Page 1

US ————— A C OL L E C T ION OF IMMIGR AT ION S T OR IE S F R OM OUR B C OR P F A MILY: T HE IR JOUR NE Y S , E X P E R IE NCE S , A ND R E F L E C T ION S ON HOME . This is a project that has morphed and evolved—it has taken shape, driven by the need for personal connection and the desire to recognize ourselves in each other. The result is a collection of stories that feature the paths by which members of our B Local community, originating from all over the world, came to reside in Portland, Oregon. These volunteers were asked to share their personal experiences in the effort to foster a bigger conversation about immigration. This book of profiles and interviews highlights our commonalities, while honoring our unique experiences. We seek to embrace our community and create a space that respects and values both our new and long-standing international partners. It is our hope that this book leads to a deeper dialog and broader understanding of the world as an interconnected community.

*All interviews have been transcribed, edited, and participant-approved.

CONTENTS 05 08 10 11 12 14 15 16

Group Discussion Questions

Interview with Tenzin Wangdu

Interview with Maximina Arrezola

Interview with Aresenia Arrezola

Interview with Lev Tyspin

Profile of Lydia Garcia

Interview with Meleshiw Agegnehu

Profile of Toewle Po

18 19 20 22 23 24 26 30

Interview with Mecheal Alhayek

Interview with Valeria Cole

Interview with Julia Arevalo

Profile of Mathias Ellegiers

Interview with Farah Pakseresht

Interview with Augusto Carneiro

Interview with Yvonne Tengwall


TO BEGIN... The people interviewed in this book may have “immigrant” as a descriptor, but they also have many other experiences, values, relationships, talents and skills that make them who they are. Consider the richness of each person’s life and experience while using the following questions to guide your personal reflection or discussion with a group.

GUIDELINES FOR DISCUSSION: Choose a few questions below to discuss in a small group (3 to 10 people). Remember when you dialog with others that listening is just as important to communication as talking. Allow space and time for everyone to be heard and to respond to each other’s thoughts, even if everyone does not respond to each question. Consensus is not necessary for a good discussion—different perspectives help us broaden or refine our own understanding of the world. Enjoy the conversation!


What are some of the potential difficulties in navigating the various assumptions people from different cultures bring with them?


Examine your expectations for acculturation. For example, if you are from the US, do you expect immigrants to learn English, local customs, and/or American values within a certain period of time after arriving in your country? Are any of these expectations fair?


How might a B Corp benefit from hiring immigrants? How might your business benefit?


What struck you the most about these interviews? Which parts of these stories inspire you?


What are some of the ways that the experiences of the people interviewed in this guide differ from yours? What are some of the ways in which they are similar?


How could someone from another country help you expand your perspective or think about your work differently?


How do you consider the benefits and differences of experience immigrants offer in your diversity, equity, and inclusion planning?


What challenges do immigrants to new countries face, particularly in the workplace?


How might you help your immigrant co-workers feel welcome and comfortable in a different culture?


Some immigrants travel to their new home for new opportunities, new experiences, or for family members. Some immigrants move out of necessity—they have to choose between fleeing or dying. If you had to make that choice, what could make it a difficult one for you?


Kelsey: What first brought you to the Portland area? Tenzin: I met my wife in India when she was living there, teaching English in Ladakah. She is from Oregon. Kelsey: One thing you’ve told me is that you are not a citizen of India and you never were, but you were born in India. Tenzin: Correct. I was born Leh Ladakh, which is a town in the very northern part of India. But in India, even if you are born and raised there, that doesn’t automatically give you citizenship. My father’s side is Tibetan, and although my mother, being Ladakhi, was an Indian citizen, that still doesn’t qualify me. I am now a US citizen, and have been since a few years after I moved here in the late 90s. A while ago, I went back to India to visit and stayed for four and a half years, but had to renew my visa every six months while staying there by crossing the border and back.



Kelsey: What did your parents do there? Tenzin: They owned a small gift store, selling things made locally there. My younger brother took it over after they passed away, and my family still runs it. Kelsey: Do you have other family there? Tenzin: I have four brothers that live there and they all have kids. I also have many aunts, uncles, and their families, who still live there. Kelsey: What would you say are some of the biggest differences between daily life here and your life back in India? Tenzin: At the beginning, it was very different. In India, I used minimal electricity. I was raised in rural areas and electricity is really only used in the morning as you’re leaving for work. My hometown is at around twelve thousand feet in elevation. Kelsey: Was there anything you weren’t expecting or something surprising about life in the US? Tenzin: I haven’t found anything that’s too surprising. Though some people thought I’d have difficulty with the culture transition, looking back, I don’t feel like that at all. We first moved to a beautiful place, Breitenbush Hot Springs, which was my first job. It was a good transition in a very open and accepting community. One thing about it that was different: Breitenbush was just a really open society. In a meeting, people

