Author: Samhita Collur

A Galaxy of Her Own: Connie’s Mixcoatl

When you’re strolling down 24th Street in San Francisco’s Mission District, you can’t help but stop in your tracks as you are greeted by a display of luchador masks outside Mixcoatl’s storefront.

The store’s name — Mixcoatl — means ‘milky way’ in the Nahuatl language. It’s an apt name for a store that truly does bring together a wide range of regional and cultural crafts from Mexico and all over Central and South America.

Walk into the store, and you’ll stand in awe of the colorful array of handcrafted goods — hand woven purses from Guatemala, calaca earrings and vibrant guayaberas from Mexico.

Each piece is thoughtfully chosen by the store’s owners — Connie and Ricardo Rivera — in an effort to uplift artists throughout Latin America and to continue to share rich cultural histories with local residents.

For Connie Rivera, Mixcoatl’s owner, entrepreneurship runs in her blood.

Connie grew up in Toluca, Mexico, the capital of the central state of Mexico, living with her siblings, parents, and grandparents. Early on, her grandparents served as a strong source of inspiration for Connie. She drew from their admirable work ethic and the skillful way in which they navigated multiple jobs — as campesinos, artisans, and business owners — to provide for their family. They owned a business selling a variety of foodstuffs, from produce to candies, and as was the norm in Mexico, the whole family helped out.

Connie was not able to attend school, but she found a powerful education in helping her grandparents operate their small business:

‘We used to go to a market and my grandma would send me to the market to make a trade, like trading tomatoes for corn. These experiences were my schooling, and my grandparents were my first teachers, my first inspiration.”  

When she moved to the U.S. with her husband in the late 1980’s, she knew that she wanted to channel her love for entrepreneurship into her own business venture.  

Being far away from home, she felt a certain nostalgia for the colors, scents, and symbols of her home country, and she knew that other community members felt the same. And for those who might not have a direct connection to her country and culture, she wanted to find a way to share her traditions with them as well. This was the origin of Mixcoatl.

“Number one, when I came here and left home, I knew I wanted to promote my culture and keep it alive. And not just the culture from one town or one state, but from all over Central and South America. I also wanted to create something that would allow the many talented artisans to continue creating.”

She started her business on a smaller scale selling goods to friends and neighbors. When her brother would visit her from Mexico, she would ask him to bring a few handcrafted jewelry items with him to add to her inventory. She was able to sell these items quickly, so she started to think about expanding her business. But there were a couple things holding her back from taking the next step.

First, she was concerned about the financial investment she would need to make — an investment that would not just impact her, but also her family. At the time, she, her husband, and her two kids were living with a limited savings fund, and they knew they would need to take on debt in order to build their business. Her second concern was around finding the right resources to support her throughout the process. She knew she could not do this alone, and it wasn’t just financial support that she needed. How was she going to operate this business? Obtain the right licenses to operate?

Connie knew that she still had a lot to learn about being a business owner, but she was determined to find the right information.

As luck would have it, one day, as Connie was walking around the neighborhood, she happened to pass by a nonprofit organization that offered comprehensive support services for female business owners.  

“I’m very curious when I want to know something, so I decided to knock on their door, and they opened it for me”

Soon, Connie enrolled in their 8-week program where she learned how to create a business plan, how to obtain the right licensing, and most importantly, she walked away with the confidence to pursue her business expansion.

Her next step was to secure a brick and mortar location. Just as a stroll in the neighborhood led her to find the right resources earlier, it was another neighborhood stroll that led her to secure her brick and mortar venue on 24th St & South Van Ness St. When she saw the empty storefront, her instinct confirmed that this was the right location for Mixcoatl. And of course, what better location than the Mission District — a neighborhood that has become a stronghold for the Latinx community.

Mixcoatl is located in what has now been designated the ‘Latino Cultural District.’

To address the effects of gentrification in this area, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in 2014 designating a portion of this neighborhood as the Latino Cultural District. This designation serves as a commitment from both local government and community organizations:

“To preserve, enhance and advocate for Latino cultural continuity, vitality, and community in San Francisco’s touchstone Latino Cultural District and the greater Mission community.”

