Hello! Mana here! I’m the founder of Lightspan Digital. I am an immigrant. Today businesses around the country are shutting down and people are striking in proxy for a world without immigrants. We’re not closing Lightspan. I respect our clients and I am grateful that they hired us to help them. So I want to honor that trust. But as we take a pause today to ponder the immigrants’ roles in our nation, I decided to share my immigrant entrepreneur story, for those who want a glimpse into what it’s like.
I grew up in communist Romania. I was raised by my grandparents who believed in education and hard work. You know, simple things. You learn as much as you can. You apply it. Be kind to people. Don’t give up. They also tried to teach me to slow down and stop doing crazy outdoors activities that always sent me home with scrapes and bruises, which they considered unladylike. Those lessons just went in one ear and out the other. I’m still constantly one step away from breaking one bone or another.
I didn’t realize it then, but now I know they spent their lives preparing me to believe that I can do anything I choose to do in this world. They didn’t want the legacy of communism to define me. They wanted me to know how to resist and escape oppression and always seek improvement and growth opportunities.
My grandmother’s education fell victim to World War II so she never finished high school. My grandfather was the son of a single mother. His intellect impressed an army colonel who took him under his wing, sent him to school and encouraged him to get a college degree. An out-of-wedlock village boy, going to college was rare in those times.
My grandparents were exceptional people, in so many ways.
My grandmother’s father was an entrepreneur. He grew up poor, in Transylvania, when the region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As a teenager, he made the trek across the mountains, into Romania (Transylvania, although considered a Romanian territory, did not join Romania until 1918) to apprentice at a weaving factory that had these new fancy machines that could weave faster and even replace people! He saved money and when he was done with his apprenticeship he moved back to Transylvania and started a weaving factory. He believed technology was just what the area needed. We had tons and tons of wool. Piles of wool that we’d sell cheaply because we didn’t have the technology and infrastructure to turn it into cloth. He started with one machine and then another and another. And instead of replacing people, the factory gave more people jobs. He was very loved and became the leader of the community, they say.
Fun fact, wool continues to be my most favorite fabric and I only exclusively wear wool socks, for every season and every occasion.
When communism took over, one of the first “reforms” was to nationalize all private property. Out with the capitalists, they said. This will be a country for the people by the people.
The story goes that after the state took his factories, my great-grandfather died of a broken heart.
His spirit persisted in my grandmother who always believed there was a better way and a solution for everything. She passed on to me the drive to make my own destiny.
I chose America, the place that matched my drive. And trust me, it’s not easy becoming a citizen here.
I arrived with a grad school scholarship and $200, which wasn’t enough to make a housing deposit. A professor saw me crying in the lobby and his family took me in until I could save enough to make my deposit and move into a dorm (mind blowing kindness there). I had endless trust in the human spirit and that kept me going. After grad school, on my last $100 and out of desperation, I moved to Chicago to find work. I thought, bigger city, more chances of fitting in and finding work. For a while, once again, I got by with help from others, while I was waiting for my work visa. It took me three years to recover financially and move out of the ramen noodles stage.
The thought of the struggle to get here pains me. I have tried to forget. To forge a new future and leave behind the past. I felt ashamed of being poor and depending on others so.
I do not want to remember those days. My body revolts. But I’ve decided to remember. At least for one day. And honor those who have struggled so, and the millions who are just trying to get by, today.
I made some promises then that I hope to find the means to keep for the rest of my life.
I was lucky to have a nice fulfilling corporate career. And seven years ago I started Lightspan. Lightspan has also been the jumpstart for many great careers and projects. We’ve helped hundreds of businesses grow and thousands of people turn to us to learn digital marketing. I promised to always help those who seek to grow. To watch for untapped potential and help nurture it in them. Lightspan is also a B Corp, through which we renewed our commitment to support our community, people, and the planet. And I couldn’t be prouder of the Lightbugs past and current.
This is my immigrant story. And each immigrant I meet has their own story. They’re not all as simple as a 9 letter word.
But one thing is true – you’ve got to be a bit crazy to be an immigrant. I mean, what was I thinking? Risk after risk, poverty, no family or support system, leaps, jumps, more risks.
So if you have a minute today, and know an immigrant, ask them about their story. What crazy chances did they take? What sacrifices did they make?
Let’s celebrate the human spirit that pushes people to make crazy leaps and take wild chances, to improve their lives, to pursue their dreams and give better futures to their children.
p.s. Because of certain website privacy and security concerns, we have temporarily disabled comments. If you’d like to chat, tweet me @manamica or email me: mana at lightspandigital.com