do yoga stretches or have coffee and breakfast. I guess it’s the culture itself. People are raised really independently, so the larger society tolerates a certain level of independent thinking. In India, if you’re doing yoga in a meeting, that’d be quite a disruption. Kelsey: How much English did you know before coming here? Tenzin: My wife and I were living together in India for four or five years before coming here, so I was learning English from her then. Kelsey: Does your mind shift when you change languages? Tenzin: It’s like riding a bicycle—it’s like no effort. My mother is Ladakhi, my father is Tibetan, and we were living in a majority Indian population, so we learned three languages. When you look at an Indian dollar, you’ll see how many officially recognized languages there are, and then within each of those languages, there may be a subdivision of a hundred or eighty dialects. Kelsey: Is there anything that feels similar to here from where you are from? Tenzin: I don’t distinguish too much. It’s like, people are people. Your point of reference comes from how you grow up and what kind of input you have in your life. And with that, you act and think differently. You want to do your best, and be yourself. I really don’t feel I have experienced any discrimination, though I have heard others speak of this differently. Kelsey: Is there anything else that you’d like to share about anything you feel connected to here culturally, or something you miss? Tenzin: In general, America is a really good place to be. I’m very comfortable. How bad can we feel here? Of course, there are still some things that can be improved, especially for some groups of people, but overall, conditions are very good. In some old cultures, it takes many more generations to make even incremental improvements in things like race relations and issues of equality. In America, positive changes seem to occur more rapidly. We can criticize and critique human beings forever, but in the bigger picture, America is not a bad place, even with the current events. People here are educated, wanting to be better and fight for fairness.



MAXIMINA ARREZOLA Charlotte/Jose: What brought you to this area? Mina: First of all, my family was here, and I thought it would be easier for me to adapt, and also the weather, the tranquility. This is a tranquil state. Charlotte/Jose: What year did you arrive here? Mina: I arrived here in 2004. My youngest child was five years old, the other one, almost three, and I was only twenty-three and a widow at that time. One of my biggest expectations and also the reason for my moving up here, was my interest in growing my family, and I wanted my girls to attend the university. This has been one of my greatest achievements, to keep the family together and have the girls interested in their education. I am so proud of them and of myself, but also thankful for the opportunity to be here. In Mexico, I would not have been able to do it.



Charlotte/Jose: What is something that feels the same, both in Mexico and up here? Mina: In my daughters’ school, they have some programs for migrants, and one of them is the folkloric dance group program. It is wonderful when you go to those events—you even feel like crying. When you listen to the national anthem and see kids dancing, it feels like you’re at home in Mexico. Charlotte/Jose: What is something that someone or people have done to you that has been bothersome? Mina: The other day when I was walking to work during the summer, I wanted to take advantage of the beautiful sunny day. Then, a car stopped, people lowered the windows, and some kids started yelling at me, “Mexican, go back home to your country!” And you feel bad, but those are the things you are exposed to because we are not in our own country. I just ignored them, and that was it. Charlotte/Jose: But that does not make it right. That is too bad…What would you tell other people that have come to live here after leaving their own country? Mina: I would tell them to always be positive and to never forget their family or where they came from. And to continue fighting for their dreams.

Charlotte/Jose: What brought to live in this area? Aresenia: What brought me here in the first place was the desire to work. My uncles said there was an opportunity, so I decided to come. I have lived in Oregon for twenty-six years. I arrived here in 1996 on December 29th, and I saw everything in white snow! Charlotte/Jose: Very different than in Veracruz? Aresenia: Yes. The climate is very hot there, and I suffered from headaches all the time because it was so hot. And, here, we have some luxuries. In Mexico, we did not have furniture to sit on, or a TV, and we would cook on a homemade stove with a wood fire. Here, we have a real stove—we have luxuries. Charlotte/Jose: What is something that feels the same here and in your country?


Aresenia: Ah… mmm, everything is different. Everything is different, because down there, everything is a routine. When I was there, I could never look into my future, because my future was just frustration. As a woman on the ranch, I was always expected to work in the house and take care of children. There was no opportunity to have a job or to make money working. Charlotte/Jose: What do you miss most from your country that you cannot find here? Aresenia: I miss my brothers and sisters, and walking on the dirt streets. I love to live here, but I miss that. I miss walking the labor fields of my father, milking the cows. Charlotte/Jose: What have you learned from this country since your arrival? Aresenia: I can travel…nothing stops me. I feel like I have wings. Charlotte/Jose: What kind of advice would you give to others that have left their country, like you, to come to live here? Aresenia: I would tell them that nothing is impossible. It is a matter of fighting, without losing faith in God, and making every effort every day.


Krista: Tell us about the story of your immigration. Lev: I was born in Leningrad, what is now St Petersburg, Russia. We were Jewish and in Russia, and being Jewish isn’t about your religion, it’s about your race and your nationality. My parents even had “Jew” stamped in their passport. There was a lot of discrimination—ceilings in terms of how far you could advance in your careers. You couldn’t get into certain schools, and it was very segregated. There was less opportunity. When my parents applied to emigrate, they right away lost their jobs and their apartment. There were some people who never made it out, but had their lives completely destroyed.


