Author: Samhita Collur

‘Échale ganas, mijo’/’Give it your all, son’: PART ONE

What does ‘Transcend. Evolve. Take Flight.” mean to you?

Life’s about a dream

I’ve always considered myself a dreamer — long before the term was used to identify a community of hard-working immigrant youth fighting for a chance to succeed in the land of opportunity. I interpret the term on a much deeper level, and this has influenced the development of my own ideology. I often connect dreams to my past and present. My dreams also set the vision for my future.

For me, the term dreamer goes beyond my current status of being a DACA recipient. I enjoy a good night’s sleep. Especially when I’m induced into my own personal lucid “dreamland.” I’ve taken lessons from my dreams that have shaped me into the person that I am today. I often find myself daydreaming back into the treasure chest of my life’s past memories and experiences.

I daydream of my life in Mexico. I was born in the state of Veracruz — a coastal state whose natives are often known as “Jarochos.” I was brought up by my parents and my immediate family. I visualize my grandfather, Camilo, who taught us the meaning of respect for those around us and encouraged my parents to set strict, yet fair disciplinary standards. I see my grandmother, Guillermina, who always displayed her love for us with constant affection and delicious Mexican dishes.

I had never imagined the events that would drastically alter the course of my life. It all started with a man, my father, who was willing to take a risk for the well-being of his family and for the pursuit of a better life — the so-called American Dream. My father immigrated to southern California in 1990. Months later, my mother joined him across the border. I was six at the time, and my youthful mind felt resentment and confusion towards my parents departure. Why would they leave us? It simply didn’t make sense.

A year passed by living without my parents. My grandparents took care of us and tried to make the best of our existing situation. Having access to Skype or social media would have made communication with my parents a lot easier back then.

In 1992, my older brother and I were reunited with our parents in southern California. The journey was long. I remember jumping from one crowded bus to another. I was excited and nervous to see my parents, and we felt comfortable traveling with one of my favorite uncles. We arrived to a destination which I later learned was Tijuana. Our uncle introduced us to two unknown women and left us in their care. As he said his farewells, our uncle reassured us that these women would take us to our parents. I didn’t understand what was going on, and I resorted to holding my older brother close to me. My brother was also in the same state of panic, and I was glad that we had each other.

I was fortunate enough to sleep through our venture across the border on the back cabin of a semi-truck — dreaming of a reunited life with my parents. But I also felt that they owed us an explanation for their abandonment.

Welcome to northern Mexico

Though life in California took some getting used to, I managed to assimilate quickly. We lived in a neighborhood with a large Latino community. My teachers spoke Spanish, and my friends were all Mexican. I didn’t quite feel the sense of culture shock I had expected to feel. Though I missed my family back home, my parents made up for this by providing unconditional love that only a parent can give to their children. They also gave us a U.S. born little brother.

My parents continued to instill many life lessons in me and my brothers. I would see my father come home late each night with dirty clothes and a darker tone to his skin. He worked in the construction industry as a laborer. He would always dedicate time to make sure we were adhering to our values and morals by making sure that our homework was done and our assigned chores finished. Once completed, we were rewarded with leisure time. I began to understand my father’s lesson of the value of having a strong work ethic. He would constantly remind me that by working hard, whether it be school work or chores, I would reap great results in the future.

My mother instilled in me the values of patience and compassion. She would smother me with affection for my good behavior and positive grades at school. She did struggle with disciplinary actions, and she often delegated these tasks to my father. My mother always had an entrepreneurial mentality. Aside from working as a caretaker for an American family, she sold cosmetics and jewelry on the side. To purchase her inventory, she often participated in tandas to help save her money.

My father worked long days and my mother worked long nights, so I cherished the weekends because those were times when we could be together as a family.

How do you say this in Spanish?

It wasn’t until a few years after moving to the U.S. that I experienced a true sense of culture shock. My parents decided to move north to Minnesota. I was in sixth grade at the time, and I was angry and disappointed for having to leave my friends back in California. After initially sharing an apartment with an extended family member, we eventually settled in the town of Farmington.

Being surrounded by gringos was a very nerve-wracking experience. My English was still limited, and my accent was heavy. In California, I was mostly speaking Spanish, and I happened to live in a neighborhood with mostly Latinos. My classmates constantly reminded me of my accent, and being one of the few Mexican kids in a mostly Caucasian town, I stood out like a sore thumb. Though, I was able to spark their interest in learning Spanish, well…Spanish curse words.

Many classmates treated me with respect and were accepting of my presence, but others felt the need to try to undermine me. I never really felt like I belonged to their inner circle. I felt out of place, not confident, and not like my former self. I became very reserved and quiet.

It took some time, but I finally began to accept Minnesota as my new home. But of course, I constantly struggled to keep myself fixed on seeing life from a new lens. I lived my share of negative experiences, especially around racism. During these moments, I would invoke another one of my father’s life lessons: Never be an aggressor or pick a fight, but don’t allow others to decrease your worth — or the worth of those you care for — and always defend your personal values. I had no option but to stand my ground when challenged.

I was fortunate to form a few close friendships. Needless to say…. they’re all gringos. To this day, they’re still part of my life. They also happen to be as Minnesotan as one can expect. Though my accent was still thick, I learned to feel more confident with my oral skills and my accent. My friends still gave me a hard time, especially around the distinctions between B’s and V’s and J’s and Y’s, but I knew it was all in good fun.

