A young relative of a new citizen cheers from the crowd of immigrants. Photo by Chris Stone

By Frances Prado

You might not expect the daughter of immigrant farm workers to become a successful entrepreneur. But that’s exactly what I was able to accomplish here in San Diego.

In the 1970s, my siblings and I filled onion sacks in the California fields, working from till dawn till dusk on weekends, through summer breaks, and on some occasions, after school. My father made sure that we were the first ones to arrive in the fields and the last to leave. I probably filled thousands of sacks before the Chavez reforms banned kids from farm labor in 1976.

It might sound counter-intuitive, but for me, being a child field worker was a blessing. My father taught us the meaning of hard work and productivity. He taught us to persist. Yet having a strong work ethic only gets you so far. You also need opportunity.

Luckily, San Diego has provided that. Here, a welcoming atmosphere encourages entrepreneurs like myself to follow their dreams. There’s an abundance of meet-up groups, mentorship opportunities, and incentives for small business start-ups. Non-profits like the San Diego Entrepreneur Exchange host events and distribute resources free of cost.

In the past week that support was recognized in New American Economy’s Cities Index, a new survey assessing how well the country’s 100 largest cities are helping immigrants to integrate and succeed. San Diego ranked 25th overall. In particular, we stood out in the category of “Economic Empowerment,” which includes vocational training and entrepreneurship support that empowers immigrants, along with wage protection and support to help immigrant professionals secure the professional licensing they need to build thriving careers.

Frances Prado

The San Diego-based company I co-founded, Hanging Secrets, maker of a patented organizer that protects women’s lingerie, benefited tremendously from this support. While launching the company, I joined Hera Hub, a women’s co-working space and business accelerator. There I had access to warm, encouraging mentors, other new founders like myself, and business planning services.

I was able to take the lessons I’d learned from my parents — my immigrant mother used to sew underwear for us out of flour bags – and turn it into a thriving business. I was able to network and acquire the skills I needed to succeed. I filed for a non-provisional utility patent — without a lawyer’s help — and am now one of the few Latina patent-holders in the country. Just two years after launching, Hanging Secrets are available online and in boutiques in San Diego.

The City of San Diego also participates in Welcoming San Diego, a multi-sector project that works to advance the civic, social and economic integration of immigrants and refugees in our city. Together with both private and public partnerships, the city is creating a strategic 3- to 5-year plan for integration that incorporates feedback from local government, educational institutions, nonprofits, and businesses. San Diego is leading by example when it comes to inclusivity.

My father passed away when I was 13, but I’ll always remember the lessons I learned from him in the onion fields. When you start something, you finish it. Even in the harshest working conditions, on the afternoons when it was 115 degrees and cutting onion roots made my eyes burn, we got the job done.

My parents came to America from Nayarit, Mexico, in 1963, in search of opportunities for their seven children. They came to the United States hungry to work. And when you’re hungry, you’re going to be productive.

It’s a blessing to live in a city that appreciates the immigrant work ethic and where the resources for success aren’t difficult to find. It’s a place where determined inventors can rise up and realize their ambitions, no matter how humble their beginnings.

Frances Prado is CEO of Ageless Beautiful Clever Creations and the inventor of the Hanging Secrets lingerie storage system.

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