When Flor Cabello was starting her interior-decoration company in Westchester County, New York, she heard the word “no” a lot. Friends said her Peruvian accent and heritage would be off-putting to many of the area’s U.S.-born upper-middle-class residents — that is, her target clientele. Bank after bank refused to give her a loan.
But Cabello had a dream and wasn’t about to quit. After all, she had already triumphed over far more difficult situations.
In Peru in the 1990s, Cabello ran a primary school, but terrorism had wreaked havoc on the nation’s economy, and no amount of hard work could provide enough for herself, her mother, and her 5-year-old son, Jorge. “I was working day and night, but we never had any money,” she says.
So in 1988 she came to the United States, leaving Jorge with her mother. In the United States, Cabello worked as a hotel housekeeper and as a babysitter, sending enough money back home to send her son to the best private school in Lima. “I just work-work-worked. I worked double shifts because I wanted my son to go to college and have a profession,” says Cabello. Luckily, she also fell in love with a fellow Peruvian native, a naturalized American citizen, and they married. In 1996, when Jorge was 12 years old, Cabello was finally able to bring her son to the United States.
In 2001, Cabello and her husband decided to start an interior-design business. “I like to decorate, and my husband is carpenter, so we match. He brings in an old chair and fixes it. I bring the fabric and sew,” she says. This was how they furnished their White Plains home. “When people come to our house, they say ‘Wow.’” But we didn’t buy anything. We just make it.”
To get started, Cabello attended a training program at the Women’s Enterprise Development Center in White Plains. She learned how to pick the location and determine the price points for her business and got up to speed on registration, licensing, fees, and regulations. She also developed a business plan, which she presented to various loan officers in the area. After getting dinged many times, she was finally approved for a $20,000 loan by a loan officer at the Bank of New York. JCF Decorations Upholstery and Window Treatments opened in September 2001.
Professional people come here and work day and night. They do everything they can for this country.
As a small-business owner, Cabello is one of many immigrants in New York’s 17th Congressional District who is making a positive impact on the local economy. Immigrants in that district are 60 percent more likely to be entrepreneurs than the U.S.-born population. They also have $5 billion in spending power, pay $2 billion in taxes, and own more than 35,000 homes.
For the first three years after opening JCF Decorations Upholstery and Window Treatments, the Cabellos often worked until 1 a.m. building and sewing. Ten years later, they expanded the space, with a larger showroom and a basement workshop. In 2016, the business yielded $280,000 in gross revenue.
Family life is also very satisfying. Jorge works in nearby Port Chester as a special education teacher in the public school system. He is married and has a 4-year-old son. “I am very appreciative of this country. It changed my life and changed the life of my son. I appreciate every minute in this,” Cabello says.
She notes that Jorge is dedicated to giving kids from disadvantaged backgrounds the best possible start in life. She wants all children to have the same opportunity, which is why she supports the Dream Act, which provides a pathway to legal status for qualifying undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country when they were young children. “For me, the Dream Act is key. It should be a priority,” she says.
Cabello would also like to see the U.S. government recognize the contributions that immigrants like herself and her family make, rather than negatively stereotyping all immigrants based on a minority of bad actors. “We work day and night, and we pay our taxes,” she says. “So when leaders in the government say that people like me are bad people, it just kills me. I know that bad people come here also, but it’s not everyone. Professional people come here and work day and night. They do everything they can for this country.”