Read part two.

A huge thank you to David Soto for writing this post and sharing his incredibly inspiring story with us. David Soto is the Financial Capability Program Supervisor at Communidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio (CLUES). David also oversees the Lending Circles programs at CLUES.

Boni: A Story of Self-Sufficiency

Today, Boni speaks about his life in the U.S. with a humble confidence. In the five years that Boni has lived in the country, he has built financial security for himself. He has navigated unfamiliar surroundings and financial systems with strength and savviness.

Boni’s story is really a story of independence and self-sufficiency — a trademark of immigrant communities. As he shares his journey and insights with us, he says:

“It’s nice to have the space to think about these things. I don’t often have the time to reflect on my journey.”

Boni grew up just outside of Puebla, Mexico.

Boni’s family belonged to an indigenous Aztec background, so he grew up speaking his native language Nahuatl, instead of Spanish. He lived in a household with his mother, father, and four brothers.

His family was not wealthy, and they believed in the idea that “what you have is what is yours.”

“In Mexico, if you’re not wealthy, you see loans as digging yourself into a hole.”

Credit was a foreign concept for Boni. According to Boni, in Mexico, credit was only used by wealthy communities or business owners with large scale operations. Also, many financial institutions in Mexico didn’t feel very reliable or trustworthy, so Boni’s family generally stayed away from these institutions. When Boni was living in Mexico, he had heard about an unfortunate incident between local community members and staff at a local bank. A few community members had opened up savings accounts with the bank and deposited their earnings in the account. A few weeks later, their money was no longer there, and the branch manager proved to be unhelpful in resolving the issue.

At age 27, Boni moved to the U.S. to find employment and build his financial security.

“You often hear that there are more opportunities in this country, so you start to think about how you can get here and improve your life.”

In the U.S., Boni quickly realized that credit, and being part of the financial mainstream, is necessary for everyone. When he first arrived in California, Boni was focused on the basics. How was he going to start earning his income? Where would he live? How would he secure his meals?

You come here, and you don’t have money, so you don’t worry about credit initially. On day one of arriving to the U.S, you worry about what you’re going to eat, live, and wear.”


After he found housing and employment, the need for a credit history began to creep into Boni’s life. With his skill set in remodeling, Boni easily found work in construction. He was an independent contractor, and as the scope of his projects increased in scale, he needed to rent more products from equipment leasing companies. But in order to rent the equipment, he had to show a positive credit history. He only found out about this requirement after he was turned away from an equipment leasing company.

Boni had the option of enlisting the help of friends to rent the equipment on his behalf, but he wanted ownership over the rental process. He didn’t want to burden others or accommodate to their schedules. It was time for him to invest in building his credit.

Boni wanted to build his credit so he could build his independence.

Having grown up with the mantra that “what you have is what is yours,” Boni instinctively knew that he did not want to build credit by accumulating debt.

In Boni’s neighborhood, purchasing household items on installment was a popular way to build credit. Representatives from a number of companies would go door-to-door in the community and sell household items. Community members could buy the items on installment, and each month’s payment would be reported to the credit bureaus.

He was skeptical of this method for a few reasons. First, the company’s installment payment plan came with high interest rates. Second, the company offered no real education around credit, so folks were still left in the dark about how credit worked. Third, given that Boni grew up with the mentality that ‘‘what you have is what is yours,’ his intuition led him away from building credit by taking on debt.

During a trip to the Consulate General of Mexico in San Jose for his identification documents, Boni attended a presentation on the Lending Circles program. He was interested in learning more about the program, so he stopped by MAF’s financial education office at the Consulate to speak with Diana Adame, MAF’s Financial Coach. At first, Boni was skeptical of the Lending Circles program, but as he asked more questions, Boni eventually warmed up to the idea. He became especially receptive to the program when he realized the similarities between Lending Circles and Tandas — the name for the social lending practice in Mexico. Suddenly, the idea of building credit didn’t feel so unfamiliar. With a zero-interest, credit-building, small dollar loan, Boni could build his credit and avoid debt.

MAF began offering financial empowerment services at the Mexican Consulate in San Jose and San Francisco in 2016. In San Jose, MAF’s Financial Coach, Diana Adame, leads the Ventanilla Financiera which literally translates to “financial empowerment window.” At the Ventanilla, Mexican nationals are able to get the support to start building their financial lives in the U.S. A typical day for Diana includes conducting mini presentations on a wide range of topics like credit, savings, and budgeting and offering personalized support to clients as they navigate their financial lives.

When Diana reflects on her work at the consulate, she thinks about her family.

“I wish my parents would have had the opportunity to go to a Ventanilla Financiera when they just arrived in the US. They would have saved a lot of money, time, and energy. There are so many resources that sometimes we are not aware in our day to day life. It is not until we go to places in our community where we learn about those resources and services. This work means I help someone set a goal and know that it is within their reach. It is no longer just a dream,says Diana.

After participating in two Lending Circles, Boni was able to build his credit history and rent equipment for his construction work.

Boni recently updated Diana about his credit score: an incredible 699! He also recently got approved for his first credit card. Boni wants to continue building his credit score so he can eventually take out a loan and start his own construction company. Being the fiercely independent person he is, he loves the idea of eventually being his own boss.

We asked Boni what advice he’d like to give to those who are just starting to build their lives in this country, and this is what he wanted to share:

“Start building your credit as early as possible. Oftentimes, it’s not until we need credit that we realize the importance of building credit, and this can make it more difficult.”