Calle 24 (Ventiquatro)

The maintenance and preservation of the Latino Cultural District is overseen by community group Calle 24 (Ventiquatro), and Mixcoatl is exactly the type of business that aligns with the mission of this cultural district. Mixcoatl is a store that aims to promote, preserve, and share Latin American culture by bringing authentic, unique, handmade pieces from Mexico and all over Central and South America.

Though Mixcoatl opened much before the resolution passed, the designation has been an important step in mitigating the displacing effects of gentrification and ensuring that new business owners maintain a commitment to the existing community — from who they serve, how they hire, and how they engage with the community.

Connie is proud of what she and her husband have been able to build. But her business has continued to experience financial ups and downs. It was during a period of financial struggle that she approached Mission Asset Fund (MAF). She heard about MAF from a friend, so she decided take another walk. This time, she walked to the MAF office.

After talking to MAF’s Client Success Manager, Doris Vasquez, she was drawn to the fact that MAF offered a zero-interest loan and found the application process easy and accessible. Connie decided to join MAF’s Lending Circles for Business program, and she used her first round of funds to buy cameras to improve store security. She loved the program so much that she decided to join another Lending Circle.

From Mission Asset Fund to a number of other local nonprofit organizations, Connie credits the strong ecosystem of community support in the Mission District as a blessing throughout her journey. But that being said, getting connected with the right resources was no easy task.

“Maybe the resources are there, but we don’t know where to go. It’s hard for small business owners because you’re often working by yourself with no employees, so it’s tough to find the time to ask for help. When you do take time out of your day, you feel like you’re losing revenue.”

What’s Connie’s next goal as a business owner? She has just opened up another store, Colibri, also located in the Latino Cultural District, so she’d like to continue to grow her new location. Colibri also sells handcrafted goods from Mexico and all over Central and South America. She also wants to get to a point where she can afford to hire another staff member. She would like to have more time to spend with her kids, and she’d also like to use her business as a platform to serve as a mentor and to create employment opportunities for youth.

“I want my story to inspire and motivate young people to believe in themselves. I want them to know that there’s always a door open for them. Also, as my dad always said, if you’re going to do something, give it 100% and do it with love.”

Operating a business has not been an easy journey for Connie, but her intuition and inherent drive to ask for the right resources have proven to be an invaluable resource.

In the story of both Connie and Mixcoatl, we see the beauty and power of businesses that are truly rooted in the community — not only do these businesses preserve and enhance a vibrant culture, but they have a built-in spirit of giving back to their community.

If you haven’t visited Mixcoatl, it’s a store you can’t miss:

3201 24th St

San Francisco, CA 94110

Learn more about Mixcoatl on Yelp and Facebook.

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

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

Read part one.

‘Ni de aqui, ni de alla’/’Not from here, nor from there’

I maintained my connection to my Mexican heritage and culture, but I also tried to understand and adapt to American culture. It always blew my mind when I noticed my friends and their families eating dinner in the living room rather than around a table (as I was used to). I always tried to allow my close friends into my culture, and they openly accepted me into theirs.

My assimilation into American culture came with its limits. I knew I was never going to be fully American, nor did I want to. I followed a “don’t ask, don’t tell” code, never telling my friends of my immigration status. They always assumed that I came here legally, and at times, they would jokingly tease me about whether I had my green card. I always did my best to deflect these conversations by offering up witty answers like, “Yeah, my name is not really David, but my fake papers are sure fooling you all!” I never truly felt comfortable with telling them the truth.

On the other hand, my fellow Latinos labeled me as an “Americanized Mexican” because my English accent became less heavy, and I even started to struggle with some Spanish words. In fact, with my lighter skin tone, many folks from the Latino community assumed that I was born in the U.S.

Nightmare within a dream

Eventually, I found myself attending community college on my own merits and with the assistance of a very small scholarship. I knew I wasn’t able to apply for Federal Aid, and I was working a few jobs to pay my tuition and to continue to support my parents. I finally felt that I was able to pursue my dreams and that I was building my life in this country. However, dreams can sometimes take a temporary turn for the worse. My parents purchased a home, but we eventually lost the house during the economic crisis in 2007.