I was three and my sister was six or seven when we left. We went to Italy for three months. An agency there put us up in conditions that were nearly squalid. Every morning, my dad and a man from another family we’d emigrated with would go to the flea market, lay out their wares on a blanket and sell things like the Matryoska dolls, and that money was used to buy food. One of the tenants of the founding of the Israeli state was that if you were Jewish, you could go there right away. You couldn’t get into the US unless you had a sponsor. My parents weren’t in agreement—Dad was leaning toward Israel, and Mom wanted the US and she had a cousin there who could sponsor us. So, of course, we went to the US. Krista: Did you have family in Russia that you left behind? Lev: My parents didn’t have a lot of family living other than my mom’s brother and her parents. They ended up following us to the US a few years later. My uncle never left. He’s still there. Krista: What are some of the biggest differences in your family’s life here compared to life in Russia? Lev: I’ve spent time in Russia as an adult, and while there are significant wealth disparities in the US, they are extreme in Russia. A few examples— My uncle became a member of the nouveau riche community in Russia. He’d make sure that when we visited, we had a luxury car with a driver, armed security…that’s what life was like there. There is no strong legal system there, and so the

way that you enforce your agreements is with the possibility of using force or might. At the same time, a lot of my parents’ friends were regular people, middle class professionals. My parents had worked for the telephone company in St. Petersburg before they left. For Russia, it was a middle-class living. Compared to the US, it was poverty. As an example, it’s a really big deal to pull a banana out of the fridge and serve it to your guests. It would have been an incredibly expensive luxury there. Once in the US, both of my parents got jobs at the local phone company, and they were career employees at one of the Baby Bell phone companies. They made a good, middle-class life for us. We went on vacations—I remember our first big family trip in the US was the cliché, epic American road trip. We drove from Minneapolis to DC, up the east coast, into Canada, and then back to Minnesota. During the trip, our car broke down at least four times and it leaked when it rained. But we stopped at roadside attractions like the crooked house that defies gravity. It was definitely done on the cheap, but it was the type of thing they could never dream of doing in Russia. They were understandably really proud of being able to do that. Krista: Are your parents still in the area where they initially settled when they came to America? Lev: We moved to Minneapolis because that’s where my mom’s cousin was. And they are still there. I left when I was eighteen and I haven’t really gone back. For me, I don’t really feel like an immigrant so much, but it was harder as a kid. I got dropped off at school not knowing the language. One of my early memories is of holding onto the banister in the stairwell in the school, and just screaming and not letting go. When I was really little, I was in a private Jewish school because we got a scholarship to go there through some local nonprofit, and that was a pretty safe bubble. But then in third grade, I went into a public school that was in a neighborhood that was very waspy. I was like the only Jewish kid, and certainly the only Russian kid. I had a weird name and I got teased a lot there. I was very much an outsider there.

people in the community and talking to more people from diverse backgrounds, do you have any advice on how we can be more open to people who come from similar backgrounds as yourself? Lev: Even though I’m an immigrant, I’m also a stereotypical white guy who was very privileged growing up. When I walk around the street, I’ve got all the power. And I really didn’t think about that growing up. I didn’t think of myself as having privilege. And even starting the company, I went through a lot of really defensive phases in trying to understand what it meant to build an inclusive community here. This isn’t a journey that I’ve been on on my own, but it’s taken experiences to understand what those blind spots and unconscious biases are. They are there, and you aren’t a bad person because they are there—but you’re not doing the right thing if you don’t open yourself up to them. So that’s my advice. We all need to really open up to other people’s perspectives to really understand what they need to be successful.


Krista: As ThinkShout is reaching out to more and more



ydia moved to the United States from Peru with her mother, father, and sister when she was eight years old. Her father was a jet fighter pilot in the conflict happening in Peru at that time, and he wanted to get away from the front lines. Lydia’s grandparents had met in the United States, where her grandfather was a well-known surgeon and her grandmother was a Swiss nurse. Being born in the United States, Lydia’s father had dual citizenship, and this enabled them to move here.



When Lydia first came to the United States, she remembers going to Disneyworld in Florida, where some of her family lived. Eventually, her family made their way to Oregon with the intention of her father getting a job with Evergreen Flights. When he found out that the position would require him to be in Africa for six months of the year, leaving his newly relocated family behind, he decided to find a different job. The only position that he could find at the time was as maintenance keeper at their apartment complex, and her mother found work cleaning. It was a very strange adjustment for Lydia to go from having maids and nannies in Peru, to suddenly living with much less income. Her father was well-educated, and her mother had been an accountant. Now, due to cultural and language barriers, they found themselves unable to integrate with other families who had similar professional backgrounds, while struggling to connect with work peers because of their prior affluence. Lydia remembers being somewhat resentful that her parents brought her to this new place where, not only did she not know anyone, but she had to learn a different language and adjust to less comfortable living conditions. It wasn’t until Lydia visited Peru after she graduated college that she realized the amazing sacrifice her parents made to provide her and her sister with opportunities that they wouldn’t have had in Peru. Peru was a dangerous place to live at that time, and there were still narrowly defined gender roles. Lydia is thankful that she has had the opportunity to travel, to receive a good education, and, now, to have a great job—all of which would not have been probable if she had stayed in Peru.



eleshiw’s father and mother met through arranged marriage in the countryside of Ethiopia, but her father was unhappy there and, despite the dangers imposed by the communist government, he moved to the city to support the Democratic Party. Mel and her mother stayed behind, soon learning that her father had fled the country for safety. For years, they feared he had died. During this time, Mel moved with her aunt to the city to get a formal education. Just a few months later, a letter arrived with the news that her father was alive and well, and living in Dallas, Texas. After spending two years in Sudan waiting for her US citizenship, Mel's mother was the first to join him in the States.