He cites the importance of services like the Ventanilla Financiera at the Mexican Consulate. The consulate primarily caters to folks who have just arrived in the country, so this can be a great opportunity to introduce recently arrived immigrants to safe and reliable credit-building products.

In the U.S., credit gives you the ability to build something that can help you build your future,” Boni says.

Originally, Boni moved to the United States with the intention of saving money and moving back home to Mexico to be with his family. However, as he continues to build his future in this country, Boni keeps pushing this date back. He enjoys working in this country, and he cherishes the independence he has built for himself in just a few short years.

Rosa’s Story: An Advocate’s Journey

“My name is Rosa, and I received a check from you within only days of my request. You understand that this issue is incredibly time sensitive, and you did not neglect nor treat me as just a number. As a DACA recipient, this is something I have grown accustomed to, being treated as a number. I am one of 800,000. But through your act of kindness and sense of purpose for something greater than yourself, you demonstrated to me that I am more than a number. I am a person, I am a student, I am a friend.”

We first met Rosa in September 2017. She was a recipient of MAF’s DACA fee assistance grant, and she sent us this message just a few weeks after our campaign began. Her words stayed with us, particularly this line — I am more than a number. I am a person, I am a student, I am a friend.

Rosa’s immigration story challenges one dimensional narratives about undocumented immigrant communities in the U.S.

Rosa’s family moved from South Korea to Canada at age three. Just as her family made their second move from Canada to the United States, they were granted Canadian citizenship. By then, they had settled in Temecula, California. As a high schooler in Southern California, Rosa began to understand the limitations that her immigration status placed on her.

“The first time I realized how this whole system affected me was in high school. All my friends were getting jobs, getting a license, and my mom told me that I couldn’t do that because I didn’t have a social security number.”

During her junior year of high school, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was announced. Her family heard about DACA from their church community, and she rushed to apply.

In early 2014, she received notice that her DACA application had been approved. Very soon after, she hit a number of teenage milestones, like getting her driver’s license and finding her first job. Eventually, she received her acceptance letter to the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

At UCSD, Rosa grew into her voice as an advocate for the immigrant community.

While in school, Rosa connected with a larger community of DACA recipients and allies and realized that she was not alone in her experiences. As a Political Science major, she learned about a number of useful frameworks and tools — specifically, an understanding of the the political process — that shaped her identity as an advocate. One class in particular, an American politics class, taught Rosa about the long term effects of institutional aggressions like gerrymandering and redlining, and how these policies could have crippling long term effects on communities for generations.

During her third year at UCSD, the Trump administration announced its decision to rescind DACA. The rescission created a lot of chaos, anger, and frustration, but Rosa was also inspired and energized by the overwhelming number of organizations that supported her as she rushed to submit her DACA renewal application. In particular, the Undocumented Student Center at UCSD played a critical role in ensuring that she always knew what next steps to take. In fact, the Undocumented Student Center connected her to a number of other resources, including Mission Asset Fund’s DACA fee assistance grant.

“I’m so used to anything having to do with immigration taking forever – waiting, not knowing, etc. Throughout this process, everyone came together so quickly — the immigration lawyer, the director of the UC Immigration Center, Mission Asset Fund — because they understood the urgency of the situation. These organizations realized the urgency even before I did.”

After graduating from UCSD in 2018, the Council of Korean Americans sponsored a work opportunity for Rosa in the public service sector. She met with the first Korean American congressman in New York and asked him ‘what concrete steps are you taking to protect Dreamers?’ At first, he danced around the subject and failed to provide a firm answer. Ultimately, the congressman said this: politicians don’t want to invest in DACA recipients because they can’t vote, and the ultimate goal of politicians is to increase their constituencies.

“That’s the reality of it. I realized that Dreamers need to be speaking out about their stories in order for Citizens to care and vote.”

Rosa understands the frustrating realities of being an advocate without the ability to vote. This is exactly why Rosa has so admirably shared her own story with us.

“The most powerful way to convey my message is to show people who I am.”

Throughout the years, Rosa’s friends have played an important role in her life. Those who know her best know her as a neighbor, a childhood friend, and a fellow dancer. Lately, her friends have seen her navigate a lot of uncertainty, and she has used this opportunity to bring them into the conversation about how they can support her and others who are facing similar situations.

“I recently opened up to my friends about my feelings with the midterm elections and my fears for my future. I received a great deal of responsiveness and love from my friends, and they promised to vote in the midterm elections when they normally wouldn’t have.”

Rosa’s story offers many valuable insights. Her story allows us to reflect on what tools we can each use to advocate for policies that uplift immigrant communities. Her story warns us to remain cautious and critical of communicating one dimensional narratives about communities. Her story also highlights a well known fact — that immigrant communities thrive even within oppressive limits.

“It’s this double-edged sword because I am able to live this ‘normal’ life’. Yes, I have access to certain opportunities, but there’s a lot that I can’t do. I can’t leave the country. I can’t see my family for the holidays. I can’t guarantee that I’ll still be here in three years. I can’t plan my future. I can’t solidify my career. I can’t keep my options narrow. These are much broader limitations that people don’t necessarily realize.”

Rosa plans to continue building her voice as an advocate by pursuing an education in public interest law. Her own experiences have shed light on the importance of the law and the ways in which the law can be applied to either help or hurt people.

