Maria came to America from Mexico more than 20 years ago. In Mexico, she worked full time in a factory to pay for her university and high school, despite knowing that working as a woman was against the norm. “I felt that being a woman, they never told me this but, you can’t study. Their actions told me. I knew that the one that needed to study was my brother because he is a man.”
Maria continued working once she came to America - for years, she worked as a housekeeper, in laundromats, and at fast food chains to support her family. “I always thought I would be a laborer,” she shares. “Before Havenly, my life was as if I lived like a little mouse. Worked more than I slept.” Her daughters pushed her to look for more in life, to apply for jobs that would bring her happiness. But, to Maria, enjoying herself was not a priority. “Today I can enjoy being [de estar y ser]. Which is something that for a long time I did not allow myself to feel.”
In the summer of 2020, Maria had to quit her job and spent months at home alone. Her daughter, worried for her wellbeing, convinced her to apply to Havenly. Maria was hesitant, but intrigued by the depth of commitment the organization had to all its fellows, even after graduation. She also wanted to learn about another culture. From the very beginning, Maria was fascinated by the many ingredients in Nieda’s kitchen: the spices, a soft mixture of oregano and thyme; the phyllo dough, so thin and layered carefully. She watched Nieda every day, learning new recipes and the dynamics of running a commercial kitchen.
Despite not speaking the same language, Maria explains, “we do understand each other. It makes me laugh because Nieda will tell me things with her hands. She’ll say this for garlic, she’ll say this for scallions, and this for cucumbers. There is a book, called the Alchemist. In one of the first pages, he writes that there’s a pastor who speaks to his sheep, and despite not speaking the same language, they understand each other. I think that we, in this country, are just the same. Despite not speaking the same language, with signs and jumps, we will understand each other.”
But to Maria, Havenly was more than just a culinary class, or even workforce development program. She explains the benefit of Havenly as “emotional education”.
“Here I have found motivation and empowerment. I thought that my entire life I’d be a laborer. Never that I could take the next step and start a business. You’ve all given me security. I consider myself to be a very scared person [miedosa] and because of the fear I’ve been stunted like a couch and not like a trampoline. So, now I want to grab [opportunity] like if I were a trampoline. I’ll do it. With fear. But I will do it because the fear won’t ever disappear.” To Maria, being at Havenly brought healing, and a group of women to be inspired by and draw strength from.
In the third month of the fellowship, Maria applied to a business incubator in New Haven co-run by Collab and CitySeed. They immediately loved her idea, an Italian-Mexican food truck inspired by her and her husband’s rich histories as chefs . Every week, she attended workshops, learning how to license her business, developing a menu, and making a strategic plan. Soon enough, Maria was running a stand in Westville, explaining the recipe behind her taquitos to customers at the market. Maria and her husband plan to start a food truck soon, called Alegria Cafe.
Since graduating, Maria has joined our full time as kitchen manager while she builds her business. She works with Nieda to create the same environment that she found healing in, and is a member of our food business committee. Maria plans to work with the women of Havenly to seek wellness and happiness for her and her community.
“As children you could find us without shoes or playing in the dirt without thinking too much about our futures or how things would change. Sometimes I’ll say, especially to people from my same village, that we already paid the price and we deserve all of this. I can tell you that we deserve to be here, working, doing things, loving ourselves and progressing because we have already paid the price. The farm, the job, the bad times, we’ve already paid the price. Now it’s time to enjoy ourselves, even if it costs us. We’re here now.”