There are different ways to describe successful people. For most, success is defined by how much money a person may have. For me, it has more to do with achieving your goals and finding happiness with what you do.
So in my list of successful individuals I include a special, smart, driven, and kindhearted immigrant.
Blanca Plascencia, 38, is the perfect example of a successful woman. When I first met Blanca a few years ago, her positive attitude and good energy captured my attention right away.
Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, Blanca grew up in a very modest household. Her mom and stepfather worked for a shoe factory as they were raising a family, but their hard work barely paid for the bills. Her biological father was successful in the business world, yet he never took care of nor helped support her and her brother.
“Growing up poor impacted my life and influenced who I am and where I wanted to go,” said Blanca as she reminisced on those early years.
Attending college to study sociology was an important decision for her, but her studies were temporarily interrupted in 2007 when a neighbor invited Blanca to visit his family in Denison, Iowa for the summer.
Although Blanca met someone and started dating, she returned to Mexico to finish college, leaving him behind. He followed her back to Mexico and soon after she was pregnant with their first child. With a baby on the way, they decided to move back to Iowa and get married. Their first baby was born in Iowa, and three years later they welcomed their second child. After nine years, their marriage ended.
She moved on and began working in the food business.
“I worked in different restaurants, but I always thought that my calling was politics since I studied sociology,” she said. “After working in an office setting, I really appreciated and missed working directly with people and decided to go back and work for a restaurant in Pella, Iowa.”
While in Pella, she met and fell in love with her now-husband of five years. The two had a child and they are raising their children in the Des Moines area.
Blanca and her husband became good friends with another couple at the restaurant. One day they told her that maybe someday they should open their own restaurant together.
“That day I thought that he saw something in me that I never saw in myself and decided that I was going to open my own restaurant,” said Blanca.
Without money and her mind filled with dreams of owning a business, she decided to do everything in her power to fulfill that dream and started by writing a road map for her new idea.
“I started by writing the name of the restaurant, drafting a menu and everything that we would need in order to open our new restaurant, from equipment to the number of employees we would hire,” she told me.
In 2014 Blanca went to a bank to apply for a loan. She was told she needed a business plan and at that moment she realized that she already had one, or at least was working on one.
She knocked on many doors, but several banks rejected her. Blanca persisted, and continued modifying and improving her business plan until she found one banker that believed in her and in her vision.
Around that time, she enrolled in Latina Leadership Initiative (LLI), a development program created to empower young Latina women.
The program included mentorship, introductions to topics such as public speaking, entrepreneurship, public service and more. She said LLI gave her the confidence she was lacking to go out and ask questions, and to broaden her view and perspective.
“I used to be very shy and would never let people know when they said something I did not understand. Then I learned that it was always better to ask people to repeat and explain the information they had shared,” said Blanca.
She kept on and did not give up on the dream of owning her restaurant. She kept looking for information and programs that would help her achieve her goal. She did tons of research, read books and joined programs and workshops until finally she was approved for a loan.
Blanca and her husband opened El Fogón in 2017 in West Des Moines. She proudly told me that they were able to pay back the five-year term loan in one and a half years.
El Fogón was a success, and in 2019 she opened a second restaurant called “Cantaritos” in Pella, Iowa. She is now close to opening her third restaurant, El Fogon West Glen, on the other side of West Des Moines.
I happen to be a loyal customer of the first restaurant, and many of my friends are too.
When I asked her about new plans, Blanca said, “My ultimate goal is to open sixty restaurants.” Why sixty, I asked?
She explained, “I have worked for different restaurants in the past and met many hard-working individuals in this industry throughout the years. There are responsible, smart and dedicated workers, but they never had the chance to open their own establishment. So why not partner with them and give them the opportunity to grow? We can teach them how to handle the business and help them.”
Blanca kept talking about what she learned about finances, a foreign language to me, and said, “You have to save 10% of what you make. That means you will always have money to invest in other businesses that will multiply. Also, save another 10% to help others, and that means you must live with the 80% of your earnings.”
I asked Blanca why business success is so important to her, and she said, “I remember back in Mexico I used to go to church and heard the bible verse where Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. I was told that being poor was good. I think you can have money and be a good person, it’s about what you do with the money. I have been poor in the past and now it gives me peace of mind to know that I have the money to pay my bills and help others.”
I have witnessed that when Blanca talks about helping others, she backs it with actions. I have known her for years, and I have seen first-hand how she supports good causes and helps out in the community.
She strongly believes that when you help others, it will come back to you.
“If God has been blessings us, we need to help others and make a positive impact,” she says.
Plascencia moved to this country in 2003 and has achieved things that many only dreamed of, but she realizes that not all immigrants have the same opportunities and it is in great part due to lack of education, language attainment and inequality issues.
Her message to others is not to give up on their dreams, to keep working hard to achieve their goals. Even when life has been hard for her, Blanca is one of the most positive people I know.
She does not forget her humble beginnings and is always looking towards a brighter future. Blanca teaches us a big lesson during these difficult times, “The sun always shines after the storm.” Let us not forget about that.
by Claudia Thrane
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