“I want to be able to use the law to help the disenfranchised, just as the law has at times done for me.”

During our conversation with Rosa, we asked her what messages she wanted to convey to both Citizens and the DACA community.

To Citizens:

“I want them to know that there’s probably one Dreamer out there that they know personally, but who may be too afraid to come out of the shadows because of the current political climate. This is where citizens can verbally speak out and show their support for Dreamers.”

To the DACA community:

“Regardless of how scary the situation may seem, we are still lucky. We have an EAD {employment authorization document} and a social security number, so we should be using that to the best of our potential. We should use these tools not just to fit in with the status quo, but to help others because we know what it’s like when the system is against us .”

Why We’re Excited for the 2018 MAF Summit

At this year’s Summit, we’re bringing together thought leaders from a variety of sectors – nonprofit, finance, tech, and social sector. We can’t wait for the conversations and ideas that are bound to evolve from this incredible mix of advocates, policy makers, and creative thinkers. Check out a few reasons why our Lending Circles Providers are excited to attend this year’s Summit:

 

“I’m inspired to be attending the 2018 MAF Summit and to connect with other organizations that rise to meet the needs of the communities they serve and see the value of community-based solutions. I look forward to sharing successes, discussing challenges, and exploring opportunities to grow, innovate, and deepen our collective impact.”

– Natalie Zayas, Center for Changing Lives, Partner Advisory Council Member

 

 

“I’m very excited to be part of this event – to share knowledge, tools and successes – but also to absorb other members’ knowledge and expertise. I’m happy to be part of the LC community! I’ve known of informal “Tandas” since I was child from my parents, and now I can adapt this unique lending practice into a mainstream credit building program!”

– David Soto, Communidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio, Partner Advisory Council Member

 

 

“I attended the 2016 MAF Summit and thoroughly enjoyed it. In addition to sharing ideas with colleagues and obtaining useful information from the breakout sessions, it was a lot of fun!! I know this year’s Summit will be more of the same. Looking forward to it!!”

– Rob Lajoie, Peninsula Family Service, Partner Advisory Council Member

 

 

 

“I’m excited to attend this year’s summit because I look forward to the diverse and exciting ideas that will come about from the summit that will help the various communities we serve.”

– Luis Gomez, Youth Policy Institute, Partner Advisory Council Member

 

 

Introducing MAF’s Self-Employment Webinar Series

In this new political context, when our community told us that maintaining financial security was their top concern, we decided to invest in promoting self-employment. We decided to invest in the ingenuity of our communities.

This year, Mission Asset Fund debuted our self-employment webinar series. We designed this series to support entrepreneurs as they navigate different self-employment options and set up their business. We’re excited to continue building resources that empower people to be their own boss.

What inspired us

MAF has always believed in building programs that respond to the community. So, when the Trump administration rescinded DACA in 2017, MAF responded with immediacy and resolve. Within weeks, we launched a nationwide fee assistance grant program to cover the USCIS filing fee for DACA renewals. As a series of new legal developments unfolded over the next months, our work continued. Over the course of five months, MAF issued over 7,500 fee assistance grant checks across the nation. We later surveyed the recipients of our fee assistance grant program to learn more about how we can continue to build programs that meet their needs. Through our findings, we found that 76% of the individuals we surveyed were using DACA, and the accompanying work authorization, to pay for their family’s basic living expenses. We also heard that financial security was a top concern for individuals – in fact, 68% of those surveyed cited a worry about not being able to work because of legal status.

We wanted to build a program for communities across the nation who are facing financial uncertainty, and we believe that self-employment is an important option to consider, especially when traditional employment is not accessible.  

PART ONE: Explore Self-Employment: Discover Options to Work for Yourself

Part one of our webinar series, Explore Self-Employment: Discover Options to Work for Yourself, highlighted independent contracting, gig economy work, professional licenses, and how to start a business. We encourage you to check out some of the guides we created for these topics. Attendees also participated in self-reflection exercises to think about the intersection between their passions and their skillset, and plan the next steps in their self-employment journey – whether or not you’re planning to start a business, take a look at these reflection exercises

If you missed our live webinar, you can watch the webinar recording below:

Meet the Entrepreneurs

Meet the inspiring entrepreneurs featured on the webinar!

PART TWO: Being an Independent Contractor: Transforming your Skills into Self-Employment

Part two of our self-employment webinar series covered the ins and outs of independent contract work: how to market yourself and your work, how to use online freelancing platforms, and how to navigate tax and legal considerations. We heard from a number of experts. Drew Yukelson, Program Manager at Samaschool, shared these useful resources to get started on your self-employment journey, including a link to Samaschool’s free online course on independent contract work. Iliana Perez, Entrepreneurship Initiative Manager at E4FC, offered her expertise on how to navigate immigration considerations as an entrepreneur, and shared a comprehensive new guide from Immigrants Rising: “A Guide to Working for Yourself.” 

Watch ‘Being an Independent Contractor: Transforming your Skills into Self-Employment’. 

PART THREE: From Employee to Entrepreneur: How to Form an LLC Business

In part three of our self-employment webinar series, we explored the process of formalizing a business as a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). Entrepreneurs Patricia Murguia and Pablo Solares-Rowbury used their personal experiences with starting an LLC to a) highlight the benefits of forming an LLC and b) share some of their learnings along the way. Adria Moss of Pacific Community Ventures shared some practical advice about how you can create a business plan and manage your business operations as an LLC. Check out these tools and resources to get started on your LLC journey.

