Ballots continue to be counted as, around the globe people wonder who will be the next U.S. president. In the middle of the country, in states proving to be election battlegrounds, Times of Entrepreneurship interviewed five Midwestern immigrant business owners on their thoughts, dreams and hope for the next four years. Immigrant entrepreneurs are not a political monolith. Some immigrant business owners have nothing but praise for Trump, while others hoped for a Biden landslide.
They have a unique set of business concerns. In addition to juggling the usual tasks to comply with tax codes, tariffs, regulations, employees, pandemic assistance, they have to contend with issues around immigration policy and sometimes xenophobia.
Ojas Akolkar, Clawson, Mich., and Florida
Owner of Tribalfare, an ecommerce site for global artisan products
My business is called Tribalfare and we’re all about celebrating cultural expression through products; it’s such an extension of who I am and what I stand for. I’m from Mumbai, so products are primarily sourced from India.
I hope and pray that change happens. I have two boys and the last four years have been extremely difficult. We’ve faced racism. My son witnessed a man spitting at me when we were in the car. This man yelled, “Go back to your country!” My kids were born in this country. My son asked, “What does he mean go back to your country, mom? This is our country, isn’t it?” It used to be taboo to be racist.
I started doing pop-ups at the Eastern Market in Detroit, there were so many people who came to my booth not knowing anything about India. They had no clue. And then they touch and feel these products and they’re like, “Oh my gosh, this is so beautiful. Where are you from? And do you speak Indian?” And I’m like, “Well Indian is not a language, it’s Hindi.” These little conversations — I feel that’s the work I’m doing with Tribalfare.
I’ve been a fan of Kamala Harris for a long time. Can you imagine what it would mean for so many young American women and men of Indian origin, to see Kamala Harris in the White House? I listened to her nomination acceptance speech, and it sent chills down my spine.
Raul Villegas, Kansas City, Kansas
Owner of Soccer Nation KC, a soccer stadium and kids league
I was brought to the United States when I was 11 years old from Puebla, Mexico. I’m finally a US citizen so this will be my first election. I am very happy. Because not only will my vote be counted for me, it will be for my family, for my parents who have never been able to vote.
I own Soccer Nation KC, most of our kids are Hispanic, I hope they will grow up playing this beautiful sport, and maybe earn scholarships to college. We have encountered more racism in the last four years, but that’s when we played in the more rural areas. Kansas City is a very welcoming place.
I registered as a Democrat, which seems to be more immigrant-friendly than the Republican party. Knowing I’m going to vote, I have been paying more attention to the news, talking with friends about what’s happening.
One of the most important issues for me is immigration reform. Many kids are brought to the US and because they don’t have a social security number, they can’t have their American Dream.
DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] is better than nothing, but there needs to be a better pathway to citizenship. These kids work very hard and are well educated. They know living in the United States is a unique opportunity, so they give the most they have.
Farouq Karadsheh, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Owner of Mediterranean Island International Foods, an international market
We are very, very happy with the way things are going right now, we wouldn’t change a thing. Business has been booming over the last four years. As a business owner, Trump’s tax policies have been very helpful. I vote as a businessman.
People complain about Trump giving tax breaks to large corporations, but it’s not like that money stays their pockets, it’s circulated. It’s passed on to shareholders, to employees. It spurs innovation and growth, maybe an offshoot within a corporation, or, individuals are financially able to start their own businesses.
I like Trump’s immigration policies. I don’t think he’s anti-immigrant. He just wants it done in the right way, the way we did it as a family in 1972 from Jordan. I also don’t think he’s a racist. He’s renounced white nationalism many times.
The beauty of the United States is that some of my kids are voting differently—that’s freedom. In Jordan that would be considered odd. And if Biden wins, he will be my president.
Hamissi Mamba, Detroit, Mich.
Co-owner of Boabab Fare, soon-to-open restaurant specializing in Burundian cuisine
I arrived in the United States in 2015 from Burundi seeking asylum. I joined my wife Nadja who was already here for three years, also seeking asylum; she fled from persecution for being a human rights activist. I can’t vote because I only have a green card, but if I could, I’d vote for Joe Biden. He’s the one who wants someone like me to be this country. I would vote for him 100 percent.
When Trump got elected, the message he was sending out was totally against me—someone who looks like me. After he became president, the next day we were ready to close our case here and get asylum in Canada. Many of our friends were going, and I was like, “We can’t stay here. We have to go.” Fortunately our lawyer told us to just hang on, be patient, and eventually we were both granted asylum in 2017. It was an unforgettable day in my life.
For three years we’ve been working on Boabab Fare, we were preparing to open and then COVID hit. But we will open in early February. Not only will it be a restaurant serving Burundian food and coffee, it’s going to be a safe space for immigrants and refuges. It’s also going to be a place to educate.
What I would say to people on the other side of the refugee issue, is that refugees come here, not so much by choice, but in order to survive. This is the only home we have. We are building a life, raising our kids here, contributing; we are not dangerous people.
This is an amazing country. Everyone around the globe gets hope from the United States, so imagine what message it sends to shut down the refugee resettlement program? You’re taking away the voice of those people who don’t have a voice, those being persecuted, and giving strength to dictatorial regimes around the world. That is not what this country is.
We talk to friends around the globe and it’s unbelievable how they see this country now. The United States is not a role model anymore, its lost credibility around the world. I think Joe Biden will change that.
Umar Ahmed, Minneapolis, Minn.
Founder of Twiggy Fresh, a natural toothbrush company
I would like to see some sort of level playing field for minority-owned businesses and small businesses in general, struggling from the pandemic. A lot of small businesses did not get PPP money.
Small businesses are the backbone of what makes this country grow—don’t dump the money on big guys only. This reminds me of the 2008 recession, when corporations got bailouts while regular Americans were losing their homes. Think about how only helping corporations affects small businesses; small businesses also create jobs and hire people who need paychecks.
I spent many years in the corporate world, but I wanted to do something that’s more my own and also make a difference in the world. I launched Twiggy Fresh two years ago. We make a natural toothbrush made of bamboo. Plastic toothbrushes are made of chemicals and millions get thrown in the garbage hurting the environment.
We also sell a version of the traditional miswak, a kind of twig or stick to clean your teeth. It’s very easy to use—but only a few people know what it is, so we concentrate more on the toothbrush.
I came to the United States as a refugee, I’m originally from Somalia. There’s so much opportunity here. Most of the immigrants who come to this country now, are just like the people who came from Europe centuries before.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity. For more stories like this, and tips and connections to help you run your business, subscribe to our free weekly newsletter: www.timesofe.com/introduction.