a mission to expand our Lending Circles program across the country and boldly say that we will bring on 40 partners by 2015. MAF’s innovative Lending Circles Communities platform enables people to sign up for social loans through a mobile device, but it’s built on a time honored tradition of borrowing and lending money to each other.

Just like a lunch box, Lending Circles may look like a new kind of social loan, but it’s actually incredibly relevant and familiar to many communities.

 

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