It’s Friday afternoon and Beatriz T.’s cleaning contracts for the week are done. “Que Dios la bendiga,” she says softly, dropping off her sister at an East Boston apartment. Now comes the fight through rush hour traffic to Restaurant Depot, a wholesale food seller across the city. It’s going to be a whirlwind couple of days for her catering business. In addition to keeping up with the weekly orders, she has two events: a quinceañera and a birthday. She didn’t have time to write a list but she knows the basics: pork ribs, chicken, vegetables, corn and rice. She’ll remember any other particulars for the weekend as she walks the aisles of the Depot.
Early Saturday morning, two of her employees arrive at her company’s food manufacturing headquarters: Beatriz’ kitchen. Utilizing an industrial grinder, a vacuum food packaging machine and the family stove/oven, the crew produces typical Colombian meat appetizers — morcillas and chorizos — as well as tamales and desserts. While the helpers labor in the kitchen, Beatriz makes her first round of deliveries to local supermarkets, Colombian restaurants and cafes. Her packaged morcilla appetizers are in high demand.
Beatriz is strategic each week as she balances her cleaning contracts with the catering responsibilities. She tries often to get across town to West Roxbury to watch her son pole vault, play soccer and wrestle at his high school. She loves the flexibility afforded a small business owner; a luxury she has earned.
In 2002, when she and her husband had an opportunity to come to the U.S., they jumped on it. There was little chance for advancement in Medellín, Colombia, especially if you weren’t affiliated with the ruling political party. Pregnant with her first son, Beatriz came alone to stay with relatives in East Boston. Her husband joined her a year later. As a young mother she held both a full-time and part-time job. Her jobs included dishwashing, doing laundry, food prep, childcare, and cleaning. When introduced to UpTogether in 2010, she was initially hesitant, but the promise of cash without conditions pulled her in. She also took advantage of other UpTogether opportunities. Beatriz welcomed the workshops on managing finances and took part in a matched savings program. She utilized UpTogether start-up funds which allowed her to buy her industrial food equipment. These machines, the backbone of her catering business, continue to crank in Beatriz’ kitchen every weekend, providing quality Colombian food, jobs and family income.
UpTogether’s model has changed over the years after learnings and feedback from members. As a result we have moved from this model to unrestricted cash investment.
By nature, Beatriz is a community builder and with the Pioneras as her base, she developed an extensive network throughout East Boston by inspiring people to come together and organize activities. She built relationships between the immigrant community and local social and cultural centers. With other mothers, she organized holiday parties so that Colombian and other Latino families could continue to celebrate their traditions and keep them going for their children.
Beatriz emphasizes that it was the shared information among the Pioneras that provided the most meaningful change in her life. Knowledge of community resources completely changed the trajectory of her two sons’ education. Beatriz grew up with a deep value of education but never believed her children could go to elite schools in the U.S., especially when the annual tuition for a private high school was over $35,000. Through the UpTogether community she found a program that prepped young hard-working students for the academic rigor of the private, independent schools. Through Beatriz’ determination and the discipline of her sons, they were accepted at the prestigious Roxbury Latin School and offered scholarships. Her youngest boy, 17 years old, is a junior at RLS. Her eldest, age 20, is a sophomore at Tufts University in Boston on a full scholarship where he majors in film-making and international relations. While a full-time student, he also works at a local cultural center and real estate agency in East Boston.
Beatriz enjoys nothing more than to share her knowledge in the community, constantly steering families towards resources.
She welcomes newly arrived immigrants with winter clothes, information about jobs, housing and health care. She guides overwhelmed parents towards opportunities for their kids: free summer camps, swimming lessons and sports leagues. When a family in East Boston is displaced by fire, she is out collecting donations from her extensive network. At times her living room is filled with boxes of clothes that will be shipped to families in Colombia. Recently, Beatriz took a lead role in organizing a major outdoor Colombian Festival in East Boston that brought out hundreds with well-known performers, food vendors and live art. She is proud that even though there were afternoon showers, the Colombians were not deterred; they danced Cumbia and Salsa through the rain, well into the evening.
What’s next? Beatriz expects to take her English language skills to the next level. In addition, she realizes that to expand her food business she will need to buy more equipment and lease an industrial space. She has plans of producing typical Colombian foods that will be picked up by local grocery chains. She is also focused on growing her cleaning company, little by little. And Beatriz will undoubtedly continue working with other parents to guide their children towards programs that lead to scholarships at prestigious high schools. She can already count 17 youth in her network of families that have taken this path.