Mel was reunited with her parents in America at the age of fourteen, and was immediately impressed with the ease of public transit, accessibility of healthcare services, and the availability of water in each home—in Ethiopia, she had to walk for miles to collect it. However, she was surprised to see that poverty is still present here, and not everyone is as well off as she believed they would be in the US. In terms of her day-to-day routine, Mel misses the free time she had in Ethiopia. School was just half a day there, and the kids enjoyed plenty of time to play before bed. Upon her arrival, she also missed having friends her age, and struggled with her language barrier. Her placement in the English as a Second Language program at Grant High School, along with the individual support and mentoring her teachers provided made a huge difference in her transition. She is very thankful for the time and attention invested in her and her education, and she believes that the experience helped shape her trust and faith in people in general. Meleshiw is a self-identified people-person—she continues to find a balance of knowing who she is and respecting others that hold different beliefs. And though she says she’s adaptable, she does share a major irritation with most Portlanders: increasingly bad traffic.



he first thing you notice about Toelwe is how sharp a dresser he is. His shirts always look tailored—even plain t-shirts and even when he’s paired them with jeans that are ripped just-so. And he can pull off a leather jacket better than most. When he first interviewed at Boly:Welch, through the incredible Emerging Leaders Internship (ELI) Program, his style and hesitant, warm smile stood out right away. Toelwe grew up in Thailand as a refugee, and his family, members of the Karen people—an ethnically, linguistically, and religiously distinct group which make up approximately 7% of Myanmar’s (formerly known as Burma) population—were forced to flee some inconceivable atrocities perpetuated on them by the Burmese military regime.


However, Toelwe is more likely to have a conversation with you about his classes, or to tease his coworkers by telling them increasingly preposterous stories than talk about his childhood. Although he’s actually twenty-two, and could pass for eighteen, he had several people in the office convinced that he’s actually twenty-nine…no, thirtyone, and has four…make that five…make that six…kids. Toelwe has a pretty incredible story to tell, though. He’s been in Portland for about ten years, and he’s the oldest of three siblings. He immigrated here with his mom, and two younger sisters. They came from Mae La, one of the refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border, where approximately one hundred-forty thousand Karen people live behind fences —“like cages,” Toelwe describes them. “I was born in a city about six hours from the camp, but for twelve years I lived in the camp. We didn’t have the right ID, so we couldn’t work, and couldn’t really leave.” There isn’t much to do in a refugee camp, unless you already have the cash to start a business for your five thousand neighbors, but Toelwe’s family made sure he got the best education he could. “Education has been consistent for me. There’s a saying ‘even if you are educated, you still eat rice’—it means, like, you need to work to eat, and education won’t feed you,” Toelwe explains. “But my mom expected more for her kids. She wanted us to be healthier and happier, and have more opportunities.” Part of this dedication to education and wanting the most for their children actually brought Toelwe’s family to America, through a UN visa program for refugees. “She didn’t speak English or know anyone, but she came [to Portland] for her children,” Toelwe says. After making it

through the six-month application process, they chose to settle in Portland because Toelwe’s mother wanted to be near the very small community of Karen families who already lived in the area.


hortly after their move to America was one of the hardest times for Toelwe’s family. “At the time we moved, my dad was in Bangkok. He didn’t have the right ID he needed and was supposed to come to us in several months. He had already cleared his medical check, and was coming, but then he and a friend were mistaken as spies by the Burmese military, probably because my dad used to work in the military with radios. They took him and a friend into a forest killed them. We heard about it from relatives back home.”

citizens and have documentation, she wants us to move back to family.” Toelwe isn’t so sure this is what he wants. He might stay in Portland, where he hopes to get a job at a nonprofit like Mercy Corps, or move to a different state, or follow his sister, who is planning to become a flight attendant based out of the East Coast. If his mother decides to move back, he will visit a few times a year and send her money every month, but he has one very big goal:

“We lost all hope.” Toelwe pauses a little here. “We had some support from friends and our community, so after a while we got some hope back.” There was a lot to adjust to in Portland. When asked about the difference, Toelwe says: “I thought Americans all had big, tall buildings. I thought I’d be living in a skyscraper. The thing I was right about, though, is that there is enough food.” He flashes the same sneaky smile he makes when he’s about to tell a coworker about his seven kids: “I wanted to get fat.” Toelwe and his family were immediate fans of ice cream, eating it every single day. They were less excited about pizza, although Toelwe is now a professed fan. “My mom still sticks with traditional food, like fish paste.” He explains that the biggest difference for him is probably the combination of independence and opportunity. Even in the routine of school and work, there is more freedom in the United States. “In Thailand, my friends are also going to school, but there is not much to do. They can’t work. In the US, even if you don’t have a degree, you can get a job. In Thailand, people can sneak out of the camp to get money, but the police are waiting at the gates and can send you to jail. Here, you can get a summer job at fifteen or sixteen. In high school, I used to translate S’gaw Karen to English.”


When he thinks about the future, after he graduates from Portland State University in June, Toelwe isn’t totally sure what he’s going to do. “My mom actually built a house over in Thailand when we were back this summer, on some of the land she had. She hired people, and my grandma is taking care of the house now. She wants to move back to Thailand. Since we’ve all gotten an education and now that we’re US


Kelsey: What originally brought you to Portland? Mecho: My wife moved here in 1990 when she was eleven years old. We knew each other from when we were children in Syria. In 2001, she went back to Syria briefly to visit her family, and I met her again. Then in 2006, she came back to Syria, and we married and had a big party. In 2008, I moved here. Her whole family lives here—they started moving here in about 1940. Kelsey: So your family has deep ties here. Did you have a large community of family and friends when you arrived? Mecho: I did have a lot of friends here from Syria— there are too many people here from Syria! (laughs) And I have a lot of friends here from Jordan, Iran, from Philistine, from Lebanon. I meet them at church, right here at Syrian Orthodox Church.


