I strongly believe in community.
Sometime during my time at Chatsworth High, way back in the late 1990s, I started understanding that we are just products of our environment. Who one is and who one becomes are aspects of life that are influenced by the people we kick it with, our family, our instructors, the stereotypes of ourselves based on gender/race/ethnicity/nationality, the low expectations of us by others. I studied Sociology at UCLA in part because I enjoyed learning how society impacts the individual; the concepts and ideas that I explored during my four years in Westwood are even more relevant today as I interact with people of diverse backgrounds and backgrounds, in general, that are quite different than my Cali upbringing.
Hence, I am left to ponder, What will be my role in the Ecuadorian community as a Negra-gringa entrepreneur?
This has been particularly challenging for me because my ideas on community were tested this week, and the results proved my Cali-hippie ideas are just that ideas on idealistic living when life is rainbows and butterflies.
It started with the neighborhood kids demanding me for free cupcake samples. Their hands were full of popcorn, chips, popsicles and other items bought at other businesses. Samples are a new idea out here in Caranqui-Ibarra, but the idea is to sample and buy if you like it. But here these kids were starting to feel entitled to a free sample every day with no intentions of buying something from me. Some boldly asked for different samples than I was offering. And often, these children did not say “gracias.” I’m real big on a “thank-you” and “please.”
As a result, I have stopped giving out free samples to all. Samples during my first month was a way to introduce myself to my community. Now that people know that they like my cupcakes and Agua de Jamaica they should be encouraged to purchase the items. I have introduced “mini-cupcakes” for $0.25 to make my cupcakes more accessible to youngsters who have limited funds. I see them eating various items, so I know that they actually do have money and must decide how they spend their money. In a way, I’m helping them to become enlighten consumers.
The second thing that made me question my community role is a female teenager who asked to use my bathroom Friday night. This is the second time she has come for bathroom privileges without purchasing something.
“Are you going to buy something?” I asked.
“No,” she responded.
The Cali-hippie in me allowed her to use it. But this time she stunk up my bathroom. So no more bathroom usage for non-tea consumers. I have only been here for a month, so obvious she has been going somewhere else to use the bathroom, so she can continue to go there and stink up the bathroom.
The last funky community situation was the second “veci” (neighbor) asking to borrow money. The day before, the lady came in and said I had a great personality because I smile and wave to people through my storefront window. She gave me a hug and smiled cheerfully. Then within 24 hours, she returned to ask to borrow money. I told her my personal rule is not to loan out money. Then she sat there saying she didn’t know how she was going to pay for the medicine for her child who was in the hospital. Funny, the other veci who asked for money also had a child in the hospital. I told her that she should ask her family members or friends. I had to suffer through five minutes of poor acting as she was slow to realize I was serious about my no-lending-money policy.
The thing is that both of these vecis have not purchased anything from me. They see a nice tea shop and assume I have money to give away. They are fully aware how new businesses in Ecuador close within three months of opening for lack of funds, but this is not their concern for all they see is a rich gringa. These vecis’ actions are not aspects of community building; it is the weakening of communities.
So now, as I enter my second month of having a business, I know I will stick with my previously determined community involvement activities: Little Free Library featuring free English books, community board to advertise activities & services, reasonable prices of teas & cupcakes, EFL teachers’ events, and allowing people to practice their English skills with me when they purchase something.
Establishing oneself in a new community is challenging, but the rewards of having a strong community on your side is amazing. Thus, these three experiences have taught me to be a balanced entrepreneur– one who gives to the uplifting of the community where his/her business is located, but also has clear boundaries on things that aren’t “community building.”
“The open hand is the blessed hand for it gives and receives.” — Biddy Mason.