Immigrant Entrepreneurs Are Changing the Landscape of Chicago

In the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, a largely Mexican community with a two-mile corridor of small businesses, 66-year-old Eduardo Rodriguez is offering up a taste of home. His Dulcelandia stores are packed full of some 1,000 colorful treats mainly imported from his native country, including candy like Carlos V and Pulparindo and Paletas (fruit ices). 

Rodriguez has built up a mini-empire of sorts with four locations in the city since launching in 1995, shortly after the North American Free Trade Agreement was enacted.

“We’re fulfilling a niche market that people really wanted to buy from,” says Rodriguez, who came to the U.S. in 1966 and has been a citizen for about 25 years. “People seem to really like what we are doing, and I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to do this in the United States. It takes a lot of work and sacrifice — but I recommend to everyone that they should be entrepreneurs.”

His daughter, 36-year-old Eve Rodriguez Montoya, has taken his advice, expanding on the Dulcelandia concept with her own twist, Yogolandia, offering healthy frozen yogurts in Mexican-inspired flavors within Dulcelandia.

Proud of her family’s roots and job creation, Rodrigruez Montoya is hopeful the contributions of immigrant-owned businesses like her father’s won’t go unnoticed at a time when the debate over immigration policy has intensified within the United States.

“Our community is very strong and hard-working — resilient and resourceful,” she said. “I’d say come to our community, get to know our people. Shop at our locations and see for yourself —Little Village is full of people who came to this country to achieve the American Dream.”

It’s impossible to deny the economic contributions of immigrant entrepreneurs like Rodriguez, especially in recent years. A 2016 report from the Kauffman Foundation found immigrants launched nearly one-third of all new businesses and were almost twice as likely as native-born Americans to start their own companies.

In Illinois, immigrants make up nearly a quarter of the state’s entrepreneurs, according to separate data from the New American Economy. Some 110,000 immigrant entrepreneurs reside in Chicago alone.

That’s part of the reason why Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing back against threats from the Trump Administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities like Chicago, which protect undocumented immigrants from deportation.

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Source: CNBC | Kate Rogers