Kelsey: What would you say are some of the bigger differences between Syria and Portland? Mecho: The weather here is the same, but the taxes, that’s different than in Syria. There, you pay a little tax, but hospitals are free, school is free, college is free, everything is free. From kindergarten to college is free. Here you pay a lot of money just to work. In Syria, we have a decent sized middle class. When you buy a house, you buy it with cash, everything was cheaper there and we had more money. Kelsey: Did anything surprise you about living in the US? Were your expectations met? Mecho: In Syria, you can visit anyone, any friend. Here, you have to call ahead and make plans. It’s very different. The first year, it was so hard—you’re used to a way of life, and then you come here and it’s different. My first year here, I wanted to go back. It was hard to apply for work. When I came here, I didn’t speak English and nobody wanted to hire me. It took me about three or four months to find a job. When I started working, they saw how hard I work and then they didn’t mind that I couldn’t speak English. All that mattered is that I understood and got the work done. Kelsey: What’s something here that people have done to make you feel more at home? Mecho: When I started at The Joinery, everyone helped me a lot with my English and made me feel accepted.

Thomas: What brought you to the Portland Area? Valeria: I moved to Portland from Seattle with my husband when his job changed last year. However, I have lived in the US on every coast—I’m from Brazil originally, so I have to be near mountains and a beach, even if it is a cold one! Thomas: What are some of the biggest differences in your daily routine now, compared to what life was like in Brazil? Valeria: My diet is much harder to keep fresh and healthy, and I work much more irregular hours than I ever dreamed. Finding a good work-life balance here is quite difficult, especially while trying to start up my own business at Teadora. People here do not eat as many family meals as I am used to, however, I have a ton of fun experiences and things to do that I did not get to do in Brazil. Thomas: What expectations did you have about moving here? Did anything surprise you?


Valeria: I was so surprised by the choices! You can learn and try just about anything from any corner of the world. Americans have the most incredible array of choices available versus any other country I’ve ever been to. It is also interesting that people here get so incredibly passionate about what seem to be fairly small issues globally—American people seem more sensitive. Thomas: What is something that feels the same as where you are from? Valeria: The layout of cities, and here in Portland, specifically, the availability of great transportation options. And of course, Fogo de Chao in downtown Portland or Brazilian House Foodtruck on Belmont, whenever I feel the need for some Brazilian food! Thomas: What is something that many people might not know about you? Valeria: I was adopted on day one of my life, and didn’t find out until I was thirty-six! But I am so fortunate—after my mom died, I found my birth mother, and now have two great families. I have a ton of respect for the mother that raised me. She told me, and demonstrated, over and over, that as Brazilians, we have a duty to protect the heartbeat of the world, the Amazon rainforest. And that is what inspired me so many years later to start my own clean beauty products business, Teadora (which means “adore yourself” in Brazilian Portuguese), to help fight climate change and save the Amazon rainforest.


Charlotte: So, first big question is what brought you to Portland? Julia: I planned to move to this country for a better life, for me and for my family. Because in my country, it’s hard to find jobs, and the war made it not safe for us. At first, I moved by myself. I left my kids behind, my mom, my sister—it was really hard for me to leave my kids because they were little ones. Charlotte: How long ago was this, Julia? Julia: Twenty-eight years ago. I went to California. I have a friend there from El Salvador, and I sent a letter to her asking for help. Maybe I could live with her for a while until I find a job and support myself. And I am glad that she responded—she said yes, I could come. Charlotte: Okay, wow. So, without her, you may not even be here?


Julia: Right. Charlotte: What was the change from California to Portland like? Julia: I remember I came here one July for a wedding. I don’t remember exactly the year, but when I drive by, I see the beautiful lands and the flowers, and I know I can feel at peace here...and that’s when I decided to move here. Charlotte: So, you packed everything up and moved. Meanwhile for all those years, how were you communicating with your family? Julia: At the beginning, it was really hard. I didn't have any phone at my house because there was no way I could afford it. I could barely pay my rent, and live and send some money to my family. I saved coins to use the public phone, and I talked to them maybe once a week. My kids were living with my mom, and I was supporting them with everything…food, supplies for school, everything. I never forgot them— they are the reason why I moved here. Charlotte: Right, and so you started paperwork to bring them over? Julia: I went back to my country in 1993 because my mom was sick. I asked permission for immigration and I went back for…I think it was like two weeks. And I saw my kids, too, after four years of being here. Then after my trip in 1993, I went back in 2004 after my papers arrived. I waited almost ten years to see my family.

Finally, in 2004, I made the petition for my kids. And in 2014, Rosie came. And then in 2016, Eva. My mom and my sisters are still there. My mom is going to turn ninety-eight years—she is a blessing from God. That’s what I call her. Charlotte: Wow! So, what are some of the biggest differences in your daily routine now compared to El Salvador? Julia: It’s a big difference. Here, I can move free everywhere, and I feel safe. In my country, there’s no way you can go everywhere because it’s not safe. There are a lot of criminals right now—even going to the market is not safe. That’s why I feel free, I feel safe and besides that, I have food.

