Month: June 2015

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People usually celebrate their first anniversary with paper, but I like to do things my way. I celebrated my 14th anniversary of living in the United States with paper: the N-400 form. This form is a promise my mother made coming to life. It is the opportunity for me to get my U.S. citizenship. With lots of joy and excitement, a little packet that includes the N-400 form, my passport pictures, and a check, I started my process to become a U.S. citizen on April 1st. This simple set of papers means the world me. It is my struggle, my mother’s struggle, my sisters’ struggle, and it is the promise of a better future.

IMG_4829My immigration story is just as much about my mother as it is about me.

My mother sacrificed so much to bring us here and she overcame so much to raise us in a place that, at that time, was foreign to her. My mom left El Salvador escaping a violent marriage, leaving her daughters and her life as a nurse behind as her last push for survival. She left her family, her job, and the life that she knew so that we could have something better – something more than she ever could.

I left El Salvador two years after my mother, when I was 11 years old, with the promise that my sisters and I were going to reunite with her and we would get to go to Disneyland (most immigrant children I know come with that promise, even though we haven’t been able to make that trip… yet).

Instead of Disneyland, and movie stars I came to live in scenic Oakland, CA, which is still pretty cool!

Even though our first apartment was small and cramped, it was packed with love and laughter. I moved years later to San Francisco where I was able to set roots. But those roots weren’t immediately allowed to dig as deep into the soil as I had wanted.

It was when I was a teenager that I realized what it really meant to be undocumented. While in high school, I let go of many opportunities because of my status. I wasn’t able to join a group of girls visiting Washington D.C. because I was a liability to the school. I also couldn’t apply for internships to build my experience because I did not have a Social Security number.

And then I had to turn down the opportunity of a lifetime.

I was full of curiosity and wanted to explore my new home, but being undocumented limited me to explore California. Back then, no one but my best friends knew I was undocumented. I was the only one in my Senior class in that situation and I was too afraid to explain the *real* reason why I had to turn down so many great opportunities.

Then I had to pass on the opportunity to attend the University of California Los Angeles because it cost too much and I couldn’t qualify for financial aid. Back in 2006, when I was deciding what college to go to, there were few resources for undocumented students. We had AB540 which allowed us to pay in state tuition but I was not able to qualify to Cal Grants or federal financial aid like my citizen friends did. So I ended up going to San Francisco State University and made it through college thanks to scholarships from the Chicana Latina Foundation Scholarship that did not require a social security number in order to qualify.

It took more than two years of overcoming immigration hurdles to become U.S. residents, something that I don’t say lightly.

FullSizeRender (7)To be able to become a U.S. citizen, you must wait five years after becoming a resident in order to apply. A year ago, anticipating our 5th anniversary of becoming U.S. residents, I invited my mom and sister to join a Lending Circle for Citizenship. I found out about this program while interning for the Cesar Chavez Institute of San Francisco State University. I was working as a student assistant collecting surveys for an academic evaluation on the financial practices of individuals in the Mission district.

While working for the school, I found out about the different programs that MAF offers – one of them being Lending Circles for Citizenship. I signed us up so that the money we needed to apply for the citizenship application would not stop us. For the three of us, it was going to cost over $2,000 just to apply.  With rising living costs in San Francisco, it has been getting harder for my mom to keep up with the rent while also supporting my sister’s college career. The program has helped us put money aside each month for this important application. We knew that our money would be safe with the Lending Circle program and that we would be able to access it once we were ready to apply.

In the Lending Circle program, we each made monthly payments of $68 for ten months to be able to afford the $680 for the cost of the citizenship application.

Becoming a resident has been a huge blessing. I have been able to get a job that I love and travel to places that I only would have dreamed of years ago. I loved Lending Circles so much that I knew I had to be part of MAF. I was thrilled to join the staff at MAF in the summer of 2014 as a Programs Coordinator. My job enables me to help individuals whose stories resemble mine. I see in them the challenges and opportunities of my own experience as undocumented in the US and I want to be there to help them through their journey. Now that I am in the process of becoming a citizen, I am particularly excited to be able to officially express my vote, 2016 presidential elections, here I come!

I submitted my application for citizenship on April 1st of this year and I am waiting to continue the interview process and get sworn in. I continue to encourage my mom to do the same by keeping her up to date on all of the citizenship fairs happening in the city, preparing her for the interview questions, and helping her in small but persistent ways (like installing the citizenship app on her phone so that she can study on the go).  My goal is for her to apply by the end of this month.