Watch ‘From Employee to Entrepreneur: How to Form an LLC Business’

What’s next?

Part four of our self-employment webinar series is in the works! We’ll be sure to keep you updated!

#HereToStay: Announcing MAF’s new immigration loan programs

Mission Asset Fund is excited to launch new zero-interest, credit-building loans available throughout California to cover the USCIS filing fees for U.S. Citizenship ($725), DACA Renewals ($495), Green Cards ($1,225), Temporary Protected Status ($495), and Petition for Immigrant Relatives ($535). Eligible individuals can apply now at bit.ly/MAFheretostay

We were inspired by the insights we’ve collected from our community

Over the years, we’ve maintained a commitment to building programs designed by and for our community.

Most recently, following the administration’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in September of 2017, we responded to a very immediate financial emergency as families scrambled to come up with the $495 necessary to cover the USCIS filing fee. Over the course of a few months, we were able to issue over 7,500 grants to DACA recipients totaling $3.8M+ across the country to cover the USCIS renewal filing fee. We’ve also continued our financial coaching work at the Mexican Consulates in San Francisco and San Jose, and we’re in the process of launching several new mobile apps and resources like our Financial Emergency Action Plan for Immigrants.

 

 

Through our work with immigrant communities over the past year, we’ve deepened our understanding of the top financial concerns and priorities for individuals, regardless of immigration status. We’ve learned about the importance of financial security and access to capital in moments of emergency. We’ve learned about the financial burden that USCIS filing fees can present to families, preventing a large number of eligible individuals from securing immigration protection. We’ve learned about the need for secure and stable employment for individuals to cover basic living expenses and provide for their families.  

We’ve used these insights to inform the next chapter of our work. If you’re interested in learning more about our research insights, stay tuned for a blog series from our Research & Development team detailing some of our key findings from a survey we conducted with DACA recipients.   

Learn more about the programs and spread the word

We’re excited to begin offering a series of new loan programs in California that facilitate pathways to immigration protection and stable employment for individuals and their families.

 

 

Here are some next steps you can take:

1. Watch the recording of our webinar.

Learn more about the enrollment process and how to apply. Share the video with your community and other non profit organizations throughout California!

2. If you live in California, apply for a loan to finance your USCIS application.

Need help financing your USCIS application fee for U.S. Citizenship, DACA Renewals, Green Card, Petition for Relative, or Temporary Protected Status? Apply here if you live in California.

3. Spread the word on social media.

Tell your friends and family and post one of these images about these new programs on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

We want our community to know that MAF is #HereToStay. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to stay in the loop about our new programs.

DACA: The stories behind the checks

After September 5, 2017, MAF quickly mobilized to provide financial assistance to DACA recipients across the nation. Our campaign was inspired by our belief that DACA recipients and their families deserve the opportunity to continue building their future in this country. Hundreds of scholarship recipients shared with us the significance of receiving a $495 check from MAF to renew their work permits. The stories we heard reinforced the injustice of the administration’s decision to rescind DACA. But each story also revealed a force more powerful than injustice – hope for the future.

7,000+ scholarships. 7,000+ powerful stories. Here are just a few of the messages we received:

Ramos:

“It’s really hard to save $495 while having rent, utilities, veterinarian costs, and other bills to pay. I am also saving for college and my medical expenses. We always worry and try to help abandoned animals in need over helping ourselves. You help us get closer to our dreams and goals that will help the world someday. It may take forever, but I have hope that we will reach our dreams.”

Josue:

“I had a very difficult year battling with cancer, and I’m just getting back to work. Without your help, it would’ve been incredibly difficult to put together that amount of money in such a short time. Once again, Thank you very much for your help and all you continue doing for us Dreamers whom solely purpose is to live just everyone else, because we too are Americans.”

Ana:

“I was running on a great amount of stress because I knew my family was having a hard time economically, and the deadline to submit our renewal applications was very close. I was worried about my future, and even spoke to my college adviser about what would happen if I lost DACA. Thankfully, the president of our school informed us right away that DACA being revoked wouldn’t affect any DACA students at my school. Soon after this, I filled out the application for your scholarship.”

Kevin:

“My fiance and I were really worried that we wouldn’t be able to renew because of the money. You have inspired us. Thank you for all the things you guys are doing. It makes me feel that I have a voice and that I am being heard.”

Rosa:

“I am a student studying Political Science with a minor in Philosophy. I plan to attend law school in the future. I am on a competitive dance team, I have a dog, and I work three jobs, to not only support me financially but also to prepare me for a future career. You may feel this is bizarre, but I just wanted to help put life to the name you wrote a check to. I wanted you to know that your work goes beyond financial assistance. You’re helping us feel secure and pursue our dreams.”

And we will #RiseUpAsOne

Nora’s Journey: A story of strength

Today, Nora speaks excitedly about the prospect of buying a home. She shares the number of rooms she’d like to have, her ideal neighborhoods, and even hints at how she plans to decorate her kitchen. As she reaches the end of her second Lending Circle, she is developing the credit score and the sense of financial stability to soon turn her excitement into a reality. But behind Nora’s current success is a story that sheds light on the resilient and resourceful ways in which many Lending Circles participants have lived for decades.

Working towards the “American Dream”

Nora was born in Michoacan, a state on Mexico’s western coast. She immigrated to Los Angeles in 1988 in pursuit of a brighter future for herself and her family.