Charlotte: What advice would you give to someone who is coming from another country here to the United States? Julia: My advice is don’t let anybody let you down. Because we are of value, every one person is a valuable person. Stay focused on the goals in your life and try to get those goals. Charlotte: That’s good advice. Julia: And go to school for English, you know, and work hard! Work hard and be responsible and respectful. Charlotte: Well, is there anything else that you would like to add?

Charlotte: What was the most surprising thing about moving here?

Julia: I want to add, that, you know, thanks God for being here with us at this moment.

Julia: I remember when I moved to Oregon, we rented one room in Dayton, me and Francisco. And I told him that I was going to make a business card. People, you know, maybe they’ll hire me for cleaning. And I remember someone told me, “Don’t do that because it’s illegal. You cannot put some business card in the doors. People don’t like it.” I remember I prayed that day, and I told Francisco to bring me to 11th Street in Dundee. I walked and I gave the business card to one business, and then as I drove by, I saw from the mirror the guy waving. I went back, and the guy told me, “Can I give your business card to my mom?” And I said, “Yes!” I just moved from California and I really needed to work. And, oh my god, I cannot believe it— that night, his mom called me. And you know, I am still cleaning for her. And that same day, she found me six more clients!

Charlotte: You’ve always had God in your life? From a little girl? Julia: Yes. Without God, I think my dreams would not come true. And I am happy, you know, that this life is not easy—it’s up and down, you know, things like sickness, loss, families, but life continues, and you have to be strong. Charlotte: You are a strong lady. Thank you, Julia. Thank you very much. Julia: You are welcome.

Charlotte: Oh my goodness. Wow! Julia: Yes. And then my business starts, and in the same year, 2007, you hired me here. I remember it was in May. And I am still working here to this day. Then three years ago, I decided to name my company Julia’s Cleaning. Charlotte: And look at the business you have grown! And a house! You bought a house! Julia: We bought a house six months after we moved here. I remember the day the guy gave us the key, I bend my knees and I pray and I say, “Thanks God.” I cannot believe that. Charlotte: You are a strong lady. Where do you think that you get your strength? Julia: I think from my parents.

Interviewer’s Note: Julia is a best partner of A to Z Wineworks. Our working relationship began in 2007. While there are many professional relationships A to Z has formed over the years, Julia’s stands out. This is why her story is important to share. When you believe you can open your doors to someone day or night, they become a key holder, which means they are trusted on all levels. There are many facets to Julia, those we know are pride, strength, wisdom, humility and love of family. Thank you Julia for stepping forward and sharing your journey with all of us.



athias and his wife, Daphne, founded a company that designed and engineered adjustable standing desks to accommodate a variety of spaces. With the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign, they were able to produce and market their product, which caught the eye of the Portland-based, innovative furniture business, Fully. At the time, Mathias and his wife were living in Ohio, but decided to move back to Belgium to regroup and grow their business. A year later, Fully brought Mathias on as an employee in Portland. That was less than nine months ago.



Many of Mathias’ expectations of Oregon were shaped at the end of a cross-country road trip with Daphne. Portland was their last stop before they headed back to Belgium, so the access to the coast, high desert and mountains came as no surprise when they moved here—and they love to take in the surrounding beauty together. Whether it’s climbing, cycling or surfing, Mathias can pursue outside activities more regularly than in Belgium, or Ohio for that matter, which he loves. Adjusting to city life is another story. Mathias was expecting more of a central, downtown feel, but he has found that neighborhood pockets are pretty self-contained. “It has its charms,” he says. In addition to the expanse of the city, there are few cultural differences that took him by surprise. For example, he admits that when he and Daphne attended their first potluck, they didn’t bring anything to share. Despite a little difficulty with dinner party customs and the subtleties of humor, there’s so much in Portland that Mathias feels at home with—namely the quality of beer and chocolate, which echo the standards that he grew accustomed to in Belgium. The weather is also reminiscent of the mild temperatures and rain back home. As a self-proclaimed young, white male with a Master’s degree, Mathias knows that one might not assume he is dedicated to figuring out a way to close the gap of inequality. He says, “bridging the distance between what I have been fortunate to experience and those that have not had the same opportunity is an important connection to make moving forward.” And he’d like to impart a little of Belgium’s ethos of togetherness to Portland. “Friendships in Belgium root deeper than they do in the US, and it creates a beautiful feeling of belonging. I want to invite people to my home, make dinner, and sit around the table for hours, drink beer, and share stories of our lives.

Mike: What brought you to the Portland area? Farah: I completed my pre-nursing in Salem—that’s where I lived and went to Chemeketa Community College. My husband was a software engineer when we were in Iran. His colleagues would tell him, if you want to go to the US, you have to go to Oregon because it’s heaven on Earth. Meanwhile, I had Salem in Oregon confused with the Salem on Peyton Place, a soap opera at the time…not the same! (laughs) Mike: What are some of the differences in your daily routine now compared to in Iran?


