In my first three months of work as the Assistant Commissioner for Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, I have been fortunate to meet with so many business owners and entrepreneurs who are shaping Minnesota’s economy. My work is about better understanding the current conditions, especially the barriers to starting and growing a business in our state.
Last week, I visited with two business owners, and I am so impressed with their success, even through hardships. Mirian owns El Callejon, a store at Mercado Central in Minneapolis, where she sells T-shirts and men’s clothing. But owning a business in Minnesota isn’t where she started. Mirian fled El Salvador’s civil war in the early 1980s, arriving in California. After losing a job, and with young kids at home, she borrowed a sewing machine and began making aprons and scrubs. She grew her sewing business, then opened a clothing store in California, and eventually moved to Minnesota and opened a new store here.
Proceeds from her business allowed Mirian to put four kids through college, and she is getting ready to send her youngest one to college. Sales have dropped considerably due to COVID-19 and other adverse conditions along Lake Street, but she carries on with resilience. She takes deep pride in her children’s successes as a chef, a nurse, an architect and an IT wiz. She also adopted and supports two daughters in El Salvador. One of them recently started her own small restaurant in that Central American country. Entrepreneurship runs deep in the family, wherever they live.
In Richfield, the owners of Las Twins Fashion Western Wear, Yolanda and Rodrigo, recently expanded their store, where many customers come to find quinceañera dresses, plus baptism, first communion and special occasion clothing.
Their store was previously located on Lake Street, and Yolanda put in countless hours as an organizer and coordinator for cleanup and repair in the neighborhood after civil unrest there earlier this year. She distributed information about how to connect with resources such as housing and food assistance and with donations that were made. Even when the situation was tough for her own business, Yolanda went to work helping others. That’s really the spirit and dedication to community we need in our state.
Being in service to others is a value that Yolanda and Rodrigo’s children have learned from them. Their children have participated in the Raíces program at Centro Tyrone Guzman. It’s a youth social entrepreneurship program that lets teens explore business ventures. It was designed by teens for teens.
Youth participants piloted a salsa-making business. Through the operation of this small business, Raíces youth are learning technical skills related to financial management, budgeting, research, marketing and communications. They are also learning and practicing work-readiness skills – such as leadership, problem solving and a strong work ethic – as they build professional networks.
Although production was interrupted by COVID-19 restrictions, all of the salsas that were initially made to sell at the farmers’ market during the summer of 2020 were donated by participants to Centro Tyrone Guzman families as an addition to the food packets Centro was providing to those most affected by COVID-19. Participants and customers look forward to cooking and enjoying more batches of salsa soon.
Visiting with Mirian and meeting Yolanda, I am reminded of why I accepted this job. It’s really a continuation and combination of my previous work as a consultant for immigrant business owners and a cabinet minister in Somalia. I see the importance of working together so that our entrepreneurs can create the businesses that drive our economy, enliven our neighborhoods and build our community.
We know that immigrant business owners are more likely to hire immigrant workers. They are job creators. We can find ways to support them, whether they choose to locate in the Twin Cities, the suburbs or small towns in Minnesota. Every Main Street and every community benefits when immigrant and refugee business owners find success. Especially now, their creativity and commitment to our state deserve our recognition, and immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs deserve our thanks.