IMG_1345I want to do as much as I can to help my mom on her path to citizenship – just as she has done so much to support my sisters and me.

For me, immigration means opportunity. It means survival. It means stripping away the violence and hurt from a broken home, to make new memories and impact in a country you now call your own. Life in the U.S. has given me many opportunities but it has also come with its fair share of struggles.

From my early memories of living in a cramped studio apartment with my sisters and mother, hiding in the shadows for 9 years because of our undocumented status to walking into my final interview for citizenship. In the face of all of that I celebrate, I cheer, and I smile.

This celebration isn’t only for me. This celebration is for everyone that has struggled, and fought past every roadblock, every slap, every name hurled at them, in their journey to  find peace, and a better life for their families. These victories and struggles have brought me closer to my mother, my sisters, and finding a better life for myself as a citizen of the United States. Now, as I take the final step, I reflect back on the long, rocky path, the paper I celebrated my anniversary with, and my impending citizenship.

If you know someone who could use Lending Circles for Citizenship, please encourage them to sign up today at LendingCircles.org.

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Growing up in Mexico, Diana’s mother treated dogs like they were members of their own family. But when Diana moved to San Francisco at age 12, her family no longer had the space to accommodate a dog. She longed for the day she could bring a family dog back into her life, but it wasn’t until after college that she was able to make this dream happen.

After studying interior design at City College, Diana began her career working with a Home Stager. This was rewarding because she could make any house into a work of art. She could take an everyday kitchen and make it look like it was the set of a fancy cooking show, or a living room make it look comforting and homey just by arranging furniture and light.

When the housing market crashed in 2008, no one was looking to sell a house, let alone hire someone to make it look nice. The crash left her without a job and forced her to rethink her career trajectory. That’s when Diana began to look back on her childhood memories.

Diana“I love animals, but I never thought there was a career in them,” Diana explained.

Diana decided to take a risk and jump into a new profession to start a job at a doggie daycare. She had been a lifelong pet owner, and doted on her French bulldog like a loving mom, but she had never done something like this professionally. But she quickly noticed some limitations with the work.

She loved every minute of working with the animals, but found herself frustrated by the long hours, low pay and limited upward mobility. As a result, Diana began looking for ways to become her own boss and set her sights on a opening a dog walking business.

Diana wanted to go to a bank and get a business loan, but she couldn’t. Even though she had lived in the U.S for most of her life, was a college graduate and had a full time job, she had no credit score.

“Once I knew I wanted to start a business, there was no turning back.”

She heard about a local nonprofit that could help her create a business plan through a friend and there she was able to get her dog walking business off the ground. One of the things that business planning taught her was how to find her niche. Diana decided that she didn’t just want to have a typical dog walking business. Instead, she wanted to combine her love of animals with eco-friendly values. She wanted to make sure that every part of her business was eco-friendly – from organic treats and foods the dogs enjoy, to sustainably sourced toys, and even biodegradable waste bags.

Within six months, she had her business license and Green Urban Dog was born. Now accredited to provide animal care, her eco-friendly services were ready to go by 2012. The next hurdles were building her credit score, getting more training and building a client base. To build her credit, she joined Lending Circles, where she went from zero to over 650 in just a few months. She then spent over 56 hours training in CPR and dog walking to learn the ropes. And by the end of 2013, she was able to land her first client. But before she could really call herself Green Urban Dog, she had one final obstacle to overcome.

998937_730144887030876_1556716504_nDiana’s final hurdle was her gas guzzling car.

“I was spending nearly $90 a week in gas alone transporting the dogs across the city,” she said. She knew that she could save money, and fully green her business by purchasing a hybrid vehicle. Even though Diana now had a credit score, and enough income to make the monthly payments on a loan, her score was still below prime and so she couldn’t qualify for an auto loan for a car.

Diana came back to MAF because she heard about a program that provided zero-interest small business loans to business owners. With MAF’s help, Diana received a microloan for her business. She was able to purchase a used, energy efficient car to drive the dogs around. Since then, Diana has joined Lending Circle for Business to keep building her credit so she can gain access to larger loans from banks in the future.