Farah: You know, when I came here, I was twentytwo. I was going to college back in Iran, I was studying, and I had a rich social life. Iranians are very connected, and in a society that cannot rely on 9-11 help arriving within a certain amount of time, you have to have that network. When I came here, my initial observation was, oh my god, I’ve never been so lonely. “That useless box” is what I used to call my landline phone. I used to talk with my cousins and say there’s a useless box in my house that never rings. Mike: What expectations did you have about moving here and what were met? Farah: I envisioned more articles, books, movies, and a healthy debate, a healthy diversity of thought. I loved the fact that when I came to this country, girls could bike. You couldn’t dare in Iran—and so for me, the freedom was in the little things. What I learned after quite a few years of living in this country is that women still suffer from inequity—that women doing the same job get paid less. Not in this organization, necessarily, but it’s a matter of public debate, and the fact that we still haven't found it in our consciousness to appoint a qualified female to a presidency, when in fact Pakistan has, India has, the Philippines have, and many years ago, hundreds of years ago in Iran, the level of which they respected Iranian women was very different than what it is now. So that came to me much later. At the beginning, I couldn’t see. Mike: What was the most surprising thing about moving here? Farah: In my culture, we didn’t give so much value to new. It had to be new and tested, but here, newness by itself has value. It’s interesting to me—new and improved.


AUGUSTO CARNEIRO Chris: What brought you to the Portland area? Augusto: College. I wanted to come and play tennis in college in the US—and the process to get here was probably the first signs of an entrepreneurial mind, because I had to send letters to a hundred and twenty schools, to their tennis coaches inquiring about the programs, and had to figure out how to pay for college. Another sign of my ‘can do’ attitude is that I came to University of Portland site unseen. I didn’t drive to multiple colleges to see which would be the best one, I picked one and made it work (and feel super lucky, as it was a great school!). The US is known for its high level of education, but at 18 I think I was more worried about meeting girls and playing tennis. My intention was to go back to Brazil with a degree from the US.



Chris: What were your expectations about moving here, and were they met? Augusto: So, one of the main things was that I didn’t expect to stay here. I love Brazil, I loved growing up there and am super close with my family, so I thought I was going to come and get a good degree and be able to market my engineering skills. But I met an American girl, (my lovely wife Carissa), and so here we are! I feel super lucky, Portland is just a fantastic city—it’s a great place to start a life and a family, and start a business. Chris: What is something that feels the same as where you’re from? Augusto: Carissa comes from a large, fun and boisterous catholic-Italian family, so the ‘warmth’ of family is very similar. There is definitely a strong duality of now having strong family bonds in two separate continents. On the positive side, we get the best of both worlds; I can have all the great things about living in the US and all the opportunity it presents, the infrastructure, safety, friendships from college, and it’s a great place to raise a family. And then, I still have all of that times two in Brazil—it’s a great place to visit, lots of family, love and friendships there.

On the negative side—and my kids started feeling this a few years back when they were sad to be leaving Brazil (but excited to be coming back to Portland)—is that you always leave a bit of your heart behind, so you’re always home, but you’re never home. So as much as I love my life here, you know, I have a nephew that’s five months old that I haven’t met yet, and my grandparents are ninety-three now, and so when I go back, I know I really have to enjoy my time with them. And maybe it’s FOMO you know, fear of missing out, but it’s a little bit of something really cool, and a little bit of a curse.

unwillingness to hear other people’s viewpoints…to immediately go towards violence—that was a huge surprise. I haven’t seen that level of divisiveness in Brazil, but I don’t live there, so I don’t experience it firsthand like I do here, where I’m part of society. I’m a contributing member, I pay my taxes, and so any time I hear the rhetoric about immigrants coming and stealing jobs, I’m like uh, uh. I built a company, and we employ thirty-five people. So I’m like, use me as an example! I didn’t come steal your jobs. We’re helping the economy. It’s frustrating when people buy into the sound bites and don’t really go any deeper.

Chris: That’s so interesting. I’m glad you mentioned this. I was wondering about the ability to have two parts of your life in two very different places. So, what’s something people might not know about you, an interest, skill, hobby? We all know you’re majorly into bicycles and travel…

Chris: Do you have anything to share with the community that would resonate with them?

Augusto: People might be surprised that owning a coffee business was never part of the plan! It’s such a long shot of how we got it off the ground, and now we’re super proud to have made it this far. So, I studied engineering and then had a young family, no business experience, and, I believe an extra challenge of being an immigrant, with no real network of family friends in Portland. I had a business partner to start, and he had the benefit of having family in town and a few connections because he grew up here, and that certainly helped us get a few initial meetings. Some people probably look at us now, like, of course you’re going to have this company. Your family has had this farm and it’s natural, like it was meant to be. Now it feels like it was, but in the beginning, I was just lost. I was just like, what do I do next? How do I enjoy being here, but still get to enjoy some of the Brazilian heritage and the family, and do something that’s actually supportive to them and showcases the work that they’ve done there? I’ve told people here that if my family had a cacao farm, we’d be a chocolate company. It was always more about the family connection, to be able to go back to Brazil, than it was about the natural product. Chris: What is something that people here have done that was bothersome? Augusto: I remember 9/11 very clearly. To me, it was very bothersome as to how immediately intolerant people became of others. Just the nationalistic fervor, the lack of tolerance and lack of understanding, and

Augusto: What I’d like to share in this context of immigration and B Corps is, because it’s a few generations back, most people now take it for granted that this country is built on immigration, and that with each generation and every person that moves here, there’s the potential of bringing the best. You’re importing different viewpoints and perspectives, and I feel like it’s one of the reasons that the US is one of the most creative countries— so many technological developments of the world happen in the US, and a lot of it, by immigrants. I guess the biggest example right now is Elon Musk, who is South African.



