Basil by Augusto Janiscki Junior (Source: Flickr)
The green, yellow and blue Brazilian flag is hard to miss when walking through the neighborhood of Framingham, MA. It hangs on store awnings, front porches and above churches. The flag’s motto reads Ordem e Progresso. Order and progress. It’s fitting for the town’s dominant immigrant group. They come from across Brazil—Minas Gerais, São Paulo, and Espírito Santo—to build better lives and find better jobs. For progress.
Massachusetts might not seem like a natural fit for Brazilian immigrants, especially with the frigid temperatures that New England is currently facing, but Boston’s Brazilian community has been growing strong over the last 30 years. In fact, it’s the primary destination in the United States for Brazilian immigrants. The rich community life in neighborhoods like Framingham is a big part of the reason why.
According to the US Census Bureau’s 2008 Community Survey, immigrants made up about a quarter of Framingham’s population, with the largest group being from Brazil. At Accion, 40% of our small business clients in the Boston area are Brazilian, a fact that’s not surprising to our staff. “These individuals see entrepreneurship as a way of improving their lives and their family’s lives,” notes Rodrigo Cerveira, Manager of Lending at Accion East.
This trend is not unique to Accion. Brazilian small business owners in Boston are four times as likely to start a business than their native-born counterparts. Why? At least in part, it’s the perfect confluence of external factors and personality types that might be pre-disposed to taking risks.
“In order to start your own business, you have to be comfortable with a certain level of risk. It’s not for everyone. Someone that comes to a new country, someone who is willing to pack up their life and re-settle somewhere foreign is more likely to be comfortable with risk,” says Victoria Richardson, Senior Development Officer at Accion.
Additionally, jobs can be hard to come by. “Brazilian clients look for alternatives to limited job prospects once moving to the U.S. because their Bachelor degrees do not translate,” says Rodrigo. However even though they may not be able to work in their field “they use the knowledge and tools from their education to become successful business owners.”
The existing Brazilian small business community provides a plethora of support networks, making entrepreneurship an appealing and accessible option. Brazilians are often able to recognize localized needs in their communities, along with the opportunity to fill that need. Accion clients and brothers Esteban and Sebastián Perez offer the Latino community a taste of home with the products that they grew up with through their grocery supply business, Posible Import & Distribution. After procuring an exclusive order to supply Latino products to over 150 stores in a well-known grocery chain, and with the help of an Accion loan to purchase inventory and hire a driver, the Boston market is providing a promising future for the brothers.
“Accion East has a really important role to play in this,” explains Rodrigo. “As one of the only organizations in Boston serving the Brazilian small business community, we’re a critical source of capital and educational resources. There is a lot of wrong information spread across the community. We help individuals better understand their financial options in order to avoid falling into the trap of predatory lending. We also help with the building blocks of business finance, from opening a bank account, to more complex support like helping businesses receive certification. These financial counseling services are as important as capital itself. They enable our clients to make informed financial decisions that lead to reduced debt, improved personal credit and the creation of assets.”
Lana Garcia, owner, Gula Cake Shop at work in Everett, MA
Because of these services, Accion has been able to help Brazilians like Lana Garcia open their businesses. Lana was born in Brazil to a family of artisan bakers. When Lana immigrated to Boston she continued the family tradition of baking and took culinary courses to expand her skills; eventually opening Gula Cake Shop. A loan from Accion helped Lana renovate her storefront to appeal to the new clientele she was attracting through the marketing efforts that she learned from Accion workshops.
There are dozens of stories like Lana’s, Esteban’s and Sebastián’s. The entrepreneurial spirit—the willingness to bet on oneself—shows no signs of slowing in Boston’s Brazilian communities. For these individuals, progress continues to be an appropriate motto for country and home.