When Ximena first came to the U.S. on a student visa, she was terribly homesick.
“I was always missing my family and just everything, my people, my food, everything,” says the Mexico City native, who grew up in the colorful borough of Coyoacán.
Nine years later, that longing has brought Ximena solace—and success—with a business importing artisanal Mexican goods, a venture that has thrived with the help of a Kiva loan. She and her husband, Carlos, now run Huitzil Imports in Beaverton, Oregon, just outside of Portland, where they serve the metropolitan area’s robust Hispanic and Latinx community.
“We decided to start this project because it is hard to find some cultural gifts that have a deeper meaning,” she says of the woven belts, traditional medicines, handcrafted jewelry, and spiritual totems they sell.
“And because it is a good way to support the work of our hometown people.”
A little bit of home
These days Ximena is quite happy running the business with Carlos and their two small children. But back when she was a 19 year-old in a new country, her heart ached knowing it would be at least five years before she was able to return home.
Describing her urban bohemian neighborhood as having the “soul of a village,” Ximena deeply missed the lush gardens, brightly-painted buildings, and bustling bazaars of Coyocán as she pursued her studies in Portland.
“Maybe some people will think that $25 is not enough to support you and your business. But with Kiva, it's the whole community putting in a little bit of their money, time, and effort.”
Her yearning was assuaged a little when she met Carlos, who was from the Western Mexican city of Guadalajara. After the young couple established their status as U.S. residents, Ximena was finally able to bring her new husband to meet her family and show him the vibrant place where she had come from.
That’s when she got the idea to take a few pieces of her old home to her new one—not only for herself, but also for others craving traditional Mexican culture and art.
“I just decided that I wanted to bring a little bit of that to the other friends that are not able to go see their families or their loved ones,” she remembers. The requests began piling up from people all around Portland, and after her trip back home, she knew could turn it into something bigger.
“They were paying me, and I was like,’OK, I think I have a business now.’”
Expanding with a Kiva loan
With the support of Adelantes Mujeres, a Portland-area non-profit that focuses on the needs of marginalized Latina women, Ximena set up a regular booth at local farmers markets, eventually moving into a permanent space at the organization’s business incubator, Casa Qui.
She brought Carlos on full-time after becoming pregnant with their second child, and the business boomed as the couple played off each other’s strength and skills: She handles displays and marketing, he manages customer service and sales, and they both make jewelry.
Early in 2022, the couple was readying for a trip to Mexico and wanted to buy a larger amount of inventory to prepare for the new farmers market season. They realized they needed an infusion of capital to be able to purchase from all the artisans in their now-established network, but the interest rates for traditional bank loans were prohibitively high.
Through their friends at Adelantes Mujeres, they learned about Kiva’s zero percent interest U.S. loans, which place more value on a potential borrower’s reputation in their community than on collateral. Ximena qualified for a $2,000 loan, and it was funded in just three days by 19 lenders, some contributing as little as $25.
“Maybe some people will think that $25 is not enough to support you and your business,” says Ximena.
“But with Kiva, they're like, ‘OK, I'm helping you with $25, but it's not just me, it's the whole community putting in a little bit of their money, time, and effort.’ I think that's great.”
The loan enabled Huitzil Imports to start carrying more varieties of earrings, embroidered patches, and clay figurines for religious altars—and in turn, support their community back in Mexico.
Read more: How Kiva is supporting US entrepreneurs (and how you can too)
Handmade vs. mass produced
The couple thoughtfully curates their wares from local artisans on their buying trips, seeking out street vendors and indigenous craftspeople for personal transactions.
“We’re doing this one-on-one, we’re not buying from a third party like other businesses,” says Ximena. “We like going to Jalisco or Mexico City to do the purchasing ourselves.”
By bringing ancestral styles of clothing and accessories back to Oregon, the couple has found a niche offering a unique and sustainable alternative to the big box stores.
“People have been looking more into handmade stuff than what is mass produced, they acknowledge when something takes time to make,” observes Carlos, pointing out an embroidered piece of clothing in the shop.
“We have more of this shirt, but none of them are the same, each stitch is different. Compare that to a shirt that you buy in any mall, you can pretty much see another guy wearing the same shirt. People have been more focused on that lately, and I think that's really great for everybody.”
“And for the planet, too,” adds Ximena.
“We want our kids, our future generation, to be proud of what we are.”
The couple notes that the styles show the younger generation of Mexican Americans that it’s possible to embrace American culture while taking pride in their roots.
“You don't need to be wearing brands to be cool, especially if you have all these colors and everything that we have in Mexico from our grandpas and grandmas, indigenous people that were here before other generations,” says Ximena.
The couple plans to keep building the foundation of their import enterprise and open their own storefront in the future, not only to support their family and artisan network but to honor their past.
“One of the things that I always said when I came to the U.S. was that I will never forget where I came from or my family,” avows once-homesick student turned entrepreneur.
“I want my children to enjoy that too. We want our kids, our future generation, to be proud of what we are.”
For as little as $25 or $5 a month Kiva lenders help small business owners and artisans find the support they need to succeed. Who sparks your passion to lend a helping hand?
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