Meet the Latina Immigrant Entrepreneurs of Massachusetts

Yessy Feliz comes from a family of well-educated women with can-do attitudes, like her mother who worked two jobs while resettling her family from the Dominican Republic to Massachusetts. Even so, she is the first member of her family to own her own business. Tails, Inc., her animal supply and dog care store is no pet project. It’s a booming business in the heart of Jamaica Plain, one of Boston’s most diverse and canine-loving neighborhoods. For Yessy, running a business is both a fulfillment of her own dreams and a path forward for herself and other Latinx immigrants.

“Tails is a legacy, it’s a stepping stone for the next generation to come and say, ‘If she was able to do it, we are able to do it,’” said Yessy, who has been nominated for the 2019 Barry M. Portnoy Immigrant Entrepreneur Award for Neighborhood Business hosted by The Immigrant Learning Center.

The Neighborhood Business category, which honors small business owners who are directly impacting their communities, has always been a place where Latina women shine. As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 to October 15) and this year’s Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards, we are honored to have three amazing Latina businesswomen: Yessy Feliz, Zoila Gomez originally from the Dominican Republic and Miriam Morales from Nicaragua. It should come as no surprise to see these outstanding women. Over the past five years, the number of women-owned businesses increased by 21 percent, and more businesses than ever before are owned by Latinx entrepreneurs.

Zoila Gomez of Gomez & Palumbo Attorneys at Law always knew her path in life was to be a business owner. While she originally trained to be a beautician at her family’s suggestion, she felt trapped by the thought of owning a salon. Instead, she went to Northern Essex Community College to study political science before getting her J.D. from the Massachusetts School of Law. As the founder of Gomez & Palumbo, she is fulfilling both her passion for immigration law and her family’s dream for her to run her own business.

Zoila and Yessy have built their businesses in areas that have produced many powerful immigrant women entrepreneurs. Gomez & Palumbo is located in Lawrence. Known as Massachusetts’ City of Immigrants, the population of Lawrence is nearly three-quarters Latinx a statistic that is reflected in the number of immigrant-owned businesses there. Julia Silverio, who won an Immigrant Entrepreneur Award for Business Growth in 2012, attributed Lawrence’s economic recovery after the Great Recession to the number of immigrant entrepreneurs who made a home in the city.

Tails is similarly placed in the heart of Boston’s “Latin Quarter” along the section of Center Street that’s been dubbed “Avenida de las Americas” in honor of the neighborhood’s South and Central American heritage. Across the street is Ultra Beauty Salon, owned by Damaris Pimentel, another Dominican entrepreneur who won the Neighborhood Business Award in 2015. From their windows, one can see a parade of bakeries, restaurants and barber shops flying flags from Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Mexico, a testament to how immigration and economic growth go hand in hand in the neighborhood.

Hispanic and Latina-owned businesses are growing all over the commonwealth, not just in areas with a high-density of immigrants. Miriam Morales’ café, Recreo Coffee & Roasterie has two locations, one in West Roxbury and another in Boston’s City Hall. While neither location is known for a high immigrant population, Miriam feels right at home. It’s no surprise since she is serving up coffee that is grown in her family’s farm in Jinotega, Nicaragua. Not only that, but the café organizes annual trips to Nicaragua every year to educate Americans about coffee farming and fair trade practices. For her, the café is the key to staying connected to her childhood home and building a beloved community in her adopted city.

To learn more about the Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards and all the amazing nominees, click here.