Three years after moving to Los Angeles from Mexico, Nora got married. She and her husband both worked hard, saved diligently, and began building a life together. In time, they bought a home and started a business – a transportation company that sold commercial trailers.

They were proud of their achievements. While it had been extremely hard work, they felt they were on the path to achieving the “American Dream.”

The Great Recession changed everything

However, in 2007, Nora, along with millions of other individuals residing in the U.S., was a victim of the Great Recession. It was a period that devastated the wealth of families across the nation, especially immigrant communities and communities of color. Nora and her husband were among the estimated 10 million Americans displaced from their homes from 2007 to 2011. Along with their home, they lost their transportation business – the business that they had sacrificed so much to build. Nora and her husband were forced to file for bankruptcy and their debts started multiplying.

Lifting the burden of debt

A few years later, Nora slowly began to feel more empowered to take steps towards rebuilding her life, Nora visited the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF), a nonprofit based in Los Angeles that is dedicated to providing economic opportunity for the Latino community in California while celebrating and uplifting the pride, values, and heritage of Mexican American culture.

As soon as she started working with MAOF, the staff enrolled her in their debt reduction program. Armed with perseverance, within a few years, Nora’s debt was reduced from $20,000 to a mere $20. The burden of debt no longer loomed over her, and she felt more confident and hopeful. She could walk into work every day without the fear of being harassed by debt collectors. This was a liberating feeling.  

“Words can’t describe the relief I felt when I got my debt cleared. I had so much stress before. It was truly a victory.”

Resilience in the face of loss

In 2014, Nora was once again hit with an immense challenge. She lost her husband to sudden illness. She was left to cope with a devastating personal loss while also managing a set of hospital and home payments all on her own.

She decided that it was time to downsize her life and move to a new city. Adapting to her new life and new financial limitations was a tough transition for Nora. Without a strong credit score, it was hard for her to get an apartment to live comfortably, and it was nearly impossible to apply for a credit card to help make ends meet. After speaking with MAOF staff members about how to build her credit score, she was introduced to Lending Circles.

MAOF has been a Lending Circles provider since 2014, offering Lending Circles, Lending Circles for Citizenship, and Lending Circles for DACA. So far, they’ve served around 200 clients, generating over $100,000 in loan volume.

Nora decided to join the Lending Circles program in 2016 to focus on repairing her credit. Within several months of completing her first Lending Circle, Nora’s score increased from 400 to 660. She applied for a credit card for the first time in years, and to her delight and pride, she was approved. Nora has since joined a second Lending Circle, and she is determined to continue building her credit score.

Nora has refused to let bankruptcy, debt, or any challenge keep her from pursuing her dreams.

By participating in these “Cundinas,” a Spanish word for informal Lending Circles, her goal is to re-build her credit score and eventually purchase a home. “I am tired of sharing a place with other families that I don’t know,” she says. She thinks back to those first few years of her time in the U.S. – after she had bought her first home and built her transportation business. Her journey has been tough, but she knows, with authority, that new doors will continue to open for her. “There’s still a long way to go, but I know I can do it,” she says.

Thank you to Maria Perez for her contributions to this story. Maria Perez, is a coordinator for the Lending Circles program at Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF).

Claudia’s dreams: health, credit & a new bakery

When Claudia’s husband was offered a job in the United States, she encouraged him to take it and insisted that the entire family—the two of them and their two children—move from Guatemala to build a new life for themselves. It was important to Claudia that their family stay together.

Three thousand miles later, their family reached Virginia, their new home. Claudia’s husband started his new job, and Claudia devoted herself to caring full time for the children and improving her English skills. She did this with a specific goal in mind: she wanted to start a bakery business, just like the successful one she had proudly founded and operated in Guatemala.

Claudia and her family had been living in Virginia for just over a year when Claudia had a fainting episode and had to be rushed to the emergency room. She had low blood pressure, and her blood sugar had dropped suddenly.

Shortly before, her husband’s employment contract had ended. Claudia no longer had health insurance. The doctors quickly cleared her and ran minimal tests, but the hospital bill still added up to $6,000, far more than she could pay out of pocket. Claudia had no option but to enroll in a payment plan with the hospital.

Before applying for the payment plan, Claudia hadn’t given much thought to building a credit history. Moving to a new country required her to navigate countless unfamiliar systems and bureaucracies. Claudia had enough on her plate. Building credit simply hadn’t been a priority.

But when she applied for the payment plan with the hospital, Claudia had her first encounter with the costs of being credit invisible in the United States. Without credit, she was subject to high-interest rates on the bills that were already a burden to her household budget. She had to use her husband’s credit card to make the payments on her medical bills, and the medical debt resulted in his credit score dropping considerably.

With her bakery aspirations in mind, Claudia decided to prioritize building her own credit history. But motivation wasn’t enough. She had no idea where to begin.

A friend encouraged Claudia to visit Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS), a social services nonprofit that supports families throughout the region and facilitates leadership-building and innovation among community members. One of NVFS’s programs, called Escala, provides one-on-one small business development counseling to Latino families. A long-term goal of the program is to contribute to asset-building and wealth creation for low- and moderate-income Latino residents of Northern Virginia.

Claudia enrolled in a seminar called “How to Start a Business.” It was in that course that she first learned about Lending Circles.