We faced our biggest challenge yet when my father was detained by ICE early in the morning on a hot summer day. The day he was detained marked the last time I would see him in person. ICE’s reasoning dated back to the early days of my father’s immigration when he received fraudulent legal advice from a notario. As a family, we scrambled to find a way to cover the legal fees. We weren’t going to allow my father to be deported. Shortly after, ICE came once more — this time for my older brother, my mother, and myself. Because my youngest brother was a U.S. citizen and a minor at the time, my mother was immune from being detained. But my brother and I did not have this same immunity.

We were placed in custody, but we still remained separated from my father. My dreams and ambitions of living in the U.S. quickly died while in detainment. My father voluntarily elected to be deported after he heard the news of our detainment. He was devastated and felt responsible for our current situation. I also decided to finally bring my closest friends into the loop and admitted my situation to them. They were very surprised, as expected, but I was very fortunate for their understanding and support. A week after my father was deported, my brother and I were finally were able to post bail.

What followed were years of ongoing court hearings, fighting against what I believe is a broken immigration system, and being constantly monitored (even wearing an ankle bracelet). Before, I always understood my limitations and believed that immigration reform would be our saving grace. However, throughout the proceedings, I started to feel less inspired about my future, especially when my lawyer told me that our best strategy was for me to marry an American citizen or wait for immigration reform. But there was a silver lining to all of this. As we were fighting against removal proceedings, we were actually able to apply for temporary work authorization. We were able to do so because in some situations, immigration authorities will allow folks who are involved in deportation proceedings to apply for temporary work authorization.

Sacrifice before reawakening

After securing my work authorization, I was fortunate enough to land a great employment opportunity when I was hired at Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio (CLUES), a nonprofit known to serve the Latino community. CLUES’ mission and values matched those values instilled in me by my father. Even from afar, my father continued to encourage me to keep working hard, reassuring me that hard work and sacrifice will always pay off. He encouraged me to utilize my platform as a service provider to serve those in need, including my fellow Latino community and the larger immigrant community.

After DACA was introduced in 2012, I was able to dream once more. I was no longer fighting by myself. I was now fighting alongside my fellow dreamers living a similar situation. My optimism for the future returned. I was convinced that If I was given a shot, my family and my community facing the same situation will soon follow suit. Compared to my younger, reserved self, I became a voice to those who couldn’t speak. I was never into politics, but I understood that in order to become an effective advocate for myself and for my community, I had to arm myself with knowledge in policy and politics. I took any opportunity that was given for me to educate those who have a vague understanding of who we really are and the contributions that we make to this country.

We always supported my father back home. He started to become ill, and he was later diagnosed with multiple myeloma. We continued to support him in any way possible while he was undergoing treatment. My father was a very proud man. It’s a trait that I also carry. He did not want us to worry about him, and he would always say that he was ‘feeling fine.’ But we could see right through this facade. He needed his family more than anything, and we needed him. We felt powerless. We couldn’t just simply jump on a plane and fly to Mexico to support him. Even if we could, he would’ve never allowed it.

My father’s cancer got progressively worse in 2016. His immunities were so low that chemo actually hurt him more than it helped him. He became terminally ill, leaving us to face our most difficult decision to date from thousands of miles away. Besides my younger brother, I was the only person who could’ve requested advance parole to fly down there. Unfortunately, my DACA application was delayed at that time, and leaving the country would have posed a high risk for me. Our lawyer confirmed that if I flew down, it would’ve been very difficult for me to return. If my DACA status were to be voided, my father’s sacrifice would’ve been made in vain. We had no choice but to have my brother fly down there to support him through his final days. My father passed just as soon as my brother landed.

Every day, I feel my father’s presence. I constantly play back the memories of the many lessons he taught me. “Échale ganas mijo!”, or “No te rindas por lo que estés luchando.” He was a martyr that sacrificed his life in order for us to have an opportunity to build the life that we chose to create in the land of opportunity. My father was an original dreamer. His memories live within me, as I am part of him. I will continue to dream. I will continue to evolve. I will continue to carry my father’s legacy.

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.

‘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

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:


“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.”


“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.”


“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.”


“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.”


“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).

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