Now with 12 full-time clients, Diana’s business is growing fast. She specializes in working with short nose breeds like English and French bulldogs – a tactic that helps her gain loyal and long term clients. She even runs a “Short-Nose Adventure club” for the pups that provides activities designed for short-nosed breeds.

“I tell everyone that I know, ‘go to Mission Asset Fund for a small business loan.’”

Building credit for the long-term while getting a zero-interest business loan has been a huge boost. Diana’s advice to aspiring business owners? Go for it! Although the road will be hard and scary, she believes “the sun shines for everybody” as long as they work towards their dreams.

Do you know of a small business owner like Diana in San Francisco? Tell them to sign up today at LendingCircles.org.

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Manuel cree que su éxito en la vida se debe a su habilidad para adaptarse con rapidez. Desde su infancia en México hasta su vida en el Distrito de la Mission en San Francisco, Manuel ha encontrado su propio camino en varios países y en varias profesiones. Inclusive cuando Manuel tuvo una emergencia de crédito inesperada, él no dejó que eso evitara poder enfocarse en sus metas. A través de todos los cambios inesperados, Manuel encontró una manera de triunfar.

“Mi vida ha sido una gran trayectoria”, nos dice.

Después de haber nacido y crecido en México, Manuel se mudó a los Estados Unidos de América hace 20 años y se unió al ejército. Durante su tiempo en el ejército, él conoció a la mujer que después se convertiría en su esposa. Después de completar su servicio, él se mudó con su esposa a España en la búsqueda de una vida más estable. Él construyó una carrera considerable como agente de bienes raíces en una de las áreas más caras para vivir en España. Con un ingreso que dependía completamente en comisiones de las ventas de casas, Manuel rápidamente aprendió cómo trabajar alrededor de los obstáculos que tenían sus clientes para así poder lograr una venta.

En el negocio de bienes raíces, “si no vendes, no comes”.

Sin embargo, cuando llegó la crisis de vivienda y los bancos comenzaron a aprobar menos hipotecas, Manuel batalló mucho para poder lograr una venta. Después de unos meses, él cambió de rumbo de nuevo y regresó a los Estados Unidos de América para buscar mejores oportunidades. Él rápidamente buscó un empleo, pensando que trabajar en el negocio de los bienes raíces en los Estados Unidos de América sería “fácil”, pero él descubrió que las cosas eran más difíciles de lo anticipado.

Manuel se movió rápidamente y dejó atrás el mundo de bienes raíces que se estaba viniendo abajo y tomó un empleo en la industria restaurantera. Antes de que se diera cuenta, había tenido casi todos los empleos en la industria, desde mesero a gerente, aprendiendo en cada paso todo lo que se podía aprender. Él trabajó tras bambalinas durante años, obteniendo la experiencia necesaria para un día abrir su propio restaurante. Pero contar con la experiencia para tener un restaurante no fue suficiente.

4880157508_f911af1ed5_oAl regresar a los Estados Unidos de América, Manuel se dio cuenta que no todo era como cuando se fue.

Al haber vivido en España durante tantos años, Manuel se sorprendió al descubrir que su historial crediticio había sufrido un revés durante su tiempo en el extranjero. Sin un buen historial crediticio, Manuel supo que las cosas serían difíciles. Con muchos años de experiencia, la decisión de comenzar con su propio restaurante parecía ser algo natural. Pero él sabía que necesitaba de préstamos para el equipamiento del restaurante y el local, para poder así inaugurar Little Heaven Deli, un restaurante que serviría desde crepas a sándwiches a helado. Manuel no se rindió pues sabía que él era el único que podía corregir este desorden.

Después de trabajar con una organización que le ayudó a construir un plan de negocios, él llegó a MAF para trabajar en su crédito. Debido a un robo de identidad, él tenía un historial crediticio con una calificación muy baja. Él se registró en un Lending Circle para poder volver a construir un buen historial crediticio y, con cada pago del préstamo, él observó cómo su calificación subía.

Él ahora bromea sobre como prácticamente todos los días recibe solicitudes para tarjetas de crédito en el correo. Él ahora espera con ansias para que llegue el día en que su crédito y sus ahorros sean suficientes para poder comprar su primera casa.

Por ahora, con un fuerte historial crediticio, Manuel ahora puede enfocarse en hacer crecer su restaurante, lo cual es una gran aventura por explorar.

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