Immigrant entrepreneurs in Trump era argue, 'The greatness of America comes from collaboration'

Francisco Garcia was born in the U.S., but raised in Mexico until age 10. He now runs Modern Architecture Services in San Diego and is disappointed by the rhetoric now- President Trump used while campaigning while discussing Mexican immigrants, and in his recent executive order to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Photo: William Pupa

About a year ago, Francisco Garcia decided to launch a new business drawing from his years in architecture and design. The name of his San Diego-based company is Modern Architecture Services, or MAS for short.

"When I came up with my new business name, I came up with it because it describes what we do: 'modern architecture services,'" Garcia, 42, says. "And the acronym of that, MAS, means 'more' in Spanish.

"I was concerned, seriously, about how that could sway potential clients because of having a Spanish name. It's a hesitation I didn't have before."

The businessman's concern comes as President Donald Trump wraps up his first week in office, with an executive order signed Wednesday to compel the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump campaigned on the promise of building that wall; he also made disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants when kicking off his campaign, referring to many of them as "rapists" and "criminals."

The President is also expected to take more executive action to revamp U.S. immigration policy, which may include a temporary ban on refugees and immigrants from certain Muslim-majority countries. On the campaign trail, he proposed and then walked back plans for a "Muslim ban."

Immigrants come with, I believe, American values.
Francisco Garcia
founder of Modern Architecture Services

Garcia calls himself an "anchor baby." Born in the U.S., he was raised in Mexico just outside of Guadalajara until age ten. His parents then applied for residency in the States, seeking opportunity in America.

He and nine of his siblings, along with his parents, traveled for three days by bus in 1985 to settle in Escondido, Calif., about an hour north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Now a business owner with five employees, Garcia is disappointed in Trump's anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

"Immigrants come with, I believe, American values," Garcia says. "Hard work, accountability, perseverance and loyalty to one's family and employees. Fairness to others is how we work together. The rhetoric is an oversimplification of complicated issues."

It's hard to overstate the contribution immigrants like Garcia have made to the world of entrepreneurship, especially in the last year. Data from the Kauffman Foundation's 2016 Index of Startup Activity finds that immigrant entrepreneurs account for 27.5 percent of all new entrepreneurs in America, nearly doubling the rate from 1997 and close to a two-decade high of 29.5 percent in 2011.

They are also nearly twice as likely as native-born Americans to launch new businesses, at a rate of 0.53 percent and 0.29 percent respectively. New entrepreneurs overall launched some 550,000 ventures per month last year, according to Kauffman.

There is a new majority in America and it's an ethnic majority.
Adnan Durrani
CEO of American Halal and Saffron Road

Pakistani entrepreneur Adnan Durrani emigrated to the U.S. at age five and today is CEO of the Stamford, Conn.-based food company American Halal and the brand Saffron Road, which sells frozen natural and organic entrees as well as other healthy snack foods in stores nationwide, including Whole Foods.

The Muslim businessman says he expected some controversy in launching his Middle Eastern-inspired brand. In 2011, he found himself in the news thanks to an "unfounded rumor" about customers objecting to his products being sold in Whole Foods, which Durrani says turned out to be a "complete fabrication."

In the end, the controversy helped him: Durrani says his sales shot up as customers of all races and religions rushed to support Saffron Road.

"I went on CNN during Ramadan, the holy month for us, and let everyone know that the Ramadan promotions at Whole Foods were still intact and that mobilized a lot of consumers who were excited about the diversity at Whole Foods," he says.

"There is a new majority in America and it's an ethnic majority."

Saffron Road strictly sells and manufactures domestically and employs 28 people. Durrani says he takes solace in knowing the country is increasingly diverse. He's hopeful Trump will pivot away from some of his more extreme proposals.

The entrepreneur also expects the President will get push back from both the technology and food industries, which are filled with immigrants.

We want to contribute, we want to lead and we want to integrate.
Francisco Garcia
founder of Modern Architecture Services

"I'm very proud to be an American Muslim and I'm very proud of the contributions we make to America," Durrani says. "Obviously it's troubling that [Trump] would make comments to stoke xenophobia, hate and fear to take advantage of that during his campaign. But politics can be dirty and this is America — politics is very much alive and vibrant in this country.

"The greatness of America comes from collaboration."

In the meantime, Durrani says he is maintaining optimism about the potential for increased funding for the Small Business Administration along with tax credits and breaks for small business owners under Trump. His concerns lie with the younger generation of Muslims in America and how they may be "stuck with certain xenophobia or hatred directed towards them."

Back in San Diego, Garcia says he is hopeful that one day he will one day get to meet and speak with the president. For now, he has one message for Trump.

"Immigrants take a hand up — we do not take a hand out. If an opportunity is handed to us, we are going to use our values, our history and apply that," he says.

"If we come with experience of hardship or of fleeing violence or war, we will take those moments of adversity and remember that we've just come from a hard place. We want to contribute, we want to lead and we want to integrate.

"We're going to persevere."

The difference between how an entrepreneur thinks vs. an MBA
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