NVFS had joined MAF’s nationwide network of Lending Circles providers in 2015. Given their existing programs to support asset-building, credit-building, and small business ownership throughout Northern Virginia, and their reputation as a trusted provider of culturally relevant programs, the partnership was a perfect fit. By integrating Lending Circles into the existing suite of programs, NVFS was able to offer a proven path to better credit for clients already dedicated to improving their family’s financial health.

Without her own income, Claudia was not eligible to join a Lending Circle on her own. But the Escala staff helped her leverage her husband’s income to meet the eligibility requirement. This accommodation captures what makes the Lending Circles approach different than the rigid requirements of many standard financial institutions’ credit-building opportunities.

The Lending Circles program is built to work with families, not against them. It takes into account the reality of their lives, and the services are tailored to meet people where they are.

Claudia joined a Lending Circle and began making payments to build herself a credit history. The financial education integrated into the program provided her with tools she could use to pursue other credit-building opportunities and develop her financial health. She opened her first bank account, set a savings goal for herself, created a budget that would help her achieve her goal, and began exploring the financial products that would be available to her once she had established sufficient credit. Through Lending Circles, Claudia’s credit score has increased from 0 to 680.

Becoming credit visible was empowering for Claudia. She felt an expanded sense of hopefulness and opportunity. Doors were opening for her. She was getting closer and closer to her dream of opening her own bakery.

With her new credit score, Claudia first turned to her medical debts. She was able to refinance her payment plan at the hospital to lower her interest rates, immediately saving herself $200 that the previous interest rate had added.

Next, Claudia applied for a personal loan that she used to contribute to her nephew’s tuition in Guatemala. Her credit score was a personal feat, but it also had important implications for both her immediate and extended family. The opportunity afforded to her by her credit score transcended her social network and crossed international borders.

Claudia has since joined a second Lending Circle. Beyond continuing to build her credit score, Claudia’s goal for this circle is to use her loan to finance the startup costs of getting her bakery business off the ground, including business registration, access to a commercial kitchen, and business supplies. Every day, Claudia’s credit score, her financial savvy, and her determination and perseverance take her closer and closer to her dreams.

Special thanks to NVFS Lending Circles Site Coordinator Karina for her contributions to this story.

With ❤️, From: Mom, Charu, Mama, 엄마, Hajurmuma

At MAF, we’re always looking for an excuse to share stories. In celebration of Mama’s Day 2017, a few MAF staff members and Lending Circles clients told us about their moms, grandmas, and chosen mothers—and just what makes them so special.

She’s an inspiring example of resilience for me.

Charu, aka “mom” (Chicago, IL)

Well, aside from the fact that she’s simply the most radiant woman I know, she’s hilarious—especially when she’s feeling #nofilter. She has the best commentary when we’re watching Bollywood movies together.

I also admire her creativity and her drive to keep learning and trying new things. In addition to being my mother, she sells her handmade jewelry at trunk shows and craft fairs around Chicago, and she teaches, performs, and delights her family with her Indian classical music singing!

$$ LESSONS: She taught me the importance of financial independence. As a result, I’ve made an effort to spend wisely, save consistently, and manage my debts responsibly.

– SAMHITA, Partner Success Manager

I lost my mother 10 years ago, and Reyna stepped up to the plate.

Reyna, aka “mama” (San Francisco, CA)

Reyna is my best friend’s mother, but I felt a very motherly love from her from the moment I met her. She is hilarious, hardworking, and she has a drive at the age of 52 that can barely keep up with! She told me, “no matter what you need, I am here.” She has done that—and more.

$$ LESSONS: Never give up. Reyna struggled as an immigrant coming to this country 25 years ago. I went through similar immigration battles, but thanks to her guidance early on and her unconditional love and support, I was able to persevere. She even told me about a traditional lending circle (long before I discovered MAF!) she had been part of, and she encouraged me to join. That helped me save money for all the costs that came along with my immigration process.

– SHWETA, Lending Circles Client, Member Advisory Council

She’s the most selfless person I know.

Irene, aka “mom” or “Reeny” (Long Island, NY)

She is a deeply and naturally generous person. I always joke that she never sits down at dinner because she is making sure everyone else has what they need. She’s taught me to find the humor and a silver lining when things don’t go as planned. This was especially relevant while we were planning my wedding!

$$ LESSONS: Her own mother passed away when she was 19, so my mom had to learn by necessity how to save for the future, spend wisely, and stretch a dollar. She instilled in me from an early age the value of being intentional about spending. Sometimes it’s worth paying a little extra for something if you anticipate keeping it for a long time. Don’t be tempted by things that are inexpensive in the short term—that’s often a waste of money.

ALYSSA, Partner Success Manager

She’s always been hardworking and trustworthy. Now she has the credit score to prove it.

Celia (San Francisco, CA)

Oh, my mother is so special! She is my inspiration, my role model. She is joyful and courageous. No matter what life obstacles she faces, she is fearless with a smile on her face.

$$ LESSONS: She’s a natural leader, and people flock to her for advice. People would come to her with their money problems. She created many lending circles in her community to help people pool resources and build savings. Although my mother has always been a dedicated saver, she didn’t have the opportunity to establish a credit history. I was thrilled to introduce her to MAF. After participating in a few of MAF’s Lending Circles, she’s built a beautiful credit score for herself!

PATRICIA, Lending Circles Client, Member Advisory Council

She’s a fighter.