Chris: First question—what brought you to the US? Yvonne: My parents immigrated here, and they had this notion that America was this great land and we should take our kids there—it was a land of opportunity for them. That’s why we left, and back then, Kenya wasn’t as corrupt as it is now. That was in the 80s and it was a little bit of a different place. There was still corruption, but I think it’s gotten worse. When we first moved to the US, we lived in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and my aunt lived in Newark, New Jersey. She worked for a company that transferred her to Vancouver, Washington, and she convinced my parents to move out west.


When we moved to Portland, I was fifteen. And when we left Kenya, I was ten. I went back a few years ago, and I remembered how to get around places and where my old house was… I mean it’s changed a lot. Nairobi has grown so much, but I remembered it. Chris: Did you grow up in a multigenerational house, with extended family? Yvonne: Kind of both…we lived in the city in Nairobi. People there live in the city, and you also maintain your ancestral home out in the village areas, so you live at both. On the weekends, we’d be out in the rural parts of Kenya with our cousins, grandparents, everyone, and it’s like each ancestral home, your aunts’ and uncles’ homes, are right next door. It’s almost like a commune, which sounds weird, but it’s this huge area of land and everyone’s houses are right there. Chris: I didn’t realize that families in Nairobi would keep an ancestral home in the country… Yvonne: It’s probably more common in Kenya than in other African countries. The bigger your land is, it’s kind of like a status symbol. I mean, I haven’t asked about that because Kenyan culture is kind of like, don’t ask questions (laughs). Whenever we go back and visit, my grandfather’s house is just this empty house. I think they host dinners there, but that’s really all they use it for. I never noticed it before, but when I went back, I was thinking about all these empty houses…that’s really wasteful! And expensive to upkeep. Chris: Did you have expectations before you moved, and were they met?

Yvonne: I had this idea that the US would be like what I saw on TV. And I remember, when we first moved to Pennsylvania, the climate difference was shocking for me. I had never experienced cold like that. And, I think because there was a smallish African community on the East Coast, it wasn’t as isolating, but when we moved here to Oregon, I remember as we were exploring the city, it felt very segregated, even in the late 90s. That was very surprising, especially coming from the East Coast and even Kenya. Growing up in Kenya, people were from all over. So that was different. Chris: What is it about Portland that helps to keep you here? Yvonne: I have my friends, and I have my family here. I’m now married, and my husband is from Hood River, so I think that’s a big part of why I stayed. We’ve gone back and forth for a few years like, I don’t know, do we really want to stay in Oregon? Should we move? But I hit this turning point, and as a person of color, if I just move, than it’s contributing to why everyone leaves. And so, I decided that we’re going to stay, because if we decide to leave, the cycle just keeps continuing. So we made a conscious decision about it. Chris: Has anyone done anything that was troubling or bothersome, or made you feel unwelcome as a recent immigrant? Yvonne: The latest, and this is now a running joke for me—my coworkers and people who know me laugh about it, but it’s kind of uncomfortable. I’m out at a bar, and the sheer number of times that people will come up to me and ask me questions for no apparent reason, it actually is kind of bothersome. People ask to touch my hair all the time, or they just straight up do it and don’t even ask.

Chris: People just walk up to you and touch your hair?! Yvonne: People just come up and touch my hair. It’s so uncomfortable. Chris: I mean you don’t walk up and touch their hair, obviously. Yvonne: People usually think I’m making this up, but it’s so uncomfortable how many people will walk up to you and just say really random things. Like I said, I’ve accepted that I live in a place that’s not as diverse and whatever else, and if I make

a choice to move away, I’m not helping. I make the choice every time I choose to educate people or share my stories. And people are usually in disbelief, and it’s like, yeah, that’s life in Portland.


A CK NO W L E DGE ME N T S Like most rewarding efforts, this project began with a spark. As the project story was refined and shared inside and outside the B Corp community, that initial spark turned into a flame of responses, “I’d like to help!” While our interviews were almost entirely B Corp family members, those who answered the call for volunteer and pro bono support came from inside and outside the B Corp community. Here are the people and organizations who made this project possible and to whom we are profoundly grateful.

Kelsey Moody Sonrisa Sonnleitner Charlotte Mischel Chris Ryan Mike Mercer Kim Oanh Nguyen Nino Ortiz Meghan Paddock Farrell Kristin Howe Wilson Tré Seals Lacy Cagle Meg Peterson Julia Kramka

The Joinery Neil Kelly Company A to Z Wineworks Nossa Familia MMercer Consulting Photos By Kim Visible Vocal Type NW Earth Institute Scout Books Bamboo Sushi

Project Team Project Team Project Team Project Team Project Team Photographer Photographer Photographer Content Editor Editorial Design Dialog Process Book Printing Project Support

Printing donated by the Scout Books Equity Alliance


B L OC A L P DX The development of this book and process is a project of B Local PDX, a group of certified B Corporations from Oregon and SW Washington working to foster and deepen connections among organizations in our region who share our purpose and passion for using business as a force for good. We’re a business community that helps business people act on their purpose to achieve socio-economic and environmental impact through meaningful relationships. Learn more at blocalpdx.com.

Profile for The Joinery


A collection of immigration stories from our B Corp Family: Their journeys, experiences, and reflections on home.


A collection of immigration stories from our B Corp Family: Their journeys, experiences, and reflections on home.