Sometimes we might feel regret for leaving our country, family, career and everything else behind and starting all over from scratch…
Montserrat Ayala is a femigrant originally from Guadalajara, Mexico and moved to the United States in 2010. She was 24, had a degree in psychology, and interested in pursuing eployment opportunities in her field in her new home. She quickly discovered the reality that many immigrants face when they arrive to this country: degrees or training obtained abroad are seldom recognized, making it hard to find employment in their field.
Resfusing to be discouraged, Montserrat found work as a group facilitator at Turning Point, an organization that works with domestic violence perpetrators. She went on to become the Associate Director of the Parent Institute for a Quality Education, and it was a major achievement for her to hold a leadership position in an organization that gave back to the community.
Although Montserrat had achieved stability in her new life in San José, she could not ignore her desire to open her own business. She recalls a moment from her childhood in Mexico: “I was about 5 years-old and thought it would be a good idea to sell little rocks. So I went door to door asking my neighbors to buy my ‘beautiful’ rocks (that I had picked up from the ground.) I came home a few hours later, so proud of myself with cash in my hand, but when by mother discovered what I had done, she got mad and forced me to return all the money. I laugh now about that story now, but it made realize that while I never had a background in business, I’ve always had a business-oriented mindset.”
“My English language skills were a barrier for me. It was difficult to have conversations with the architect, city officials, bank representatives or the contractor. ”
After four years working at PIQE, Montserrat decided to pursue her dream of becoming a business owner. In 2014, she opened Vitamina Juice & Blends with her husband and she noticed a lack of healthy food options in San José. Vitamina started at local farmers’ markets, where Montserrat sold all-natural juices and smoothies.
“We had to get up at 5:00 AM to start prepping the ingredients, load all the equipment on a van (including a 100lb generator), set up the booth at the market, work for four hours, pack everything up and go back to the kitchen to restart the process,” she recalls. It was challenging, and sometimes she had doubts. “I began to regret leaving my country, family, career and everything else behind.”
A year later, she took a leap of faith and opened a storefront for Vitamina in Downtown San José. Her English languages skills were a barrier. It was difficult to have conversations with the architect, city officials, bank representatives or the contractor. Managing all of the documentation in English was stressful, but she persisted, and started to gain confidence.
A year and half after opening Vitamina, Montserrat is excited about the future of her business. She sees a flourishing and vibrant energy in her neighborhood and in the SoFa Market food hall where Vitamina is located. She is happy to be part of a community of small business owners, who are mostly immigrants and people of color like herself. Being exposed to people of different backgrounds has been one of the aspects she has enjoyed the most about being a business owner in a multicultural city like San Jose. She is proud to be doing what she loves and creating jobs. She employs three young women who are either immigrants or first-generation from various countries such as Mexico, the Philippines and Eritrea.
Montserrat feels blessed for all the opportunities she has had in the United States, which allowed her to realize her dream of opening her own business. “I am grateful for all the people who believed in me. These people encouraged me while I was trying to reinvent recipes and products based on my Mexican roots. I like offering our community healthy food options while showing them that Mexican cuisine is not only burritos or tacos, but also for wholesome and delicious drinks and food.”