Ana, aka “mami” (San Francisco, CA)

My mom? She raised three girls on her own. She overcame enormous obstacles to put food on the table and a roof over our heads.

$$ LESSONS: When I was about ten years old, before we moved to the U.S. from El Salvador, my mom helped my sister and me get a little business going that we ran out of our house. We offered two distinct services: photocopying (we’d invested in a printer) and chocolate-covered bananas (official name: chocobananas). We didn’t even have to advertise—people just knew to come to us for their printing and chocobanana needs. And we learned some very valuable lessons from this entrepreneurial venture, most importantly: 1) work hard; 2) try not to eat all the chocobananas in your inventory. Those lessons continue to guide me to this day.

KARLA, Client Success Manager

She was one of the first women from her home state of Orissa, India, to attend medical school.

Sarat, aka “Mama” (Odisha, India)

There’s so much I admire about my grandmother: her ambition, intellect, passion, and humor, just to name a few. And she’s given me so many gifts throughout my life. My grandmother has been my yogi. It’s thanks to her that I developed my own yoga practice and have even taught yoga a different points in my life. Another gift that I cherish: her stories. Her letters, previously handwritten and in more recent years delivered by email, are simply the best.

$$ LESSONS: My grandmother taught me the importance of savings and frugality. She would know. It was her rupee-pinching and homemaking that ensured opportunities for her children and grandchildren. She instilled in me an appreciation of the importance of being able to stand financially on my own two feet.

MOHAN, Director of Programs and Engagement

My 엄마 / umma is my #1 bae.

Young Ki, aka 엄마 (Queens, NY)

She’s her own type of “tiger mom.” She never pressured my brother and me to get straight A’s but instead to find and pursue our passions. She’s a fierce dreamer who came to NYC with no idea what was going to happen to her. I’ve definitely inherited that idealism and rebellious spirit. I also inherited her love for food. Growing up, we weren’t always able to communicate in Korean or English too well. I learned that a pungent bite of kimchi could literally mean “I love you.”

$$ LESSONS: My mom taught me the importance of taking risks. She never saw money as an end goal but always as a means to something more. She was the one who pushed my dad in owning our grocery business, purchasing our first home, and investing in my brother’s and my college educations. Her financial philosophy guides and inspires me.

JAY, People, Fun & Culture Coordinator

She exudes joy, warmth, and love.

Nilsa, aka “mama” (Mission District, SF)

My mom is the most powerful woman I know. I look up to her, and everything I do is to make her proud. I feel very fortunate and honored that she is the woman that raised me into who I am today. She’s given me so many gifts over the years: excellent hugs, wise and compassionate advice, and a love for music and salsa dancing.

$$ LESSONS: My mom has taught me so many important financial lessons that have saved me money and heartache, and I’ve been sure to pass them down to my own children. And those lessons have been about more than just money. They’re about life: save consistently and manage your money wisely, no matter how much you have or earn. Focus on paying your bills and rent on time; worry about the wants later.

DORIS, Client Success Manager

She is one of my “five stars,” the five most influential women in my life.

Sulochana, aka hajurmuma (Kathmandu, Nepal)

Hajurmuma is the official term for grandmother in Nepali – hajur means “with respect” and muma means “mom.” And my grandmother is worthy of every ounce of respect. I so deeply admire her strength, grace, and beauty. She’s taught me so many important lessons that have made me the person I am today. Her best piece of advice? That no matter what happens in life, you must always remember to dance. It keeps your spirit alive.

$$ LESSONS: My grandmother’s life is an example of the lessons she’s taught me: the importance of working hard, getting a good education, and achieving financial independence. As a young widow, my grandmother managed to successfully run a business in her community in Nepal. In those days, it was unheard of for a woman to do that. I am so inspired by her bravery and independence! She also bought me my first piggy bank and taught me my first lesson in finances: “save, save, save.” That’s a lesson I have practiced to this day, and finance has become my life’s work.

SUSHMINA, Accounting Specialist

No one can make spare ribs and asparagus like she does…

Chau Phung, aka “mom” (San Francisco, CA)

There are many things I love about my mom… But one of the first things that comes to mind is her cooking! She is a very talented cook and baker. And she has shared those skills and her passion with me!

$$ LESSONS: Well, considering I’m the Financial Services Associate at MAF, you can probably guess that finance is pretty important to me. And that’s all thanks to my mother. From the time I was very young, my mom always made a point to teach me important financial skills so I would be independent and prepared for the future. She taught me how to make a budget, stick to it, and save for a rainy day. She’s a dedicated saver—no matter what challenges came up, she always had savings to count on. She’s diligent about living within her means and not overspending. I’m grateful to have learned those skills from her.

JENNIFER, Financial Services Associate

My mother is superwoman incarnate.

Sonia, aka “mami” (Key Biscayne, Florida)

Take for example: her daily routine when we were kids. She would get us all fed and out the door, go to work managing senior home care services, squeeze in a quick 30-mile bike ride, and finish the day off cooking a delicious dinner while singing along to her iPod. Her energy and upbeat attitude radiate from her. Through the ups and downs of life, she keeps us all in good spirits.

$$ LESSONS: Starting when I was little kid, my mom would “encourage” (um, force) me to put my birthday money straight into savings. She even gave me a credit card on my 18th birthday to teach me about credit and how to build it slowly! It was painful back then, but I’m forever grateful for those lessons.

CARLOS, Partner Success Manager

Thank you, Mom.

With love,

The MAFistas

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