In “The Wizard of Oz,” the Cowardly Lion receives liquid-form courage from the wizard. For others, courage is found closer to home. Consider Maritza Gomez, who was 9 years old when her mother traveled from Mexico to California with minimal basic necessities and five children in tow. The family settled in a friend’s garage and applied for legal status.
“My mom worked in the fields instead of attending school,” explains Maritza. “When her father passed away, she was forced to leave home and find work. She was still a child. She wanted a better life for us.”
Determined to fulfill her mother’s wish, Maritza attended elementary school. She recalls that first day. She had a nervous stomach, worn-out clothing and spoke only Spanish. A quick learner, she was soon translating English for other Spanish-speaking children and set her sights on college. Yet, a high school counselor warned that, “people like Maritza didn’t go to college.” She was a DREAMer—an immigrant brought to the U.S. as a child. She lacked a social security number and would be denied financial aid to attend a university.
Her legal status also prevented her from securing steady work. Still, she persevered. She worked odd jobs for nine years and completed her associate’s degree from a junior college. She hoped for a bachelor’s degree and career, but needed a loan or financial aid to move forward. Maritza checked the VISA bulletin every month, but her priority date was never current to apply for a VISA.
That’s when Maritza says she made one of her boldest moves, “I started my own business out of necessity.” She enrolled in printing classes and accepted a loan from her brother to launch MG Printing in her home, where she prints custom merchandise from luggage tags to mugs and business card holders. At last, she had the means to attend California State University, San Bernardino and pursue a business degree.
As serendipity would have it, she learned of an opportunity to intern as an admin at NAWBO-Inland Empire. “I was so nervous and intimidated to be around these women,” she laughs. “I wasn’t your average college student and wondered what they’d think about me. I pictured them up on a pedestal.”
Yet, she learned from her mother to seize opportunities. She began networking and soon realized these women not only respected her, but also welcomed her into the sisterhood. They supported her business endeavors, and celebrated her graduation in 2016.
She was thrilled when Vikita Poindexter, President, NAWBO-Inland Empire, asked her to be on the chapter’s board and serve as director of its Next Gen program. “It’s a perfect fit because I speak to college business classes and share my journey,” she explains. “I want the next generation of female business owners to know that despite their current circumstances, they can blossom into phenomenal women.”
Maritza also spearheaded a scholarship program for undocumented college students and was featured in a book, aptly titled, “Next Bold Move,” by bestselling author Tarra Flores Sloan.
Bold, yes. However, Maritza admits, “I’ve been afraid to step outside my comfort zone. But I’ve learned to show up for myself because I know everything can change in one year, 10 years or even 20!”
Case in point: Maritza proudly became documented in January 2019. While it took 20 years to achieve legal status, she is grateful for her family and boyfriend, who rallied behind her as she completed college and launched her business, all while being undocumented.
“I’m especially thankful for my mom,” says Maritza. “This year, I’m excited to officially hire her, not only because she does amazing custom work, but because she is an integral part of my journey. She’s my hero.”