Mauricio Salinas grew up poor in Puebla, Mexico. In 1986, as a 19-year-old fresh out of high school, he came to the United States looking for a better life. He worked in landscaping and as a food server, and managed to get an education at Parkland College in Champaign. Still, he struggled to find fulfilling employment. “When you’re undocumented, you’re afraid of looking for a job,” he says. “I would just work wherever I could.”
After five years without papers, Salinas fell in love with and married a U.S. citizen, and in 1991, he obtained a green card. “That was a big step for me,” he says. “It made a huge difference in allowing me to achieve my ambitions.”
As a legal immigrant, Salinas could apply for scholarships and grants to resume his education. In 2001, he received a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was quickly hired by Bank One as an assistant branch manager.
After three years, Salinas took a risk and opened his own business: a tax-preparation and legal services company called Chicago MOR. Among other services, the company offers advice and support for would-be entrepreneurs. To date, he has helped dozens of clients, many of them immigrants, to open new businesses in Champaign County. “Nobody tells you how to accomplish your dreams or how to start a business,” Salinas says. “That’s one of the reasons why I’m now helping people understand the process.”
I’m trying to help this community in general, and the immigrant community in particular.”
A few years ago, Salinas opened El Oasis, a Mexican-style ice-cream parlor. “I’m an entrepreneur—I saw a niche, and I went for it,” he says. He now employs eight people across his two businesses. He’s also on the boards of the Urbana Business Association, the Champaign County Health Care Consumers, and the New American Welcome Center.
Salinas says his goal is to help other immigrants to settle in and start businesses of their own. “I’m trying to help this community in general, and the immigrant community in particular,” he says. “From manual workers to businesspeople, immigrants are an essential part of this community.”